Monday, April 25, 2011

Indefinite Detention

Many of us have made the case over the last few years that the United States has been involved with torture since long before Bush's war on terror. Some have also been pointing out that Bradley Manning is hardly the first US prisoner to experience solitary confinement.

We’re glad Bradley Manning’s treatment is getting some attention, but what about the tens of thousands of others who are languishing in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails? According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in the nation’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary in other facilities. Where is the outrage–even among progressives–for these forgotten souls? Where, for that matter, is some acknowledgment of their existence?

In that spirit, I'd like to also raise the question of whether or not prisoners at Guantanamo are the only ones in the US to experience indefinite detention. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is clearly no.

McLeod County Attorney Michael Junge left his courthouse office the other night, feeling the weight that comes with a prosecutor's job and thinking about a sex offender named Jonathon Wieland.

Wieland, 20, is scheduled for release from the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility in July. Junge could allow him to walk out of prison and into supervised parole. Or, endorsing a Corrections Department recommendation, he could ask a judge to send Wieland to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, where the young man might spend the rest of his life behind barbed wire.

Lets be clear about this...Wieland had been tried for a crime, convicted, and sentenced to prison. He had done that time and was scheduled to be released. But a prosecutor and a judge could sentence him to indefinite detention for life on the risk that he might re-offend.

The article linked to above says that Minnesota currently has 600 people sentenced to indefinite detention under those circumstances.

Among their ranks are more than 40 elderly offenders, some in wheelchairs; low-functioning adults considered to be little risk of re-offending; and young men without felony records who were hastily committed to the sex-offender program after completing juvenile sentences.

One story from the article is particularly horrific:

...a Rice County man who was convicted of possessing child pornography as a juvenile and ended up at the program's Moose Lake facility when he became an adult.

Sentenced to indefinite detention for life because he was in possession of child pornography as a juvenile?!!!

These are the nameless faces of people without a champion like Glenn Greenwald to make their case. Excuse me if I'm a bit done with the folks who think that prisoner abuse started with the war on terror and that only Bush and Obama are the problem here.

Solving these issues will only happen when all of us as US citizens are willing to look at the system of injustice we have created and, for the most part, feel pretty comfortable with - as long as it doesn't hurt anyone we know or care about.


  1. Ours is a very punitive and unforgiving society, but child sexual abuse (and I don't mean just the possession of pornography) is a tricky issue. I don't have any answers, just questions. For one thing, why is the sexual abuse of children so pervasive in our society? Or has it always been so and is just more publicized now?

    There are many aspects of our society that sicken me. Abuse is one and unreasonable punishment is another. What should be done with the repeat offender?

  2. Robbie

    I agree that those are complex questions. But they deserve our rational consideration.

    Being driven by fear doesn't work any better on the issue of sexual abuse than it does when it comes to terrorism.

    I firmly believe that sexual abuse is more publicized now. But the truth is that we, as a culture, are a bit schizophrenic when it comes to sexuality...using it as a marketing tool on the one hand and as a bludgeon for oppression on the other. That is a recipe for deviancy, as we've seen so well illustrated in the Catholic Church lately.

    This issue came up for me today at work because we work with some young people who are getting caught up in this system of indefinite detention. Most often they are raised in environments of poverty and abuse. They are sexualized as young children and act out what they have been taught. As a result, we put them in prison for life. Its just not right!

  3. I fully agree about the schizophrenic attitudes. It's not just sexuality but also in how 18-year-olds are considered mature enough to join the military but not mature enough to drink a beer.

    There are very few actions that should be punished by life in prison, and even fewer when committed by juveniles. Society fails these kids again and again and then locks them up.

    Are you familiar with the "empathy game" (I can't remember what its official name is) that is used lately in seminars to help everyone from judges and cops to parole officers and social workers to understand what life is really like for the people they deal with? Apparently it's very effective.

    (Full disclosure: I'm MM, in case you hadn't seen my very brief profile and figured that out.)

  4. Hey Robbie/MM!!!!!!!

    I'm going to check out that "empathy game." I hadn't heard of it before. So thanks for the tip.

  5. You're welcome. Let me know, here or on MT, if you find out more about it. I heard about it on NPR and was fascinated. One thing we need more of, for sure, in this world is empathy.

    I'll check in here from time to time. It's a good blog.


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