A Moral Stain of a Punchline

posted at 12:45 pm on March 31, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

How often does rape get used as a joke these days? Not often, except in one particular context — when the victims are men in prisons. Under those circumstances, the joke gets told over and over again, in movies, political speeches, late-night television, and so on. As Ezra Klein reminds us in yesterday’s LA Times, the easy familiarity that elicits broad laughter at these jokes indicts all of us as passive enablers of a human-rights atrocity that shows no signs of abating (via Instapundit):

Prison rape occupies a fairly odd space in our culture. It is, all at once, a cherished source of humor, a tacitly accepted form of punishment and a broadly understood human rights abuse. We pass legislation called the Prison Rape Elimination Act at the same time that we produce films meant to explore the funny side of inmate sexual brutality.

Occasionally, we even admit that prison rape is a quietly honored part of the punishment structure for criminals. When Enron’s Ken Lay was sentenced to jail, for instance, Bill Lockyer, then the attorney general of California, spoke dreamily of his desire “to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’ ”

The culture is rife with similar comments. Although it would be unthinkable for the government today to institute corporal punishment in prisons, there is little or no outrage when the government interns prisoners in institutions where their fellow inmates will brutally violate them. We won’t touch you, but we can’t be held accountable for the behavior of Spike, now can we?

As our jokes and cultural products show, we can claim no ignorance. We know of the abuses, and we know of the rapes. Research by the University of South Dakota’s Cindy Struckman-Johnson found that 20% of prisoners reported being coerced or pressured into sex, and 10% said they were violently raped. In a 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 60,000 inmates claimed to have been sexually victimized by other inmates during the previous 12 months. Given the stigma around admitting such harms, the true numbers are probably substantially higher.

Hardly any of our current political class seem disturbed by this phenomenon in either party. My uncle Jim Morrissey tried to raise it when he served in the California Assembly in the early 1990s, but apathy doomed the attempt. The solutions — better enforcement, lower prisoner concentration, and alternatives for non-violent criminals — all cost too much money.

That cannot be the last word on this epidemic. The people we put in prison have earned their way into confinement, but we have a responsibility to protect them from sexual brutality once they get there. They become wards of the community, and widespread rapes happening with our full knowledge and tacit approval makes us complicit in the abuses. Bill Lockyer’s comments showed that tacit approval, coming from the highest law-enforcement official in California. What kind of message does that send to the rapists in prison, other than they’re performing part of the duties of the state in inflicting punishment?

We need to start making some tough decisions. Either we need to build a lot more prison space and hire a lot more prison guards to keep our current incarceration rates, or we need to start rethinking our criminal statutes with an eye towards eliminating violations that result in no violence to anyone else. We cannot keep laughing off prison rapes as some sort of sick joke without working to end them.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Comment pages: 1 2

Well if one of your children made a mistake and payed the price something tells me it would cease to be funny.

EnochCain on March 31, 2008 at 7:25 PM

It all comes down to the trial– who will testify when they are bound to these hoodlums?? Forget it– it’s not solvable.

leftnomore on March 31, 2008 at 7:36 PM

Most of you have no clue about the modern prison. I can only speak for Texas state operated prisons but their primary purpose has become a money/job provider. They build coragated warehouses all over the place, that anyone who truelly wanted to could bust out of, pack them full and higher a bunch of people who should be in prison themselves to staff them.

The 1st and only time I was sent to the prison phsyc I walked up to his door and looked in the window before knocking. Their he was with a line of 10 or so pills laid out on his desk. I watched as he popped them in rapid order like a guy downing shots at a bar. Two of the prison guards while I was at the choise moore unit got busted for cocain. Two others drinking while driving. One guard I witnessed in the control cage was so drunk he couldn’t stand up. One assistant warden got transfered somewhere else for trying to start a riot while the warden was on vacation.(You read that correctly. He tried to start a riot while the real warden was away because he thought it would further his career if he ended a riot that he started).

Prison has become big business. Money to be made.

SkyWatch on March 31, 2008 at 7:59 PM

I agree. Prison rape is an awful indictment of our country. Partly it’s the liberals who insist on keeping prisoners together when the problem could be solved by isolation. People in prison should do their time alone in a cell with a book or two a week.

But libs think that’d be crueller than the situation now when people are getting raped.

I admit to not being troubled by many criminals being victimized, especially those that victimize others, but we put DUIs and petty possesion beefs in with the most violent and no good will come of that.

