Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On the road again: "Bus therapy" for jailhouse lawyers and political activists

It began, innocently enough, with watching the TV show Orange is the New Black, then led to some reading, and ended with learning about 'Bus Therapy'.

Wikipedia, once again beating a somewhat naive blogster to it, has a short entry on the phenomenon under the title 'Diesel Therapy', a form of punishment in which prisoners are shackled and then transported for days or weeks.

Wikipedia mentions a couple of lawsuits in which allegations of this were raised and has links to several publications. Which all cost money. But you can find all you really need to know by searching some more.

On the website Prison Planet, several stories by or about inmates do not mince words and call some aspects of transport 'torture'. The following quote could well be from the treatment of suspected terrorists shipped to Guantanamo but it is from the prisonplanet page describing what awaited US Congressman George Hansen during "bus therapy": A prisoner is shackled at the feet and handcuffed at the wrists, reinforced with a box-like structure which stiffens the chains and locks the wrists at a 90-degree angle. The handcuffs are connected to a waist chain that is connected to another chain which connects the shackles. Once this shackling is complete, a prisoner can barely move. The tightened manacles pinch the nerves and restrict the flow of blood causing severe pain and swelling. Legs swelling with blood are particularly damaging to the feet, as toenails under pressure from blood-blisters press up against shoes for long periods of time and soon become infected and deformed, causing such excruciating pain that they require surgery or the pulling of the toenails out by the roots.

The story of Congressman Hansen is interesting in itself, and you can find details of what happened to the man who launched the Congressional Accountability Project here.

But "bus therapy" rarely makes news like it did for Mr. Hansen. The vast majority of people living through it never finds a mention even though cases of individuals "traveling" for a month or longer are not rare. In the US prison system, transporting inmates over large distances is extremely common, especially in the federal system. Someone who committed a crime in, say, Hawaii may find himself or herself being held in a prison hours away on the mainland despite there being a small federal facility in Hawaii. It is easy to see what this does for family visits.

Try to imagine one of the few relatable issues: what it is like to wear the exact same clothes for a month without being able to wash them. This does happen.

As a means of punishment - though never called punishment by officials because of that would have legal implications - bus therapy is not only used for gang members. In the federal system, it has been a cherished means of retaliating against inmates called "jailhouse lawyers", inmates who spend their free time at the prison library and study laws and legal texts so thoroughly that they are often asked by fellow inmates to write up complaints or petitions for them.
A second group of people traditionally sent around the country were political prisoners - which the US officially does not have. The latter is true in the traditional sense of the term, meaning someone is thrown into jail simply for holding a certain set of beliefs. But the laws of any country the blogster knows in some detail all have provisions that can be easily used to target activists, and if such laws don't exist or are not "tough" enough, that can be fixed quite easily, as labeling animal rights activists as "terrorists" post 2001 in the US has shown.

To end this post about another horrible feature of the justice system on a lighter note:
The shortcomings of official transport do, of course, not mean that you should pick up a hitchhiker by the side of the freeway after you have passed a big sign that tells you not to pick up hitchhikers.

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