Does anybody ever think about what happens to our immigrants and prison inmates once they are jailed? Probably not, but I can tell you what happens to some of them. They are killed in the jails in which they are housed. They are mistreated and often their medical needs are ignored until they die. The phenomenon of inmates dying in jail is nothing new. Certainly it didn’t start happening yesterday. But it happens often and like other cases involving abuse by law enforcement personnel, it attracts little or no attention. What a shame.
I’m sure that my beliefs are unpopular. Many people say, “who cares about criminals and prisoners and immigrants?” They must have done something wrong, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be in jail. The problem, however, is that these people, these human beings, were not sentenced to die. They were sentenced to a term of days, or years, in prison after which they were to be released to resume living their lives. These inmates and immigrants did not receive the death penalty, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that our jails and detention centers are essentially killing their inmates by withholding simple medical treatment.
Nina Bernstein wrote a chilling article in today’s N.Y. Times entitled “Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions.” The article tells us about a 48 year old man who died in an immigration detention center in Virginia from “an overwhelming bacterial infection” that could have been treated with antibiotics. Of course, he never got the treatment even while he desperately complained of his illness for 10 days leading up to his death. Not only is this tragic, but is a violation of our core constitutional and civil rights. Contrary to popular belief, the phrase “civil rights” protects us, and I mean all of us, from abuse and discrimination by our government. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment. Certainly the imposition of a de facto death penalty on inmates and immigrants constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Although most people may not think or hear about these issues, thankfully the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project keeps a watchful eye on these types of civil rights abuses. There is no doubt in my mind that these cases are tragic. But we should also be alarmed when our jails and detention centers are allowing people to die while in their custody. We should not be so quick to criticize the human rights abuses of other countries while closing our eyes to what is happening in our own backyard.