Several months ago I reported on the firing of a trio of high-ranking prison officials in connection with a series of sexual assaults in a Southwestern Pennsylvania prison. Few news agencies took up the story especially national ones. This was astounding given the nature of the charges: prison guards both raping men and forcing others to assault them, on their very whim. Prison administrators turning a collective blind eye. Is this not news?
Since that initial report one prison guard (who spent months on suspension), Harry Nicciletti, has been arrested and faces over 90-90!–charges stemming from the events. According to the local DA 11 other guards will soon be arrested on related charges. When news first broke of the scandal, it forced some prison observers to recall ex-President George W. Bush, who, after the rise of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq pointed to Saddam Hussein’s usage of the prison and particularly made note of his “rape rooms.”
Well–once again. Americans have gone one better–from rape rooms to rape blocks! In the prison known as State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Pittsburgh, those convicted of sex crimes were targeted for beatings, rapes–or both. Sometimes by prisoners, sometimes by guards–sometimes by both.
Boy–talk about ‘corrections!’ Some men filed institutional grievances (or prison internal complaints) which were invariably dismissed or simply ignored. Others tried to file time-consuming actions in court, where most fell into black holes. It is worthy to note that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the notorious and vicious slaughter at Attica–a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.
Attica was supposed to be the bellwether of change to American corrections. But, if anything, it shows the limits of liberal reforms, which can be washed away in another season. Limits were promised by liberal politicians, years later neo-liberals would push more restrictive laws that shuttered courtrooms from prisoners and made civil suits an obstacle course. They joined with conservatives to build the prison-industrial-complex into the monster that it is today (boy–talk about bipartisanship!). In many ways they made the scandals which we see today–and the rape blocks–possible.