Sunday, November 15, 2015

Avoidable Jail Beatings: Wrong and Costly

This is a tough column to write, and maybe to read.

Sex offenders have not only violated the law, but have sometimes done things most of us find unimaginable. Messing sexually with children is unimaginable to me. 

But people who commit such crimes do not give up their humanity, or their entitlement to the protection of our laws. Unfortunately, it may take fresh lawsuits and more huge jury verdicts to get that point through the skulls of the folks who run the Dona Ana County Detention Center.

We've all heard how sex offenders are often treated by other prisoners. Therefore they're housed separately; and when they're in contact with others, you watch carefully; and you don't let other inmates know that a particular inmate is a sex offender. These are the rules.

CASE: Mr. A writes me that after his arrest (for an unspecified sex crime) a jailer placed him in a holding cell with a regular inmate and let that inmate see what he was in for. Mr. A was beaten to within an inch of his life. (Call me if you're a lawyer who has time and the skills to represent him.)

CASE: Mr. B had just returned from court. Completely shackled, he sat on a bench, helpless, waiting for the guard to remove his restraints. The jailer first unlocked a maximum-security inmate who had apparently heard the charges against Mr. B in court. The other inmate beat Mr. B so badly that Mr. B was beyond the capabilities of our local hospitals and had to be transferred to El Paso. 

Sorry, but that's just wrong.

We're not talking about a father or brother so angry over the rape of a sweet, innocent girl (or boy) that he attacks the rapist. (I'll admit having said and meant that if someone molested a certain innocent, creative, and loving 11-year-old female relative, I'd kill him myself. Even though I understand that most such molesters have first been victims.)

We're talking about the deliberate indifference of a jailer who likely hasn't met the victim, but dislikes sex offenders or gets some jollies watching a beating. Or is so careless that he should find some job where people's lives aren't at stake.

Meanwhile, “sex crimes” have expanded far beyond what most of us realize. Some poor soul who never touches anyone but watches a couple of pornographic films with underage kids in them could be locked up for decades. Such films aren't to my taste; and I understand the theory that jailing customers diminishes the market for such films. But the penalties can be draconian.

Too, an 18-year-old having a fling with a 15-year-old who says she's 17, and looks and acts it, could be jailed on a charge that sounds worse than it was. 

I concede that the two incidents cited above are allegations, not yet tried in any court of law, civil or criminal. 

But note that I don't do criminal law or hang around the jail a lot. If I know of these two cases, from the past few months, how many more might there be that we know nothing of?

As a tax-paying citizen, I don't want jailers conducting themselves this way: it's legally wrong, and it risks a Slevin-size jury verdict. Folks complaining about alleged waste at the County should sure complain far more loudly about this stuff.

These problems illustrate why we need a Citizens Advisory Committee here. Ethically or financially, we cannot afford to view our jails as septic tanks into which we need not look.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 15 November.and will appear later today on the KRWG-TV website.]

A point worthy of a column itself is the draconian nature of the penalties for watching porn on the Internet. A first offense of watching child porn on the Internet could carry a 10-year statutory minimum sentence.  We could be talking about some troubled fellow who has never touched a child and never would -- or even someone who stumbled onto a site by accident or out of curiosity about what all the fuss was about.   Congress has vastly increased the penalties in recent years not based on any science or studies or sense of justice, but out of irrational revulsion and quite rational political calculations.  

Many judges are appalled by the sentences they have to hand down.    I've read several essays by lawyers, and surveys by the U.S. Sentencing Commission have confirmed that.  According to one organization:  according to one organization:

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, federal judges believe that many child pornography sentences are too long – 71 percent of respondents believed that the mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography was too high.25 . . .  70 percent of the judges surveyed respond[ed] that the guideline ranges for possession were too high. Additionally, 69 percent believed that sentences for receipt of child pornography were excessive.  Unsurprisingly, federal judges are responding to this excess by handing down sentences below the guideline range when they are able and when they believe it is appropriate. In 2010, less than 55 percent of child pornography sentences fell within the guideline range or below it pursuant to a government-sponsored departure, while nearly 43 percent of offenders received nongovernment-sponsored below-range sentences.  In 2008, Robert W. Pratt, a U.S. district judge in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote that the sentencing guidelines for child pornography crimes “do not appear to be based on any sort of [science] and the Court has been unable to locate any particular rationale for them beyond the general revulsion that is associated with child exploitation-related offenses.”   Since then, other judges have spoken out, including Judge Jack Weinstein, of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. In an interview with The New York Times, Judge Weinstein said of child pornography sentences, “We’re destroying lives unnecessarily.”  

In any case, a Detention Center prisoner is in our care.  A jail-sponsored beating (or one in which jailers acquiesce, or one our jailers' carelessness facilitates) is both wrong and potentially costly.  To us.  Arguments about how much we spend on transportation or how much we pay our deputy sheriffs should not be complicated by allotting money to pay huge jury verdicts to prisoners. 

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