To The Daily Sun,
My approaching month in confinement (at the Belknap County Jail) started off with frightening emotions and thoughts of unfamiliarity. The initial contact and customs with correctional officers and jail inmates may overwhelm even the toughest of minds. Hope seems to be found through camaraderie during a time of partiality that is un-favoring to the pre-trial inmate.
As a pre-trial inmate unable to post bail, one clings to the warmth that is the idea of the presumption of innocence. This inherent constitutional right is suppose to protect many of the fundamental generosities that we enjoy in everyday life. Unfortunately for many unable to post bail, economics trumps, creating a disparity between defendants from affluent families and those from impoverished circumstances.
Strangely, at Belknap County Jail, there is evidence showing that pre-trial inmates are treated in worse respects than sentenced inmates who have been adjudicated guilty. Those inmates who have been found guilty are labeled minimum security and enjoy amenities greater than pre-trial inmates who are dictated medium security.
The minimum security inmates at the jail enjoy an environment mirroring that of a boys summer camp. They enjoy a larger room with individual beds, and many windows to literally and figuratively lighten their atmosphere with sunlight. They enjoy a common area with amenities that include a microwave, personal refrigeration, and are able to regulate the time. Further, minimum security inmates enjoy working privileges, and have a relaxed correctional officers presence, often governing themselves in a space far exceeding that of pre-trial inmates.
The medium security amenities for defendants awaiting their day in court are less than acceptable. The jail's inmate handbook attempts to explain that pre-trial inmates are housed in pods and dorms but fail to accurately describe what these are. These pods and dorms are mostly cement walls stacked on cement floors and colored in a dismal bluish-gray. They allow for very little sunlight to pierce the integrity of what very little space exists. Alactraz-like bars are substituted for contemporary plexiglass windows, but do not alleviate the gloomy, depressing, lifeless atmosphere represented by these rooms.
Additionally troubling are the showers where pre-trial inmates are subjected to the possibility of contracting diseases such as mercer or scabies. Vents polluted with mold are also a threat — cycling spores on a daily basis and increasing the risk of potential illness.
As previously stated, the facility allows sentenced inmates to work. In its discretion the facility may allow pre-trial inmates to work if their bail does not exceed $5,000 cash, and upon signing of a work waiver. This limitation is for protection and security of the facility but needlessly creates a bias between pre-trial inmates. Those inmates whose bail is higher than $5,000 cash should have the same option and courtesy to work and further the efficiency of the jail, regardless of bail limitations.
Our society is predicated on such optimism where the alleged risk should be exceeded by a defendant's right to be considered and presumed innocent.
This should be extended not only in a courtroom, but also in related correctional matters. With failing amenities, and such disparity, it is not surprising that supervision is lacking.
Correctional officers at Belknap County Jail come in an array or personalities, stretching from ethical and pleasant to emotionally questionable.
Pre-trial inmates are treated unfairly at times and in too controlling of a manner, which is inconsistent with the cloak of innocence. Too much discretion is given to the facility regarding pre-trial inmates. This results in too much infringement upon First and Fourth Amendment freedoms. Many pre-trial inmates fail to express opinion for fear of being moved to "the hole" — solitary confinement. This breeds oppression for those individuals whose guilt has yet to be determined, and creates fear of being sanctioned by the jail.
Understanding that we do not live in a perfect system of justice. I cannot however accept that the presumption of innocence fails to cloak and extend to those pre-trial inmates unable to make bail, yet it seems evident by the mere amenities provided, and the treatment of its pre-trial inmates that this is the case. The theory should be more than a mere assumption granted to someone in a courtroom. It should shroud a citizen until such time that their guilty is proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Belknap County Jail
- Category: Letters
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