Friday, January 9, 2009

Crime and Punishment Primers

Two interesting stories today which dovetail nicely for students of Criminology and Punishment.

Regarding punishment, a story out of Alabama about a Sheriff who was jailed yesterday for "starving" inmates in his own jail.

As Inmates Grew Thinner, Sheriff's Wallet Grew Fatter:

DECATUR, Ala. — The prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry. The sheriff, meanwhile, was getting a little richer. Alabama law allowed it: the chief lawman could go light on prisoners’ meals and pocket the leftover change.

And that is just what the sheriff, Greg Bartlett, did, to the tune of $212,000 over the last three years, despite a state food allowance of only $1.75 per prisoner per day.

In the view of a federal judge, who heard testimony from the hungry inmates, the sheriff was in “blatant” violation of past agreements that his prisoners be properly cared for.

“There was undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight,” the judge, U. W. Clemon of Federal District Court in Birmingham, said Thursday in an interview. “I could not ignore them.”

So this week, Judge Clemon ordered Sheriff Bartlett himself jailed until he came up with a plan to adequately feed prisoners more, anyway, than a few spoonfuls of grits, part of an egg and a piece of toast at breakfast, and bits of undercooked, bloody chicken at supper.
Yum. Of course, the Sheriff has his defenders.
“You’re never going to satisfy any incarcerated individual,” grumbled the head of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, Bobby Timmons. Besides, Mr. Timmons said, “an inmate is not in jail for singing too loud in choir on Sunday.”
I wonder if he's referring to the recently incarcerated Sheriff?

In any event, we need to be careful of the way these stories are portrayed in the mainstream media. In the title of the article alone, you prejudice the reader by conjuring up all sorts of stereotypes regarding "fat" southern sheriffs whose jails are rife with abused inmates.

For Criminology, we have this latest example of unjustified force ("police brutality") to contend with out of Oakland, Ca.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Protesters angry over a deadly shooting of a young unarmed black man on New Year’s Day stampeded through city streets on Wednesday night, burning cars and smashing storefronts and leading to pleas from city officials on Thursday for patience and calm.

About 120 people were arrested during the violent outburst on Wednesday, which came after a day of demonstrations over the shooting of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old butcher’s apprentice who was shot in the back by a transit system police officer while he lay on the platform at the Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
There are cell-phone videos of the shooting that are apparently playing on television and the internet which are inflaming passions. As students of Crim will see, while these celebrated cases of brutality are often re-played endlessly, the fact remains the vast majority of police/public interactions do not end with violence or even death. What you are seeing, as bad as it is, is an isolated incident and certainly not indicative of most of the men and women who wear the uniform.

That would go for the jailers as well.

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