Most of the other litigants are probably doing hard time, actually (which suggests more serious offenses), so they have less to lose than guys trying to keep their good time or those finally approaching parole, so I wouldn't expect to find a bunch of angels suing prisons in general, especially in class-actions. Regardless of their crimes, though, I do think these guys should get some credit for taking this on - they're doing it as much for their peers and the next generation of prisoners as they are for themselves...this is a pretty major undertaking, with significant implications, whether or not these guys win. Just filing the suit cranks up the heat on the DOJ to investigate their victimization - I don't see how the DOJ could refuse to CRIPA the place now...
Like it or not, folks, we need to protect the real bad guys we lock up as much as anyone else, especially if they are ever to return to our communities. We don't want them coming back more violated and violent than when they went to prison. Nor do we want to resort to barbarism, ourselves (I hope). Knowingly subjecting others to rape and torture twists our own heads, policies, and priorities in ways we won't recognize some day, if we don't stop and take responsibility now. So, even when convicted rapists and murderers and child molesters report that they have been raped in prison, we'd better respond wisely and make sure that this particular crisis brings out the best, not the worst, in all of us who wish to be part of the solution instead of the problam.
Furthermore, some things need to be said for all the rest of the prisoners vulnerable in this place. 35 VA prisoners filed suit - that's a LOT of people from one facility taking a risk that they'll be retaliated against any number of ways (including assault and murder). Suing your prison isn't a very safe thing to do while you're in it; it takes guts. Check out what's been happening with the Soy Suit litigants in Illinois.
Considering the potential consequences they're braving here, this reporter really dissed all the guys who signed on to this Virginia lawsuit. Whatever else they have done in life, no matter how horrendous, and whatever their sentence may be, prisoners can still make decisions every day to try to improve the world around them, to just be victimized and grow more vicious or self-destructive, or to hurt others. Because of the angle this lawsuit is taking, the involvement of Just Detention International, and the likelihood that these guys (and their lawyers) won't ever see a dime as a result of it (their emphasis is on reform), I think these guys all made a decision to try to make the world a little better, despite their crimes. I think that deserves some respect, if nothing else.
Published on HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com (http://hamptonroads.com)
Thirty-five inmates at a Virginia prison, fed up with rape and sodomy at the institution, have filed federal lawsuits seeking an end to prison violence.
The lawsuits come at the same time a group of prisoner advocates are demanding that the U.S. attorney general implement regulations, ordered by Congress, to eliminate sexual attacks in prisons.
Scott Howard-Smith of Wisconsin says his story is similar to those of other prison rape victims. Imprisoned in Colorado as a nonviolent offender, he was housed with violent gang members who forced him into prostitution. He said he was passed around for $5. His complaints, he said, were ignored.
Howard-Smith spoke Wednesday at a news conference sponsored by Just Detention International, an advocacy group seeking an end to sexual attacks in prisons.
"The attacks that I suffered were devastating," Howard-Smith said. "I was repeatedly raped, assaulted and extorted by members of a notorious white supremacy gang."
The group is trying to put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to implement regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 law passed by Congress with bipartisan support. Wednesday was the deadline for Holder to implement the rules, but his office has indicated it will need several more months.
Virginia says it already has requirements of the act in place, but other states have balked at the law, citing costs. Alabama, for example, said it would cost $58 million to start such a program in that state; New Mexico estimated its cost at $12 million.
Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act are covered in the basic training program for guards and reviewed annually during training.
The department also provides orientation regarding sexual victimization for all incoming male and female offenders, which is repeated if someone is transferred.
"The information provided is adequate to assist inmates if they heed the guidance," Traylor said in an e-mail. "The subject matter covered in orientation includes: ways to avoid sexual victimization, such as avoiding debt, not seeking protection from other inmates, not soliciting favors, not gambling, etc.
"Guidance is also provided regarding courses of action if one is a victim of sexual misconduct or sexual assault and protection is available from prison staff. Counselors/psychologists are available to provide individual guidance and address interpersonal issues," Traylor said.
The department also separates violent, predatory inmates from those who "want to better themselves and take advantage of prison programs," he added.
The inmates who sued say the department hasn't done enough to prevent sexual assaults and other prison violence. But inmate lawsuits, filed by the thousands each year, face significant hurdles, especially when pursued without attorneys, as in these cases.
The lead plaintiff, John R. Lay, a convicted violent sex offender from Northern Virginia, has filed around three dozen lawsuits challenging his imprisonment or claiming civil rights violations.
Other plaintiffs also have violent backgrounds. Linwood Jenkins, 48, is serving a life term for a string of offenses, including maiming, use of a firearm and robbery in Isle of Wight County. Nelson Bradley, 47, is serving life for a Lynchburg homicide. Rodney F. White, 44, is also serving life for rape and robbery in Northern Virginia.
The other 31 suits are pending in the Alexandria federal court. All 35 inmates are at the Nottoway Correctional Center outside Richmond.
The lawsuit contains a long list of complaints, but the chief claim is "widespread gang activity" including rape, sodomy, stabbings, robbery and drug use. Prison officials have ignored their complaints, the suit says.
Four of the inmates, who filed suits individually earlier this month after being denied class-action status, cleared their first hurdle when a Norfolk federal judge allowed the suits to go forward as long as they submit answers to a questionnaire.
Traylor said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
Tim McGlone, (757) 446-2343, firstname.lastname@example.org