The prisoner’s rights debate takes on a new gay twist with two unrelated cases out of North and South Carolina.
A North Carolina prisoner named Joseph Urbaniak – who’s serving up to 50 years after “taking indecent liberties with a child” – filed a suit against the state’s Department of Corrections for denying him his favorite fag rags, like The Advocate.
Officials claim they have to withhold certain publications “for security and order in the prison”. The ACLU, which wants the Department to provide a list of all banned publications, seems to sympathize with prison officials.
Spokesperson Jody Kent says, “Of course, the correction officials have a responsibility to protect the prisoner, so they often use that as a reason to ban certain materials.” This argument holds water, yes, but only to a certain degree.
One could claim that by prohibiting certain publications, authorities are weeding out potentially incendiary material or rags which may incite, say, fights over a new issue of Playboy – or Playgirl. On the other hand, one could also say that prisoners a. have the right to read free press and b. denying prisoners their publication of choice could further swell frustrations, so to speak.
While we’re against censorship and generally pro-prison rights, it seems to us that Urbaniak, who molested a child, does not deserve magazines which may inflame his anti-social tendencies. Had he been arrested for, say, robbing an old woman, we’d be all about him reading gay rags. The sexual nature of his crime, however, deserves a reduction in certain sexually-charged rights. Not that The Advocate‘s sexually charged, but we’re not entirely convinced Urbaniak won’t be egged on by gay materials.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a 31-year old prisoner called Sherone Nealous filed a suit against the state’s Corrections Department. Inmates caught engaging in “public sex acts” in front of female guards are forced to wear a pink jumper, a direct – and juvenile – dig at their masculinity. IHT explains:
The policy allows prison officials to discipline inmates found performing sex acts in front of corrections officers by making them trade their customary tan jumpsuit in for a pink one, which must then be worn for three months.
This case proves just as fuzzy as the North Carolina case. Surely these grown men know better than to intentionally offend female guards, but they are in prison, where, from what we understand, private space doesn’t come easy. A prison certainly can’t prohibit its charges from discharging. That would be a severe violation of one’s civil rights.
The “pink punishment,” however, doesn’t quite fit the crime. In fact, it reeks of homophobia. The jumpers are intended to disgrace the men’s masculinity. As Nealous explains:
The color ‘pink’ in an all male environment no doubt causes derision and verbal and physical attacks on a person’s manhood. This policy also gives correctional officers an easy avenue to label an inmate.
While plenty of men – including ourselves – think pink’s a perfectly masculine color, no doubt the hue doesn’t go over well in a prison situation. Corrections officials are employing homophobic ideology to humiliate inmates. That and their intent to humiliate proves to be the most unethical – but not necessarily unconstitutional – aspect of the story.
South Carolina isn’t entirely without logic, though. Some penal institutions put offending convicts into a male-only ward, where female guards don’t patrol:a far less homophobic punishment. Although, again, we’re not entirely sure prisoners should be punished for having a wank – unless, of course, the prison wants to provide private stalls.
That said, we wonder if we’re wrong in supporting N. Carolina’s decision to withhold the child molester’s gay rags. Do people imprisoned for sexual assault deserve the right to jerk it or should that be a part of their punishment? There’s no ethical, humane way to stop someone from touching themselves. Quite frankly, we’re stumped on this on. Anyone want to offer a helping hand…