Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bad things happening in lockups

I can already anticipate the hostile reactions I’m going to get for this commentary – particularly from people who are going to argue that “jail” isn’t supposed to be a nice place to spend time.

But no matter how hard-headed one might be, I think we all ought to be able to agree that a pair of incidents involving people being detained by police are shameful enough that we ought to be trying to figure out ways to avoid a repeat – rather than trying to figure out ways to let law enforcement off the hook for what went wrong on their watch.

NEITHER OF THESE incidents involved a prison (either state or federal), and that is important to note. We’re talking about people who still had that presumption of innocence, who wound up being harmed during their time of incarceration.

In one case involving the Lake County Jail in suburban Waukegan, we’re talking about someone who wound up dead.

For as the Chicago Tribune reported, Lyvita Gomes died back in January at a hospital in Waukegan from the injuries she sustained while being held at the county jail for missing a scheduled court appearance on charges that she did not show up for jury duty.

Some might argue that for her to be facing prosecution for a jury duty incident, she must have done something severe. Then again, she was an Indian citizen whose visa status was expired. It was unlikely she could have served on a jury in any case.

THIS IS A bureaucratic nightmare that wound up with Gomes in the jail, where she started up the hunger strike that resulted in her hospitalization and ultimate death.

Her family is filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming the county sheriff who runs the jail should have realized she was not completely mentally stable and should have taken extra precautions to deal with her.

Then again, there probably are people who want to view all types of people sitting in a cell somewhere as flawed or tainted, and not worth any extra attention. Which is a very cold attitude to have – particularly for those who haven’t been found guilty of any offense!

Anybody who thinks that having an inmate die during incarceration is somehow acceptable truly IS the problem in our society.

LAKE COUNTY OFFICIALS claim they’re going to be “vindicated” when the details of this case come out. Which means their offense is something along the lines of “bad things happen.”

Yet as much as the idea of someone who probably needed help winding up dead makes me squirm, I have to admit that another incident occurring in Chicago bothers me even more.

In that incident that WLS-TV reported occurred at the Harrison District police station, at Harrison Street and Kedzie Avenue just off the Eisenhower Expressway, a woman being held in the lockup says that a police officer offered to help her in exchange for sex.

The incident is under investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the police Bureau of Internal Affairs. Chicago Police officials said in a statement that the officer in question, “has been relieved of police powers.”

WHICH COULD MEAN he might face criminal charges some day, or might merely face the prospect of losing his job. Or maybe it means it will be a drawn-out process that will result in some technical maneuver that many will view as no punishment at all.

Although I find it interesting that the Fraternal Order of Police is placing its distance between this officer and themselves (usually, they’d be offering to defend him; this cop has to pay for his own attorney). So maybe something will happen.

I can only hope so. It’s just that when it comes to matters involving law enforcement and criminal justice, incidents involving male police officers or corrections officers and female inmates always strike me as the most peculiar.

It is an incident where these men see a pool of women in a completely submissive position, and they try to take advantage of it for their own personal gratification.

WHICH IS SOMETHING that bothers me even more than the woman in Lake County who likely died because no one wanted to take her condition seriously.

Somehow, the concept of “they’re in jail” doesn’t seem like a high-minded defense.


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