Prison ethics 101

Mason, Frederick



Prison Ethics 101 Ethic - A principle or system of right or good conduct. Ethics - The study of the nature of morals and of moral choices. - The American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition Lesson One I remember in college taking Media Ethics, as part of my major in RIV/Mass Communications. I remember people saying it was one of the hardest classes, because the professor almost never gave out A's (I think I got a B+). But boiled down, ethics in itself isn't tremendously hard to comprehend. Simply put, it is the choices you make, whether to do right, or not. Combined with "prison," one could say that Prison Ethics is a study of the nature of morals, or principles of right or good conduct, in a prison environment. Now, there are two opposing views here: the view, as an inmate, and the view as an employee of the prison. You can imagine these two views can indeed be contrasting, but to be honest, it isn't. Employee or inmate, there are still principles of right or good conduct. And very often, in prison, one influences the other. Perhaps we can start a short series, exploring prison ethics here at USP Tucson. Almost every day here creates a unique situation of ethics, a study of whether a person displayed right or good conduct. So, let's explore this together; I'm using real situations, and we'll try to explore, or peel layers to see if what the person did was right or good conduct, or not. July 16th, 2020: Here at USP Tucson, inmates had been on lockdown for 2 1/2 weeks, because the prison felt it necessary for all inmates (except workers, which defeated the entire purpose of the lockdown) was to stay in their cell, and would be allowed out to take a shower once every 3 days. To argue ethics here seems fruitless; the greater reason for the lockdown was to "protect inmates from risk". Even if inmates argue the confinement, the need for safety was greater. It was, ethically speaking, the right thing to do. But, was it ethically right to have inmate workers, thus exposing them to the risk? Is it right for a prison to force inmates to work, after a memo declared all inmates were to be on lockdown? See, it may sound right, because a person on the outside may believe that -2- inmates have no rights, and prisons run off inmate workers. Both are incorrect. Inmates walk into prison with most of their constitutional rights. If it were not so, prisons could simply starve them all to death. They can't, because it's against the law, based on Cruel and Unusual Punishment, an Eighth Amendment violation. This is one of many rights inmates have. Second, no prison should run exclusively off inmates. It leads to the saying, "The inmates run the prison", which actually has validity, but only in general. There is no such thing as "Essential Inmate Personnel" in any prison, including USP Tucson. If an emergency changes the normal routine of the prison, such as a riot, or in this case, a pandemic, the responsibility of running the prison falls squarely on staff. This includes the laundry, cafeteria, and any essential needs of the prison. So, knowing this, did the prison act in an unethical manner, forcing inmates to work? To be clear, this was not voluntary; inmates were forced to work, or be punished by being taken to the SHU, or Special Housing Unit (where inmates are often tormented). Was it right for staff here at USP Tucson to force inmates to work in an environment (cafeteria, laundry, etc) which puts them at the greatest risk in the prison to contract the virus? During the "lockdown", the safest place for inmates to be, is in their cells. There, they are at the lowest risk of contracting the Coronavirus, because the only way an inmate, in his cell (or even dorm) can contract the virus is if someone from the outside - like staff - brings it into the prison. In essence, the inmates need to be protected from staff, because it is they who can bring the virus into the prison. Knowing this, the decision to ignore the safest way to protect the inmates, and force the workers into a much greater risk, appears to be unethical. Simply put, was this the right thing to do, and if so, why? The answer would have to validate knowingly and forcefully putting inmate's lives at risk, after establishing a lockdown for all inmates, to prevent the risk of inmates contracting the virus. Was USP Tucson ethically right? If so, why? If not...why did they do it? End of Lesson One.

Author: Mason, Frederick

Author Location: Arizona

Date: October 14, 2020

Genre: Essay

Extent: 2 pages

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