Good vs. bad guys

Gregg Reese | 3/14/2012, 5 p.m.

I (once) helped a colleague collect data for his master's in criminology; he was studying the data that the penal system in South Carolina collected on the inmates at the State Prison in Columbia--namely the "Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Profile . . ."

. . . South Carolina also administered the tests to guards and furthermore stored the data in the same (non-computer) files.

. . . Naturally we did the obvious, we compared the guards to the prisoners ...

. . . What came out of that comparison was truly eye-opening. Statistically significant (something like the 95 percentile level) the guards and prisoners were indistinguishable.

I always thought that what it meant was that the same type personality were in both types. The guards were able to channel their "personalities" into a legally recognized and approved channel. The prisoners didn't and hence became prisoners.
--Mike Junker, an academic, circa 1961

Employment in a detention facility presents unique problems markedly different even from those confronting professionals in other areas of law enforcement. In addition to the problems of burnout, stress-related health problems, and high turnover rates plaguing other peace officers, custodial work in incarceration environs often brings out issues of identity confusion.

These, and other troubles associated with prisoners caught up in the trauma of incarceration, suggest that guards can easily adopt the behaviors of the offenders under their care. The above episode, along with the well-known 1971 Stanford University prison experiment in which students adopted the roles of guards and prisoners in a mock prison research test offer at least a partial explanation of the misdeeds that have recently surfaced in the jails under the stewardship of Sheriff Lee Baca.

On Jan. 24, 2011, Esther Lim was seated in a cubicle in the attorney's section at the Twin Towers visitor's area. Then recently hired by the American Civil Liberties Union as a monitor to cover the treatment of prisoners throughout the county jail system, she'd been to the facility several times, and was using the telephone to interview her present client, Christopher Brown, who was holding a duplicate telephone receiver as he faced her on the other side of a clear partition. They were interrupted at about 5:30 p.m. by the sounds of an altercation.

Both monitor and prisoner stood up, and from their vantage point they could see through two large windows cut into the wall that separates what is called "the staging area" from the visiting area two deputies standing over a prone inmate. He was later identified as James Parker, and he lay on the floor of the staging area, which is used for recreation and other activities. Lim and Brown could observe the deputies punch, knee, and finally use a "Taser" electroshock incapacitation device on the apparently unresistant Parker, who made no effort to defend himself, and, according to Lim, appeared to be unconscious.

In the following days, Lim was presented with correctional facility logs that she claims falsified the events she witnessed, and presented Parker as being aggressive and belligerent towards the deputies. (Lim's official sworn statement, along with the ACLU's lawsuit, may be seen at www.aclu.org/).