Rob Taylor on March 31, 2008 at 8:27 PM

Enrique on March 31, 2008 at 5:21 PM

Great post, Ed. It’s embarassing that many so-called conservatives think that individual liberties shouldn’t apply to incarcerated Americans.

You must be incarcerated or have loved ones who are to have made such a totally ridiculous comment. Your total lack of morality lends support the those that argue the Gitmo crowd earned due process by killing Americans…..shameful and clueless!

dmann on March 31, 2008 at 8:32 PM

I think 29Victor hit the nail on the head here.

I believe that people accept prision rape as an acceptable fact because deep down inside we realized that many prision sentences don’t go nearly far enough to punish the perp. If most Americas thought that prision sentences were fair, then this wouldn’t be tolerated.

When a child rapist who should, in a decent society, have gotten a trip to ol’ sparky, instead gets one or two years in prision, we know down deep in our souls that he is not getting the punishment that he deserves. When someone kills twenty people and “gets off” with twenty years in jail, we need him to be punished more severly. We need to feel that justice was done for the victims of those crimes.

Someone who violated another human being in such horrible, horrible ways needs to be violated himself. He needs to be made helpless and afraid like he made his victims. There is a natural, human sentence that would be carried out in those cases. Here in civilized society we have handed over the responsiblity to our justice system and, time and time again, they have failed us. So we go back to nature and we count on those who are beyond the law to make sure that the criminal is, while not punished appropriately, at least punished severely.

Most of us feel helpless at the onsluaght of crime that has overtaken our inner cities and spread into the suburbs. There is more than a little element of “Now you know how we feel because of you,” among jokes about prison rape.

You want to take care of the problem? End prison for victimless crimes such as drug possession, prostitution and gambling, which generally only threaten the perpetrator. Government’s job is to protect its citizens from the predations of others, not themselves. That would increase space in the prison system for actual criminals — those guilty of murder, rape, child molestation, robbery, residential burglary, car theft and arson. Expand the use of the death penalty to include such crimes. Take out the cable TV, the video games and the weight rooms. Make prison something to be feared

Until then, I’ll save my sympathy for the victims of the criminals and not waste it on the criminals themselves.

Pro Cynic on March 31, 2008 at 9:12 PM

Pro Cynic, I was going to say the same earlier, I feel the same of the justice system, it’s a failure. I must say, I had no idea the rapes and the violence were so bad. I agree with you whole-heartedly, the violent offenders must be at least separate from the others. And what the hell is up with all the amenities? It’s prison for shitz sake!

4shoes on March 31, 2008 at 9:58 PM

A side note on the cable TV,wait rooms and etc… One TV can keep 10,20 sometimes 30 inmates interested and out of trouble. Take the TV or the wait room or the whatever and you had better be willing to triple the guards to watch inmates who are just looking for something to do (cause trouble).

Please don’t take me wrong. I am a firm believer in doing away with parole. If you get a sentence you do the sentence. If you goto prison then to bad, you royally messed up and now you must pay. However, the reality is our society could not higher enough guards to keep the quantity of prisoners we have at the present under control without providing ways for the prisoners to do something other then sit around and plot scams or worse.

SkyWatch on March 31, 2008 at 10:29 PM

As bad as prisons are, imagine what would happen if all the inmates were let loose in society. There have been horrible prisons throughout history, filled with mostly horrible people. We’ve fallen back a hundred years or so, although in fairness things were probably never as good as the general public was allowed to think. Such is the legacy of the ’60s.

njcommuter on March 31, 2008 at 10:34 PM

Solution: Give each con the option to slash the amount of time served for each crime by 50%, but making it all solitary confinement, with no one visiting except family, lawyers, counselors, & clergy.
Give each inmate a TV with only educational or inspirational channels. No cigs, desserts, dirty mags, or music.

jgapinoy on April 1, 2008 at 12:05 AM

Solution: Give each con the option to slash the amount of time served for each crime by 50%, but making it all solitary confinement, with no one visiting except family, lawyers, counselors, & clergy. Give each inmate a TV with only educational or inspirational channels. No cigs, desserts, dirty mags, or music.

jgapinoy on April 1, 2008 at 12:05 AM

It’s been tried and found to be a recipe for insanity.

