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Prison Guards: Victims or Villains?
Review By Paul Wright
This is the title of one of two articles in the latest issue [o]f "Blueprint for Social Justice." Both articles are written by female former prison guards who describe their experiences working as guards in women's prisons. One of the authors is now a doctoral candidate at Yale, the other has written a book titled, "Prison Officials and their World. "
Basically the authors state: "Prisons, especially violent maximum security prisons, have a devastating effect on the lives and minds of those who work within them."
Dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors on the part of officers are consequences of their jobs, not characteristics that the vast majority of officers bring to their jobs. Attempts to portray officers as villains rather than victims distorts analysis of the prison world and deflects criticisms of prisons themselves.
The article also goes on to describe a study of 40 Massachusetts prison guards over a four year period. Most resigned within that period and all reported being unhappy about their jobs and the emotional devastation that it caused them, while those that stayed did so because they were from economically depressed communities and were unable to find other work as one guard put it: "They are paying me good money to ruin my life."
The basic conclusion is that prisons are places of hate and despair that will not be changed into centers of "rehabilitation" merely by recruiting "better" prison guards.
As a prisoner it is interesting to read. In any struggle for change within the prison system we should always keep in mind that there are contradictions within the ranks of the DOC, especially between the guards and the administrators. In a recent lawsuit over conditions at the King County (Seattle) jail, prison guards joined the prisoners lawsuit for better conditions by arguing they were endangered by being forced to work in such overcrowded conditions. (The judge dismissed them from the suit by stating they could always go to work elsewhere.) In some cases guards are also treated badly by prison administrators such as massive overtime, low pay and benefits compared to other state workers, and generally when overcrowded conditions become unsafe for prisoners they also become unsafe for the prison guards working within the prison. While there are the abusive and sadistic prison guards, undoubtedly there are also those who work in prisons because they need to support their families and cannot find employment elsewhere, this is especially true in the small, rural economically depressed many U.S. are built in. These contradictions should be borne in mind.
For a copy of the article, send 55¢ to: Blueprint, Loyola University, Box 12, New Orleans, LA 70118-6195, ask for the September 1991 issue. Blueprint is free to prisoners and I would like to hear the views of readers who have read the article.
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