There seems to exist a rule of lawmaking that every good policy decision must not go unpunished and must be equally balanced by a completely bone-headed one. That logic and good sense must be sacrificed at the altar of fear-mongering at least once every legislative session.
Given all the good work the CT legislature has done this year, it seemed inevitable that someone would end up being spanked. Sure enough, a bill has made its way out of committee that underlines the commonly-held belief that any good work that comes out of a legislature is sheer, blind luck and most of the bills passed are ineffectual at best or mind-bogglingly stupid at worst.
This particular euphemism would not only make it a Class D felony - punishable by up to 5 years’ incarceration – but also place the offender on a public sex offender registry. The act? Committing a “lewd act” while in prison.
The bill, says the Department of Correction, is necessary because inmates often expose themselves and masturbate in front of staff members. In 2011 alone, there were 390 such incidents committed by 94 inmates.
Wait. Hang on.
94 inmates? Out of approximately 17,000 at any given time? That’s 0.55% of the inmate population. That’s barely half of one percent of the entire population in all of CT’s prisons.
And for this we need a new crime? One that would impose a mandatory consecutive sentence no less? And one that would land the offender on a sex offender registry for 10 years, presumably with the short description that “this person exposed himself in prison”.
Have we suddenly solved every other problem that plagues the State of Connecticut that this is all that remains to be whipped? Are the administrative punishments so limp that this is even viewed as a necessity? (Clearly, they are not, as evidenced by the offender rate of 0.55%. There exists a deterrent, and an effective one.)
Although the masturbation aspect of this bill will garner the most headlines, it is important to note that the bill is broader than that. It criminalizes any “lewd exposure”. What that is will be known when we see it. Presumably, any exposure than a correctional officer decides they do not like will be lewd.
The second clause of the bill, presumably inserted because even the drafters recognized the outrageous nature of it, is a red herring and a lie. It states that this lewd exposure or masturbation “may reasonably be expected to be viewed by a reasonably identifiable employee of the Department of Correction”. Umm, hello? It’s a fucking prison. Every living second “may reasonably be expected to be viewed by a reasonably identifiable employee of the Department of Correction”.
Public indecency, in the free world, is defined as:
(1) an act of sexual intercourse, (2) a lewd exposure of the body with intent to arouse or satisfy his or her sexual desire, or (3) a lewd fondling or caress of another’s body.
When not in prison, this act is designated as a Class B misdemeanor, worthy of no more than 6 months in jail. In that same jail, it is apparently 10 times more despicable.
Masturbation in prisons – or lewd exposure – is about two things: sexual release and maintain a modicum of dignity. We strip inmates of their humanity, we strip them of their privacy, we strip them of their freedom, we strip them of their clothes and perform cavity searches, we strip them of any semblance of privacy, we treat them like animals and then we act surprised – shocked, even – when they use the only thing we can’t take away from them, their bodies, to regain a sense of control over their situations.
Meanwhile, rapes in prison go unnoticed, condoms aren’t passed out, disease is rampant and staff exert immense physical and sexual control over their wards. And yet all we want to do is flog the prisoners more. Treating them like animals isn’t enough, we want to neuter them.
[Let's not forget the preposterous cost implications of this 5 year consecutive requirement: the current average cost of housing an immate is $44,000+ per year. For every inmate who is convicted of this nonsense, we're adding $220,000 to the DOC's already bloated budget.]
Norm has more.