Prisoners still deserve to be treated with human dignity

Chris Kok

Fourteen years ago on Easter, the struggle for human dignity surfaced in Lucasville, Ohio. After enduring dehumanizing conditions, overcrowding and medical tests that were against the religious beliefs of Muslim prisoners, prisoners rioted at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, taking control of the L Block for eleven days.

During the uprising, nine prisoners and one guard were murdered. In all reality this could have been much worse. Because of individuals, such as Namir Abdul Mateen, Jason Robb, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and Keith Lamar, taking lead, complete chaos and a race war were averted. These prisoners came from the various and rival prison groups: Muslims, the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Gangster Disciples. They were able to work together against the authorities at the prison.

During the riot, the prisoners organized food distribution, health services and a chain of command that attempted to avoid random violence. It was a great attempt, but it did not work perfectly. As the state was negotiating with the prisoners, it was also agitating them through cutting off electricity and water. The prisoner negotiators were worried that without power other prisoners would get out of control and someone could die. The state ignored their warning and, in the end, an officer at the prison was murdered.

After the riot was ended, the state targeted those individuals who tried to bring order and control to the riot. These people tried to prevent chaos and violence, but now they are sitting on death row. Testimony against these individuals came from witnesses who now claim they were forced to make those statements because of police coercion. One of the witnesses has been pointed out by other prisoners as the person who committed the murder of the officer. The people who tried to maintain order are now facing death for crimes they did not commit.

The state’s reaction to this prison riot was to strengthen enforcement and security measures at the prison. Instead of addressing the problems at prisons, the state wants to punish prisoners even more.

Prisoners are easy targets of state oppression. Most of us will never be inside a prison to see the conditions that exist. Also, these are people who (supposedly) committed crimes. Society at large doesn’t care about them. Guards can easily get away with physical abuse of the prisoners. These prisoners are kept in conditions that aren’t suitable for animals. The result of this is that the prison industrial complex dehumanizes prisoners.

The Department of Corrections is a joke; there is no correcting that goes on there. Keeping people locked up in cages will not make them reform. These prisoners need rehabilitation through education and job training. Instead they receive even more abuse. Prison guards treat them as animals and numbers. Criminals still deserve common human dignity. Without it, they can never be rehabilitated.

When the state focuses on enforcement and security measures, it is setting itself up for failure. When large amounts of people are forced to live in unbearable conditions, violence will erupt. Just recently, there was a prison riot in Indiana due to prisoners being transferred from Arizona. The root cause of these riots needs to be examined or else there will be many more prison uprisings.

Chris Kok is a graduating political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].