Kralizec on April 1, 2008 at 12:28 AM

Interesting. Some comments seem to be equating ‘gays’ and consensual gay sex with ‘all gays are evil criminals’ and ‘rape’, and others are actually trying to argue that if you ‘didn’t commit the crime’ then you ‘don’t have anything to worry about’. Hell, let’s just have the death sentence for every single offence. After all, if you didn’t commit the crime in the first place you wouldn’t be getting executed now, would you? Silly billy. Bonus points for additionally equating them with Gitmo prisoners *thumbs up*. After all, the only people who go to prison are rapists (all gay), murderers and terrorists.

Reaps on April 1, 2008 at 1:24 AM

Who other then me, would vote for the 1 of 3 choices of pres we have at the moment who sponsored and pushed a bill thru that stated in law that any politician that gets convicted of a crime would get the jury sentence and +10 years.

Mr.MaCain? That is a automatic sentence of 10 years+ for a public servent who steals from us. Would you Mr. (we should give up some of our free speech rights for security) agree with that bill?

SkyWatch on April 1, 2008 at 1:55 AM

It’s been tried and found to be a recipe for insanity.

Kralizec on April 1, 2008 at 12:28 AM

vonspringer on April 1, 2008 at 2:11 AM

Sorry, missed the rest of my post. Basically you’re entirely right. Punishment is fine, but we shouldn’t be in the business of creating prisoners with broken minds and little hope of becoming sane again, let alone rehabilitated.

vonspringer on April 1, 2008 at 2:13 AM

One TV can keep 10,20 sometimes 30 inmates interested and out of trouble. Take the TV or the wait room or the whatever and you had better be willing to triple the guards to watch inmates who are just looking for something to do (cause trouble).

They’re prisoners. If they make trouble, shoot them.

If they don’t, let them serve their time, then let them out.

Simple.

I’m still laughing my butt off over “civil liberties for incarcerated Americans.”

I never knew that “liberty” and “incarcerated” belong in the same sentence, but thanks to the metrosexual society of enablers and wimps that we’ve built, apparently it does.

Boo-hoo-fricking-hoo.

Misha I on April 1, 2008 at 3:22 AM

I love the how these kind of threads bring out the druggies. I don’t support decriminalization, I support the death penalty for drug offenders. And yes, I would pull the switch/triger or give them the needle. I HATE weed to the bottom of my soul.

Prison rape is as bad as murder in my book. I support a mandatory death penalty for such a horrible crime.

OmegaPaladin on April 1, 2008 at 3:30 AM

We should bring back the burning at the state for a sentence.

SkyWatch on April 1, 2008 at 5:18 AM

stake***

SkyWatch on April 1, 2008 at 5:19 AM

The Japanese run their prisons like a military boot camp. Every second of every day is scheduled and discipline is highly valued.

Guess what. It works.

amkun on April 1, 2008 at 6:11 AM

OmegaPaladin on April 1, 2008 at 3:30 AM

You hate weed, huh?

My daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Do you hate alcohol, too?

I don’t care if you drink (or smoke weed for that matter). Until you affect others it’s none of my business. Then I’ll support the death penalty for you.

Squiggy on April 1, 2008 at 6:50 AM

I laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Hairy, hardened criminals–once terrorizing society–reduced to hiding the sausage with each other.

I can’t feel sorry for rapists and kid-touchers forced into holding the target in a butt darts game.

I can’t feel sorry for a drug-running, murderous former gang-banger being caught in the irony of those words.

It’s abominable, but I honestly I have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

Black Adam on April 1, 2008 at 12:43 PM

I have a hard time feeling anything for the person who didn’t come to a complete stop at the sign. I have a hard time feeling for the man who grabbed his gun and started pulling the trigger only to find out later it was the cops. I feel sorry for the people who give other people(cops) authority over themselves.

Let us do a little experiment…

1)Sell your car (person -person)
2)Pay the true taxes on the vehical (not just the 100$ car that is worth 20,000$
3)When you don’t give the government its cut of the booty how many years do you have to wait till it becomes a subprime loss?
4)Wait for IRS

SkyWatch on April 1, 2008 at 2:47 PM

Captain Ed,

You are a brave and good man.

Bravo to you for having the courage and decency to write this post.

Red Pill on April 1, 2008 at 5:01 PM

DNA evidence freed them.

rockdalian on March 31, 2008 at 6:55 PM

DNA evidence is powerful because your DNA is unique and represents your unique identity.

