Going by history, the chain gangs found in America were mostly used as tools for humiliating, controlling and terrorizing the African-Americans. The chain gang reappeared in 1995 as a type of punishment in Alabama prisons, thus bringing back to life one of the most shameful and powerful symbol of America's bequest of institutionalized ethnic subjugation and racial prejudice. The 8th Amendment prohibits all punishments that are not in agreement with the evolving decency standards that exhibits the growth of an emergent civilization. Slavery was not abolished immediately as a consequence of implementation of the 13th Amendment.
Despite the constitutional provisions for the total prohibition of slavery; the remnants of slavery could still be found in several economic, political and social contexts. Under the disguise of criminal justice, slavery was almost unashamedly re-implemented. Before the 13th Amendment saw the light of the day, repressive labor practices were introduced into Southern prisons by Southerners. These practices include things like chain gangs, penal plantations, and peonage laws-all aimed at circumventing the protection of the amendment. Legal practitioners and activists saw these telltale lingering signs of slavery and worked hard to get rid of every form of slavery, even the ones termed punishment for offenses.
The adoption of the chain gangs encourages a type of punishment that is very cruel, unusually dehumanizing and humiliating to the persons they are meted. Chain gangs are a good example. They portray countless horrifying racial injustices, ranging from forced labor to slave ships. Since chain gangs are barbaric, and are used as such, they can no longer be accepted in a legal system, as a way of justice administration. The decency demanded by the 8th Amendment cannot be satisfied by the oppressive style of punishment the chain gangs adopted.
The first state to endorse the 13th Amendment was Illinois, in the early months of 1965, upon President Lincoln's persistence. The Amendment contained the following essence, "neither forced servitude nor slavery, except as a punishment for an offence or crime committed after the offender has been duly convicted, shall be found anywhere in the United States, or any of the areas under its jurisdiction." It served as the last section in the fight for legal liberation (Gutierrez, 2013).
Throughout American history, the leaders at every dispensation have sought to have some kind of control over any group they see as a threat or groups they wish to dominate for some economic or political benefits. Different methods have been in practice in pursuit of controlling such groups-such as marginalizing them economically, controlling their thoughts through propaganda, putting them under the control of the law in order to isolate them whether partially or totally, and in some extreme cases, exterminating them (Sheldon, n.d).
In America, such forms of control have been targeted at Native Americans, Labor agitators, African slaves, and several others. It can ascertained that from the beginning, using prisoners as sources of cheap labor has always been part of the capitalist system, where slaves were used as the capitalists deem fit to increase their profits, which includes employing them,(slaves, inmates, or immigrant labor) to carry out inhumane tasks cheaply. Indeed, nations, for centuries, have been taking undue advantage of prisoners for different purposes and using them as slaves (Sheldon, n.d).
Though confronted with popular demands from several civil right activists agitating for the urgent shutting down of the Tent City Jail in Maricopa County, AZ, the County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio is continuing with plans to commemorate the 22nd remembrance of his hessian imprisonment compound. The recent agitation by hundreds of protesters on 17th July, comprised of people from different parts of the country who trooped to the sheriff's head office, under the leadership of a civil right society known as Netroots Nation carrying several anti-Arpaio symbols,...
The protesters requested for the immediate closure of Tent City-which they called an anti-human laboratory and an outdoor death-trap. The comments made at the convention by the United States earlier gave the protesters the much needed courage to carry out the protest (Meares, 1997, 2015).
The 1st three decades of the 20th century witnessed the proliferation of several dozens of mainly black province chain gangs across the entire North Carolina. The main reason why the camps were set up was to construct county roads, a result of the hard works of NCGRA-North Carolina Good Roads Association, to build a system of very reliable and durable roads towards improving the economic prospects of the state. As a progressive, self-acclaimed non-governmental organization, the NCGRA encourage the dependence on the chain gang source of labor as a form of restructuring that will provide both, profits for the state and improve standard of living for the prisoners (Thompson, 2010).
While prisoners constructed the roads that were instrumental to positioning North Carolina at the head of economic growth in the South, instead of benefitting the inmates, the chain gangs continued being abuse and degradation sites. Chain gang prisoners often opposed the appalling conditions they had to endure, and relied largely on their link with SBC-State Board of Charities and Public Welfare, a state owned bureau reposed with the responsibility of carrying out inspections on all penal institutions and making necessary suggestions for their development (Thompson, 2010).
