Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Prisons under fire

When I was in grade school, the worst punishment a student could receive was either staying after school or staying in for recess. While one’s peers were playing kickball or climbing on the monkey bars, a troublemaker was required to stand in front of a chalkboard and write 25 times “I will not talk during class,” or something toward that end.

I had my name on the board a fair share of times and was punished accordingly.

Although I hated being punished and missed playing kickball, I neither charged my teacher with violating my civil rights nor claimed I was unlawfully detained by my school.

That said, one could imagine my surprise when two high-profile detention centers came under fire over the last few months.

In a lawsuit I am still shaking my head over, inmates at Wisconsin’s Supermax facility in Boscobel sued the prison for violating their Eighth Amendment rights by allegedly administering cruel and unusual punishments.

To give you some background, Wisconsin’s only super-maximum-security prison lies almost 85 miles due west of Madison and at last count housed 283 inmates.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Supermax prison was designed to detain the state’s most disruptive, incorrigible convicts who may have assaulted or murdered guards and fellow inmates in other state facilities. The inhabitants are supposedly “the worst of the worst.”

In the class-action suit, Supermax inmates sued the state for more time outside their cells, a recreation center and free round-trip bus service to and from the prison for financially needy families. The plaintiffs also included a provision that would change the name of the prison because they didn’t like the image the name “Supermax” cast on them. Here’s the kicker: All of these reforms would be billed to you, John Q. Taxpayer.

And the inmates won their case.

People who get offended by the old woman who sued McDonalds for $3 gazillion after she spilled hot coffee on herself should be shocked and appalled by this one.

Granted, serving time in the Boscobel state prison–no longer “Supermax” because it’s a naughty word–is hard time. But who says it shouldn’t be? Did anyone ever think about the civil rights of the victims of these inmates?

Let me reiterate. Supermax inmates are those who cannot behave in regular maximum-security institutions. These are the inmates who murder people in prison after already being in prison for murder. Somehow, I doubt changing the name of the prison brings any more shine to the r?sum?s of these particular criminals.

Granted, some reforms were necessary in this case. People with mental illnesses, juveniles and petty criminals do not belong in Supermax-like conditions. For those inmates, I applaud this reform. The rest of you can rot in there for all I care.

The second of these cases may be even more unnerving.

Detainees from America’s “Operation Enduring Freedom” have been sent to Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These detainees are the terrorists responsible for the events of Sept.11, yet the United States is the one accused of being inhumane.

For their roles in the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent Americans, terrorists at Guantanamo Bay are given three nutritious meals a day, hot showers, access to the same medical treatment Marines receive and the right to worship in whatever way they see fit.

Not bad for a group of individuals who have vowed to kill innocent Americans through war or acts of terrorism. This “inhumane” treatment sounds better than the alternative, which is roaming a cold cave in Afghanistan while being bombarded by oxygen-snuffing bombs.

Detention facilities and penitentiaries are not made to coddle inmates. They are not supposed to be vacation homes. They exist to punish those who violate the laws and the citizens of the nation. People in search of a cause need to look elsewhere.

If I had only known in elementary school what I know now, I would have sued my teacher and never missed a game of kickball. And I can guarantee you my parents would never have been able to send me to my room.

Zach Fehrenbach ([email protected]) is a UW alumnus. He wants to sue everyone who is mean to him for pain and suffering.

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