By Tom Henry | as published in the July 8, 2017 edition of the Blytheville Courier News
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity,” Nelson Mandela once said. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
I think you know me by now. You know that I am by no means a “bleeding heart liberal.” You also know that I am a big believer in law and order.
In fact, I simply point you to my April 18 column “Death Penalty Insanity”, where I said,
“I believe that they should have done to them, what they did to their victims…but publicly when at all practical. If they shot someone in the head, blow their brains out. If they used an axe, then use a dull axe on them.”
Those words are clearly not from someone that wants to pamper inmates and eliminate the judicial sentence. But, there is a reason why the civilized world has made so many prison/jail reforms. Gone are the days of Georgian and Victorian prison conditions where inmates are relegated to cold, damp, dark, cave like cells with chronically ill cellmates that were denied medical attention. In those days, most of those prisoners committed a small crime, usually just the inability to pay their debts.
Multiple people have told me that today, in Mississippi County, we still have similar instances of inmates committing relatively small crimes but being forced to live in subhuman conditions. Most, if not all, of the men jailed at the Northeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Osceola are there on drug convictions.
Many suffer from addiction and during their short (12-month or less) sentences, go through treatment counseling. So we are not talking about murderers, rapists or terrorists.
When convicted in a fair trial, they deserve to be locked up and “pay their debt to society” but they do not deserve be kept in living conditions that keep them sick, nor do they deserve to pick up a lifelong illness as a result of inhumane treatment by the state.
Likewise, you and I both know plenty of good, hardworking people that have applied for jobs with the state, typically in hopes of getting a good benefit package of insurance and retirement.
The men and women that work at the DCC should not have their health compromised simply because of bureaucratic neglect.
What one does vocationally is merely an income source, not an identity. But for some, they leave DCC employ with an entirely changed identity – one of being permanently ill or even disabled because of chronic, permanent headaches.
My columns would be a waste of space, paper and ink if I didn’t offer a call to action and point out solutions to the problems that I write about. Here is what needs to be done:
The state needs to fix the building. They say they have, but since I can’t see for myself, I’m saying it must not just be cosmetic painting or even throwing down a few gallons of bleach. I am talking about complete remediation. In essence, bring in experts and spend adequate money to fix the problems with the building – and do it right.
All inmates or employees that are sick or that request to see a doctor should have access to one. I have been told that one is now on staff, I hope its true and that the men have access now.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is change the culture within the department from one where people are afraid to tell their superiors of ways to make improvements. That’s called initiative and should be rewarded. There is never an adequate excuse for bureaucracy punishing whistle-blowers or motivated people interested in improvement.
Next, find out why the building has had the problem. Was it due to flaws with the original construction? Was it due to flaws with any installations? Was it due to some weather related event?
Regardless of what the reason is, it needs to be fixed, but if it is due to shoddy work, then the party that did that shoddy work should correct it at their expense.
Lastly, if you are currently employed at the DCC and you see that the problem is not being addressed, then quite frankly, you have a moral responsibility to throw light on the issue. Contact your supervisor despite the consequences. Contact me. Contact your elected officials. Get other employees and/or former inmates to join together in a collective voice until it gets fixed.
The only reason there is still a problem is because not enough good people gave voice to the problem yet.
We do not live in a dictatorship where you can be imprisoned or punished for speaking out. We do still live in a relatively free society. So, if you continue to keep quiet, then you are a guilty accomplice as well.