Opinion

Prison report disgusting, if not surprising

Worst suspicions corroborated, if not confirmed: The Muscogee County Prison has been something of a hellhole not just for some of its prisoners, but for some of its employees as well.

The allegations in a Georgia Department of Corrections investigation probably did not come as a life-changing shock to most readers. We’re talking about a prison, which is not supposed to resemble a recreational spa. It’s a tough, gritty, unpleasant place, as well it should be. The language you’re likely to hear, whether from the inmates or from the staff, isn’t going to be G-rated dialogue.

But even within the wiggle room of realism, a taxpayer-funded place of detention is supposed to be run according to the law, and according to regulations, and according to basic principles of fairness and humanity. The just-released interviews from a DOC report summarized in a Sunday story by staff writer Mike Owen provide at least anecdotal evidence that those principles were routinely flouted.

Workplace affairs happen just about everywhere. But they are always inappropriate when they involve supervisors and subordinates, and outrageously so if public money is involved -- as in allegations of overtime pay and other kinds of preferential treatment.

(Both principals in what has become a very public prison sexual affair admitted the relationship to investigators. Such an affair violates unambiguous city policy. So on what basis did the Personnel Review Board reinstate the supervisor? The Columbus Council hearing on that matter should be interesting indeed.)

Prisons, by definition, house criminals. Criminals are often con artists who will do or say anything for their own advantage. Even so, allegations of prisoner abuse and neglect -- including evidence that supervisors ignored or dismissed corrections officers’ concerns about prisoner health and safety -- should outrage the most basic sense of decency.

According to interviews, one prisoner was beaten by a fellow inmate to the point of needing hospital treatment; another said he was possibly suicidal and later cut his wrist; another’s complaint of a knee injury was disregarded, and the knee turned out to be broken. In each case, according to the report, warnings were ignored.

But inmates seem not to have been the only people mistreated at the prison; so, say some of the 27 interviewed, were employees. Management by fear, humiliation and intimidation are alleged to have been commonplace. Perhaps worst of all is the allegation of racism in the ranks, not just in the form of language, but in what more than one employee said was separate and unequal treatment.

Whether further investigation corroborates some of these allegations to the point of terminations or worse remains to be seen. This much we know: Prison is a tough enough place to work under the best of conditions. These conditions sound like anything but.

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