The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Accountability in prisons is elusive


Regarding the June 6 front-page article “Videos highlight police riot tactics”:

I hope the ubiquity of video technology will result in long-overdue accountability for police who brutalize citizens posing no threat to them. But accountability for the treatment of incarcerated people is more elusive. The problem is not a lack of cameras; there are plenty in most prisons. Even when abusive behavior by staff is caught on camera, however, the victims cannot bring the video to light.

In Virginia state prisons, for example, there is no way to compel review of security footage at prisoners’ disciplinary hearings or in support of complaints of excessive force. Hearing officers (who are corrections officers and, therefore, not independent arbiters) may review video in private, but not in the prisoners’ presence. When Interfaith Action for Human Rights has brought complaints of excessive force to the attention of corrections officials, they tell us the complaint will be looked into and the prisoner will be informed of the outcome, but rarely is a serious investigation conducted. Too often, prisoners report being pressured by investigators to withdraw their complaints.

Accountability is essential, especially for government agents with the power to hurt people, including people in our prisons and jails who suffer abuses that are not part of their sentences.

Gay Gardner, Springfield

The writer is a senior adviser for Virginia for Interfaith Action for Human Rights.

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