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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Malice and Ignorance

Each day we are faced with new challenges. Most of those challenges are met with decisive action. Some of the challenges we encounter are problems that we may or may not want to address. Ignorance of a problem seems to excuse us for not acting to resolve or mitigate the problem. It seems that once we learn about the problem we are wholly accountable for our actions or lack thereof.

The word “malice” came to mind one day as I reacted to the nonchalant statements of a police officer on one of my favorite television shows. It was something that I had heard many times in television dramas and in movies. It seems to be one of the underlying themes in the HBO production of Oz -- prison rape.

I would like to believe that our system of justice does not overtly condone the injury, harm, or suffering of those convicted of misdemeanors and felonies. Yet, we seem to know that many inmates are assaulted, murdered, and raped within the walls of jails and prisons. Prison rape is routinely spoken of and used as a threat by police officers and detectives in our televised dramas and in major motion pictures. “Don’t drop the soap in the showers” and “find a big guy to take care of you” are phrases used as humor. Prison raped is not a comical prank. Prison rape is a loathsome act of violence.

When someone is convicted of a crime and sentenced to months or years of incarceration, do our judges also mention in open court that the defendant may be subjected to humiliation and degradation? And, yes, of course, they may be beaten, stabbed, or raped. The State of Texas or the State of Michigan or the Commonwealth of Virginia or the Federal Government allows this added burden? Are juries told that the defendant, if found guilty, may be punished with time behind bars with the added bonus of possibly being a victim of brutal crimes? Are incarceration and rape meant to be a deterrent to crime?

Ezra Klein has written about the subject of prison rape. He sums it up here.

The attitude that someone convicted of a crime “gets what they desire” is nothing short of malice.