Saturday, January 30, 2016

Guest Op Ed Post: "MRRJ Woes Need Fixing"

Middle River Regional Jail
The following piece appeared in today's DNR, written by Laura Crites and posted with her permission:

Channel 29 has done us all a service with its recent investigative report on the Middle River Regional Jail. Investigative reporter Tara Todd revealed that neglect, indifference to inmate medical needs, ignoring suffering and withholding critical medications by jail staff has resulted in the recent deaths of two inmates and untreated terminal cancer in a third.

This type of reporting is one of the two major forces that check the abuse of power in a democratic society.

Prisons and jails are ripe arenas for abuse of power by authorities, including prison staff. In 1971, Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo conducted the famous “prison experiment.” He randomly assigned students to the role of prisoner or guard. A pattern of abuse of authority by the “guards” occurred so quickly that he stopped the study abruptly. This study has been broadly replicated with the same results.

The abuse of power in prisons and jails affects most of us. As the drug epidemic continues to spread, people increasingly find friends, colleagues and family members incarcerated. Those with more resources, status and influence cannot isolate themselves from the experience of arrest, incarceration, the lifelong discrimination that results from a criminal record. The tragedy and challenge of a criminal record, prison time and drug addiction that has befallen so many members of the minority community over the years is now part of life for most of us.

Concern by the larger society for the well-being of those incarcerated by the criminal justice is long overdue. The “good news” is that those with money, status and “connections” now know what it is like. They can bring that influence to the hard work of reforming the criminal justice system.
So what do we do about the safety and well-being of our friends, family members and neighbors incarcerated at the Middle River Regional Jail?

First, we must be aware that our community contributes its population and its funds to MRRJ.

Second, we must recall that we have six governing representatives on the oversight board of MRRJ. They are responsible for the welfare of friends and family members incarcerated there.

Finally, we must recognize that we are the second major force in a democratic society that can act to protect our fellow citizens from becoming abused by those in power. But we must become an informed and engaged citizenry.

On Monday, concerned members of the community will offer the public an opportunity to attend a public screening Tara Todd’s investigation and participate in a discussion.

The focus is on encouraging and supporting our representatives on the governing board of MRRJ to address and seek solutions to the problems at the jail.

Family members of those incarcerated at MRRJ are urged to attend. The hosts extend a special invitation to six representatives on the MRRJ governing board and jail officials. Finally, we must all become committed to assuring that the jail’s leadership and oversight board members create a working environment, programs and philosophy that respects both guards and those incarcerated there.

This moment of change and reform of the criminal justice system will pass if we do nothing. More lives will be lost and suffering ignored if we do not act.

Please accept the invitation to become part of the solution. Attend one of the two meetings to be held on Feb. 1 (noon to 1:30) and (6:30 to 8:00 p.m.) in the Fire and Rescue Room at the county building, 20 East Gay Street, Harrisonburg.

Here's a link to more information on the TV-29 series:

And another link to a petition signed by 19 courageous female inmates at MRRJ:
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