The American Government is Not a Goddamn Jobs Program

6

Here’s a news story that will make libertarians and feminists alike want to grab their guns and barricade the door, because the world appears to still be going to hell: a Texas sheriff’s office has been charged with running a “Rape Camp” in the county jail. I’ll let the HuffPo take it from here while I go pour myself a stiff drink:

Two women who were inmates at the jail, which is attached to the county’s quaint courthouse building, are now suing Live Oak County and guards Vincent Aguilar, Jaime Smith and Israel Charles Jr.

The lawsuit says the three guards forced the women to shave their vaginas in front of them, to perform oral sex on each other and on the guards and sometimes “to conceal [the guards’] ejaculate by way of ingestion,” the court documents state. The guards would also pin the women against the wall while verbally berating them, groping them and digitally raping them, the suit says.

The documents also say the guards told one plaintiff that she “belong[ed] to [them]” and was their “sex slave or whatever they wanted her to be.”

The guards allegedly refused to give the women food and water, and also beat them and threatened to kill them “in order to compel their compliance,” the lawsuit says. All the while, the jail allegedly failed to take appropriate measures to prevent such attacks and failed to discipline county employees for committing sexual assault. The supervisor of the jail “was a party to the assaults,” the documents state.

Two points: first, this isn’t an isolated incident. Prisoner abuse is a routine occurrence in American prisons. It seems that over the last 250 years, an informal social contract has evolved around the idea of justice, wherein we all agree that we’re basically cool with the abuse of convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters, and whoever else we find gross and scary, but please keep it behind closed doors and try not to get the wrong guy too often (the wrong guy with a job and a 401k, anyway). We think so little about this system that prison rape is HIGHlarious joke fodder, particularly for hack comedians and “edgy” sitcom writers.  But when we learn that one of the victims in the Texas case was in prison for something as benign as marijuana possession charges (which were later dropped), we may want to reexamine this ad-hoc, vaguely eye-for-an-eye notion we have of criminal justice. Agents of the state should not be treating people, not even violent criminals, this way.

Second: on its face, this is a story about the unaccountability of and rampant human rights violations within our nation’s prisons. It’s also a story about how out-of-control our institutions can get when we delegate huge amounts of power to unaccountable individuals. Unauthorized drone strikes and unchecked executive power are the most visible cases these days, but the “power corrupts” theory can apply to the cohort that missed out on the four-to-eight-year ivy-league credentialing system, too. And let’s be clear: having authority over the daily schedule, movements, and access to food and water for another individual is a huge power. We ought to be concerned ready to set fire to something whenever a government institution delegates that much power to positions (aka “jobs created”) where the only qualifications are that the applicant has a pulse and doesn’t eat human brains. President Obama at least pretends to have a secret rationale for authorizing murder-by-flying-robot, but any IRS grunt can shut you down if he or she doesn’t like what you’re saying. A TSA agent can keep you grounded if they suspect that you’re having an affair with a married person. And everybody knows somebody who’s been arrested on the charges of “contempt of cop.”

“But these are good-paying jobs with benefits,” says the public sector union representative/person who’s never been to the DMV, let alone prison. And they have a valid concern; there are reasons to be worried that the credentialed, digitally-savvy middle-upper-middle classes are pulling ahead in the economy and leaving the rest of America behind. We can debate the merit of programs like SSI, SSDI, Social Security and welfare, but they exist to help meet the material needs of citizens who truly cannot contribute productively to the system. Doling out ever more authority over our lives to unelected agents of the state, thereby raising the budget of the government and crowding out the private economy, is a piss-poor way to ensure the country’s future prosperity. And when that agent of the state, is (say) a private prison company with a vested interest in making sure America’s laws keep its cells full, we need to challenge the idea that a robust Nordic-style public sector is better for America than another Wal Mart.

The American government is not a goddamn jobs program.

Photo credit