With the assistance of SBC, prisoners clamoured for enquiries into the base camp and communicated their messages to very powerful politicians and media men who helped make their struggles public knowledge. Reform debates were shaped by convicts because they were faced with the risks of grave punishments or possible executions when daring to resist the camps' brutality and engaging in any form of protest. In the 1930's, their agitation for more humane treatments greatly influenced the level of efforts made by the state to correct the very violent conditions which had become the characteristic of the county jails (Anderson & Dyson, 2000).
The Principles of Prison
In the view of Amnesty International, using chain gangs is an inhuman, cruel and degrading way of treating inmates, and Article 7 of ICCPR-International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibits it. The U.S. Government ratified this prohibition on June 8, 1992. According to Article 10 of ICCPR, all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect to the intrinsic dignity of the human persons. Article 33 of SMR -- The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that all instruments of restraints, such as chains, handcuffs, strait jackets and irons, shall never be used as a means of captivation (Amnesty International, 1996).
Also, neither irons nor chains shall be used as means of restraints. Under SMR, Article 45 (1) of the SMR states that when inmates are being moved to or from a camp, they must be concealed from public view as much as possible, and adequate security must be provided to shield them from possible public curiosity, insults, assaults and any other form of humiliation (United Nations, 1955; Shelden, n.d; Haley, 2013; UN General Assembly, 1996).
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix) is America's toughest sheriff. He necessitates the enrolment of his inmates into chain gangs so they can be forced into carrying out different kinds of community services. Under him, one either enrolls or gets locked up with three other prisoners in an eight-by-twelve ft cell, for about 23 hours a day. All inmates in the chain gangs are required to wear uniforms with white and black stripes to enable the community identify the bad prisoners (Shelden, n.d; Maricopa County, 2015).
He also forces them to put on pink underwear. Over 2,000 prisoners are forced to stay in tents, outside the prison. Imagine what it will be like during the summer when average atmospheric temperature exceeds 100 degrees. Majority of the over 8,000 prisoners in his prison are on the awaiting trial list just because they were not able to afford the financial bail terms. Orders are there to serve short-term sentences (Shelden, n.d; Maricopa County, 2015).
There is another report that claimed he had 15 women inmates padlocked by their ankles; they were held 5 to each chain, and made to file out like soldiers to a nearby van that takes them to the site where they work -- a country burial site about half an hour from the city near in the heart of the desert. The women were burdened inhumanly with the task of burying the bodies of poor people who either died on the streets or in the clinics with their families unable to finance their burials (Maricopa County, 2015).
Another Sheriff introduced chain gangs in Ohio. According to one report, chain gang had been brought back to Alabama, as a form of roadside attraction. This can be seen from the story credited to one spectator who said he loves seeing them in chains-they should be made to pick cottons by the roadside (Shelden, n.d). Activists often point to the very hot summer sun, male and female…
Anderson, J.F., & Dyson, L. (2000). Alabama Prison Chain Gangs: Reverting to Archaic Punishment to Reduce Crime and Discipline Offenders. Western Journal of Black Studies, 24(1), 9.
Haley, S. (2013). "Like I Was a Man": Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 39(1), 53-77.
Guttierrez, A. (2013). Sufferings peculiarly their own: the thirteenth amendment, in defense of incarcerated women's reproductive rights, 15 Berkeley J.Afri.-Am. L. & Pol'y.
Banks, C. (2004) Criminal justice ethics: theory and practice. SAGE.
Amnesty International (1996). United States of America: Florida Reintroduces Chain Gangs. Retrieved from http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engAMR510021996
United Nations (30 August 1955). Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Retrieved on 2 September 2015 from http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/treatmentprisoners.pdf
UN General Assembly (16 December 1966). International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, United Nations, Treaty Series, Vol. 999, p. 171. Retrieved on 2 September 2015 from https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20999/volume-999-1-14668-English.pdf
Meares, T.L. (1997, July). Let's cut chain gangs loose. U.S. Catholic. p. 20. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Joe Arpaio, Sheriff (July 31, 2015) News release. Retrieved from http://www, mcso, org/MultiMedia/PressRelease/Tents22Anniversary.pdf
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