Sunday, January 10, 2010

Prison Staff and the Innocent

There are a lot of innocent people in prison. I don't mean technically innocent, or subject to some prosecutorial slipperyness. I refer to those who just didn't commit the crime they are convicted of.
We - as a society - pretend that these are rare anomalies, nothing much to worry about. And the broad mass of society has the luxury of being able to do this, and I hope that they don't find themselves on the wrong end of State power.
Prison staff, though, can find themselves in the awkward position of being unable to avert their eyes. How can a screw keep banging up a man he believes is innocent? The mental contortions that allow this are beyond me but I suspect it flows from a variation of "only following orders". I'm all for personal responsibility and principle, and doing something wrong just because another person tells me to is anathema. But that's me.
Whilst wing staff only have to square their conscience a couple of times a day, at bang up, the prison probation officers and psychologists are far more culpable. They spend years delving into our heads, examining every aspect of our lives and crimes in a (vain) attempt to render us safe.
So they, of all staff, are most familiar with the file, the case, and some miscarriages of justice are so blatant that the file screams “innocent. And yet these staff will, day after day, face the con and insist that he rehashes his crime and explain himself.
It makes me shudder, that some individuals can knowingly keep others behind bars in the face of all the evidence. But this is a reflection of institutional structures based on power; no one individual has to take responsibility for their actions, none have to face the reality of their decisions on those in their charge. Everyone in the structure can absolve themselves, pointing to some superior's order, some regulation, some other centre of decision making.

Prison can coarsen the soul and render us indifferent to the sufferings of others - and this applies to staff as well as prisoners. The important difference is, staff have power over


  1. An accurate and dispiriting analysis of human nature wherever we are.

  2. Eichmann was only doing his job too, however! it's not down to the screws, the reason innocent people are in jail is because there are so many crap lawyers. I think you are venting your anger at the wrong bunch of people.

  3. There are certainly some prisoners who are innocent in prison - and there is no reason why the officers cannot treat them, and all others, with some decency and respect. After all, when these people come out of prison we want them to behave decently and respectfully to others - so the officers should set an example.

  4. One of the most chilling aspects of the human personality is the ability to turn a blind eye.

  5. What a great Blog, I have really enjoyed reading it keep up the posts! Its refreshing to hear an element of truth within experiences of life inside, you can only tell so much from being an outsider - in. Happy New Year!