One of the sad things about democracy is the openings for majoritarianism, and no one is a bigger victim of that then the most universally loathed minority of all, prisoners. And it’s telling that the little blog editor deep in my brain just screamed at me, “make sure you make clear you think they’re awful before the end of the post so that people don’t think you’re advocating murder and rape”—as though this has to be said and as though any concern for prisoners as human beings means that one doesn’t think that heinous crimes are heinous. Sigh.
Although giving trial lawyers more business rarely makes sense, Congress may also want to reconsider laws that make it very difficult for prisoners to sue prison authorities absent concrete evidence of physical harm. It’s quite possible that many legitimate prison-rape claims get thrown out of court under current laws. And prison rape needs to stop. But the nation’s prison-rape problems can’t go away overnight for at least two major reasons. To begin with, the racial supremacist gangs that control many prisons use rape as a tool for keeping other prisoners in line and, in some cases, prison officials may turn a blind eye towards sexual abuse when it keeps prison populations more orderly. Second, the understandable widespread social distaste for people in prison has lead to a widespread attitude that’s frankly inhumane. It is one thing to say that prison shouldn’t be fun and quite another to say that detainees “deserve” rape. Nobody does. But, somehow, prison rape remains a perfectly acceptable topic for sitcoms, widely trafficked websites, and late-night comedians.
Government runs the prisons and, in the end, government policy will have to play the dominant role in eliminating prison rape. But, to facilitate that, society also has to change and acknowledge that, even though most people in prison have done awful things, they’re still human beings and still have rights.