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Friday, February 23, 2007

Two Cheers for O'Malley

I'm glad to see Gov. O'Malley come out strongly against the death penalty, both before the General Assembly and in the Washington Post. I'm also glad to see him pledge to improve safety conditions for prison guards (link from last week). Now if he really wanted to go all out on prison reform, he could say something about the violent conditions the inmates themselves suffer. Not only is inmate-on-inmate violence more prevalent than inmate-on-guard violence, but the most horrific aspect of modern prison -- prison rape -- is completely off the radar in these debates about prison reform. According to Human Rights Watch, many states don't even have statistics on prison rape, much less make serious attempts to report accurate numbers.

As I've said before, this isn't an issue many people are concerned about -- they either joke about it, or imply that rape is part of the convict's punishment. But this, I think, touches directly on the current death penalty debate. If our reasons for repealing the death penalty are based on its being inhumane, one has to ask whether the alternatives are any better in this regard. On the other hand, the targets of prison rape are often nonviolent or otherwise low-level offenders, so perhaps that's a separate issue from the death penalty. In any case, we're a long way away from a prison system that doesn't bring to mind Abu Ghraib.


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