When was your unique identity established?

At the same time your unique DNA was established…

…at conception.

Red Pill on April 1, 2008 at 5:14 PM

I don’t know where else to go with it. You tell me if you have any good ideas.

LickyLicky on March 31, 2008 at 1:30 PM

Heart-breaking story. Is it not possible to appeal to a higher court?

It’s as if the Duke Lacrosse case had resulted in the Duke students going to prison…where it appears that many Hot Air commenters would have laughed if they were raped. Thank you, Ed, for pointing out that prison rape is not funny, it is sick and wrong. Prison rape is cruel and unusual punishment, and tacit approval of it is in violation of the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution.

Red Pill on April 1, 2008 at 5:23 PM

Ed, prison rape ought to be punishable by death, but I think the jokes come out of absolute frustration with the criminal justice system. State punishment balances the equation and makes society safer. Instead, we’re treated to a parade of paroled pedophiles and assorted destroyers who prey and prey again.

As for the “victimless crime” crowd on this thread, eff you. Your libertine personal behavior is destructive to you and to the community around you. I’ve seen two teenagers buried side by side in the same small cemetery because of your behavior that doesn’t affect anybody else. Now I know the meaning of “unto the fourth generation.”

If there are x.y people in prison, that means there should be x.y times 2 in prison. We need more prisons and we need more tigers like the one in the San Francisco zoo.

Feedie on April 1, 2008 at 9:50 PM

The Japanese run their prisons like a military boot camp. Every second of every day is scheduled and discipline is highly valued.

Guess what. It works.

amkun on April 1, 2008 at 6:11 AM

I was thinking the same thing. Make them work, hard.

4shoes on April 2, 2008 at 12:41 AM

The Japanese run their prisons like a military boot camp. Every second of every day is scheduled and discipline is highly valued.

Guess what. It works.

amkun on April 1, 2008 at 6:11 AM

Agreed……… when you are working hard labor for 18 hours of the day, the only thing on your mind might be food and sleep, and “God, please, give me the strength to get out of this, and I will never harm another in my life!”

I think it is time for some ACLU lawyers to experience the joys of our prison system, …….. just for the “sh*ts and giggles”.

Seven Percent Solution on April 2, 2008 at 1:03 AM

As long as we have marauding liberals turning all bad behavior into criminal activity punishable by prison, we will continue to have over crowding and rape! We can’t build enough prisons to house the number of inmates currently confined under our justice system…and I’m a hard core conservative!

sabbott on April 2, 2008 at 6:50 AM

It’s as if the Duke Lacrosse case had resulted in the Duke students going to prison…where it appears that many Hot Air commenters would have laughed if they were raped. Thank you, Ed, for pointing out that prison rape is not funny, it is sick and wrong. Prison rape is cruel and unusual punishment, and tacit approval of it is in violation of the 8th amendment to the United States Constitution.

Red Pill on April 1, 2008 at 5:23 PM

1. I do not believe that any tacit approval of prison rape is violative of the 8th Amendment (nor would I care, but that’s another story …), as tacit approval of the public in prison rape is not state action. Further, the 8th Amendment has been stretched so badly that it is now being used to strioke down any kind of punishment.

2. Your point of the Duke lacrosse players relates more to the determination of guilt or innocence, not with the punishment. Do not conflate the two. If you want to make the system of determiantion of criminal culpability more accurate, I am with you. But the punishment has to be a deterrence to future crime. Watering down punishments on the assumption that you have innocents in prison only promotes more crime by that (vast, vast) majority in prison that is not so innocent. For purposes of determining punishment, yoo must assume that the determination of guilt or innocence is accurate.

Frankly, crime with actual victims should result in the death penalty. No victim, or if the victim was the perpetrator, as in drug use, etc, should probably mean no jail time.

Pro Cynic on April 2, 2008 at 7:00 PM

As for the “victimless crime” crowd on this thread, eff you. Your libertine personal behavior is destructive to you and to the community around you. I’ve seen two teenagers buried side by side in the same small cemetery because of your behavior that doesn’t affect anybody else.

Feedie on April 1, 2008 at 9:50 PM

It is government’s job to protect its citizens in their life, liberty and proeprty from the predations of others, both foreign and domestic, so that civilization may flourish. It is not government’s job to protect people from themselves.

Pro Cynic on April 2, 2008 at 7:06 PM

Comment pages: 1 2