The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

December 18, 2013

When there is no one watching

The Black Guerilla Family prison gang controlled the Baltimore City jail. According to a federal indictment, 27 correctional officers, along with 17 others, “were in bed with BGF inmates.” That would be literally and figuratively. Gang leader Tavon White impregnated no fewer than four female guards. One had “Tavon” tattooed on her wrist. Guards smuggled in cellphones, drugs and other contraband. Inmates who were not gang members were forced to pay protection money to the BGF, or get family members to do so.

According to the indictment, White boasted of his control of the prison on his prohibited cellphone: “This is my jail. You understand that? I’m dead serious ... I make every final call in this jail ... and nothing go past me ... Any of my brothers that deal with anybody, it’s gonna come to me. Before (somebody) stab somebody, they gotta run it through me.”

It sounds like HBO, but it’s real. Guards and prisoners who participated in the criminal conspiracy profited, the indictment charges, through “drug trafficking, robbery, assault, extortion, bribery, witness retaliation, money laundering and obstruction of justice.”

Baltimore may be worse than most, but it’s hardly unique. The Atlantic reports that the Aryan Brotherhood held sway — at least to some degree — at federal prisons in Georgia and Pennsylvania. A Department of Justice study released earlier this year found that 10 percent of inmates had experienced some form of sexual abuse while imprisoned — half at the hands of guards. That’s more than 200,000, and it’s probably a low estimate, as many victims are intimidated into silence.

It’s a conservative insight that power will be abused if people are given unchecked authority. Lord Acton summed it up well. Prison guards have pretty much absolute power over their charges. They can easily deny the basics of life — food, sleep, medicine, clothing and physical safety.

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With the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission and the Clinton County Board of Supervisors discussing proposals to construct a new jail, do you think the time has come for Clinton County to construct such a facility?

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