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Holding prison staff accountable for harassment and abuse

Prison is a place to house those found guilty of a crime, not a place for crimes to be committed. However, sexual assault is an all too familiar part of prison life, especially for incarcerated women. As awareness of sexual assault increases, it’s worth noting that it affects all arenas of life.

As the #MeToo movement has shined a spotlight on sexual harassment and assault, one notable consistency whether it was in Hollywood, politics or elsewhere, is that people in power are often taking advantage of those of lower rank. The prison system is to provide care, custody and control of prisoners, which fits into this power dynamic.

Punishment beyond the sentence

Further complicating the relationship between prison staff and prisoner, many inmates are victims of violence themselves, minorities or mentally ill. Members of marginalized communities feel less empowered to speak out against abuse of power, such as harassment and rape. Serving time away from family and society is the court-ordered punishment, not degradation and abuse.

As an editorial in Huffington Post notes, the punish-and-control foundation of women’s prisons is ripe for abuse and in need of regulation to minimize harassment and assault, including providing punishment for abusive staff. In the writer’s personal experience, when women did speak up, they were transferred to a new facility instead of punishing the offending staff. There is little accountability for prison staff.

Human rights, not dehumanization

Prison inmates may have broken the law, but civil rights remain whether incarcerated or not. There are approximately 100,000 incarcerated people in Pennsylvania, serving time in local jails, state prisons, juvenile centers and federal prisons. While different rules apply to someone who has lost their freedom, they have not lost their humanity.  

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