--- Rick Halperin <rhalperi@POST.CIS.SMU.EDU> wrote:
Date:         Thu, 27 Feb 2003 17:09:02 -0600


Group combats inmate abuse

Few dispute that prison time should be tough.

But it should not be abusive to the point of violating human rights. It should not allow the use of men in what some critics characterize as a form of modern day slave trading.

Across the country, and particularly in prisons that privatize services, such abuse occurs, said Stephen B. Bright, a law professor and director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta.

He spoke this week at the Yale University School of Management.

Bright's center represents inmates from the South living in "Third World prison conditions" and people facing the death penalty, he said. In some instances, the organization seeks media coverage.

"Sometimes shame is a very important element to bring to bear," said Bright, who teaches criminal law at Yale and Harvard University.

States contract with private companies to cut operating costs. Some of the most egregious violations Bright has seen occurred in prison systems, such as
Alabama's, that privatized health care.

One center client was taken off HIV/AIDS medication and put in a cell with a prisoner with tuberculosis. "He's gotten the death sentence for shoplifting,"
Bright said.

Also, privatized prisons throughout the South are using agents called, "bed traders," who call around in search of open beds on behalf of crowded facilities.

"I can't see a lot of difference between this and slavery. It's interstate trafficking of prisoners," Bright said.

Nationwide, 80 % of the people who go through the court system are poor and have court-appointed lawyers who are inundated with cases.

Meanwhile, politicians want to appear tough on crime and the public popularity of mandatory minimum sentences has yet to wane.

"In criminal justice, sometimes the process is the punishment," Bright said.

He recommended that prisons be run by the government, in a transparent manner.

That people serve 5-year sentences for growing marijuana is "tremendously wasteful" and states could slash costs by reducing the number of nonviolent
offenders who are incarcerated around the clock.

"We can operate more cheaply with less use of 24-hour incarceration," he said. "Somethings got to give. It cant go on like this."

Laurie Geronimo, a student organizer with Double Bottom Line and the Non-Profit Student Interest Group at the School of Management, said the event, "A Conversation with Stephen B. Bright" was enlightening
for future business leaders now studying at Yale.

Geronimo said she was shocked to learn that there are people on probation paying monthly fees and interest to private companies for supervision costs.

"This helps us think about what we have to consider as business leaders - how can we effectively achieve our missions and effectively manage our organizations?" she said.

(source: New Haven Register)