Currently, about 1,800 inmates in North Carolina’s prison system — about 5 percent of all those incarcerated — are housed in disciplinary segregation.
I’d spent (some of) a week trying to find that number, after reading this hideous story in the New Yorker. But I couldn’t find it, not sitting on my tuchis looking at a screen I couldn’t. Perhaps if I hadn’t been dealing with the flu, colds, and pinkeye, I might have been more resourceful. Perhaps if it was actually my job to run this stuff down, I would have had the time. But I was and it’s not, and I didn’t find the number. The N&O did. Considerately, they even published it. That’s why we need them, no matter how many bloggers we’ve got around here. News-gathering and investigation requires resources and expertise, and newspapers have those. Even the N&O of today, hard as that sometimes is to remember. Bloggers, as a general rule, do not. We need newspapers – we need them to be better than their cut-to-the-bone current incarnations, but we need them just the same.
My post about the evils of long-term solitary confinement, a form of torture, has become a paean to the ink-stained wretches at the local rag, but you get the point. We shouldn’t be in the business of torturing anyone, even obstreperous felons. And we are in that business. We need more watchdogs to get us out of these lines of work. And fast. Maybe this story is the beginning of a movement in this state to end the barbaric practice of long-term isolation in our prisons. Policy states that inmates not spend more than 60 days at a time in isolation, but the inmate in the story had spent 571 days alone. I’m not a mathematician, but I think the latter is a larger number than the former. Not only that, but it isn’t reserved for “the worst of the worst” as some advocates claim. Many offenders who end up in long-term solitary are non-violent criminals who get there for breaking prison rules, not because they’re baby-killers. For those who are unsympathetic to criminals on principal, there’s still reason to object to this: it’s really expensive and it doesn’t work. Is this where we want our tax dollars, in such short supply these days, to go? I don’t.
To go from the general to the specific, the case detailed in the N&O yesterday is sickening. The state tortured a mentally ill man and then assaulted him for objecting with the limited means he had and then lied to his family about it. He’s even more deficient than he was before, as a result, doctors said, of a beating. Now the Department of Corrections is pretending not to have any knowledge of what happened to him. Seriously? That’s all you got? That’s straight-up cover-up, and, as usual, it won’t work. How does an inmate to whom no one but guards has access end up beaten almost to death? Hmmm. I just can’t figure it out. Why would you lie about something dumb like that? Why would you lie about anything at all? (Hey, that’s a song!) Does the DOC really, truly believe it can lie its way out of this one? Thank God there’s a beleaguered and bedraggled newspaper on the case.