A Voice from Prison Blog | Criminal Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights

Post 9: Lockdown In The Feds

It’s been a short while since being able to write, due to a lock down nation-wide at all 120 U.S. Federal Prisons. The blackout eliminates all phone calls, computer access, and visitation. Every facility, even at the lowest security facilities, like the one where l am located with no gang ties, lose access to these vital privileges in the interest of security of the whole.

Roughly two weeks ago, MS-13 gangs got into issues with other gangs and 2 inmates were murdered. Another two were taken to the hospital with injuries. Other than that, we had access to no information other than which was provided by staff members.

I understand the need to prevent additional deaths due to violence which ‘may occur’. However, one thing to remember, is that the facility in Texas were the deaths occurred, is over a thousand miles away from East Coast facilities, like the one I am located at. Of course, in the Federal system, inmates get shipped around all the time to different facilities across the US. That is not to say that there aren’t any gangs which might want to retaliate over here for something that occurred at such a distance, but it is unlikely. It’s also unlikely, where at the lowest security facilities, where inmates are forced to work out of the prison itself, free to walk to and from various facilities, would be affected by such threats of violence. While it might not be a concern to many, as preventing deaths is a noble cause, there are several aspects which should be considered in determining if such a course of action is prudent.

First, when inmates lose access to the computer, they lose access to the law library and legal research. This is guaranteed under the Constitution and has been ruled upon by the US Supreme Court, that inmates must be provided access to such resources and not restricted for any reason. Furthermore, all calls were blocked to the facility, including those from attorneys representing inmates who are fighting cases or dealing with additional court dates. This seriously harms those individual’s ability to effectively fight in court, by preventing access to ALL legal material, research, and attorneys which has been guaranteed by the Constitution. But the BOP routinely terminates these guarantees in direct violation to law and court opinions from the highest Court in the United States. These matters were ignored by all staff and administrators at our local facility. As we had just gained access to the system recently, it is unknown to us if other facilities had equally been denied these rights.

Additionally, when these lockdowns occur unnecessarily, they harm individuals who are already in a highly stressful environment be able to connect with family and friends. I believe when you prevent people from being able to even go outside to get fresh air or workout, keeping individuals locked down in close environments with additional tension and stress, and take away privileges for things completely outside of their control, this actually presents a situation for additional violence to occur, and the likelihood of something resorting to violence in such a situation is heightened. I have seen this time and time again. The knee-jerk reaction is just to take everything away in effort to prevent further issues from occurring. But without considering what you are doing to the human psyche, the reaction actually produces the opposite of the intended effect. The result is additional violence. During COVID-19 protocols, when they were at their worst and most restrictive, I have personally witnessed a very much higher rise in violence as opposed to when restrictions do not occur. I am sure given research, there might be a correlation between the two.

Taking away privileges when individuals do nothing wrong, in the interest of being proactive, is a form of policing that aims to prevent things which ‘may’ happen. To do this, it teaches that individuals will be punished regardless of their own actions and then the link is lost mentally to cause and effect. It promotes the idea to individuals trapped in the system that their own actions do not land them in the place, but chance or things outside of their own control. Is this the right message to be teaching?

Preventive-policing has had a long history and has resulted in some of the worst governments due to the use of power upon assumptions versus fact. When you punish individuals for what they might do versus what they do, the result is clear – lack of accountability. Their choice to do right or to do wrong no longer matters. Liberty is taken away and then it is a slippery slope to taking control over anyone’s future. This unchecked power is exactly what our forefathers intended to prevent with the Constitution.

We can take a few things away from this. First, preventive punishment is harmful. Inmates are harmed not only psychosomatically, but also with long term association to making decisions which will impact their life. If you are punished for something you might do, even though you haven’t done anything or were never likely to do, then your ability to affect your own future based upon your decisions no longer matter, because someone else has overridden your opportunity to make the correct decision. Also, infringement of Constitutional rights is common within the criminal justice system. How long until this slips to common practice in the general population?

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