Art & Identity in New Orleans

HNRS 109 Spring '18

Corruption Throughout Angola and the New Orleans Correctional System

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Correctional facilities were established for retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation of the delinquents throughout society. However, across the United States many of these correctional facilities are flawed and subject to corruption. One of the most notoriously known corrupt systems is the New Orleans correctional system, which feeds into the states penitentiary, Angola. Both the state penitentiary and the system itself present flaws which lead to the questions of: Does the structure of the correctional system cause Angola prison to be more susceptible to the mistreatment, neglect and abuse of their prisoners? Also, what is the effect of corruption in governmental affairs on the correctional system and facilities? These questions must be answered in order to alleviate not only the system in New Orleans, but nationally, of the present flaws and inadequacies.

The structure of the New Orleans correctional system, in particular the corruption in regards to the police department and arresting officers, has led to proven mistreatment, neglect and abuse of prisoners in Angola. One instance where the problem of mistreatment has proven true, is in a case involving an inmate by the name of Kissinger. This inmate had been approached by a reporter who questioned “life at Angola, the staff and the corruption involving the funds from the Angola rodeo.” As a result of talking to the reporter, which was completely legal, Kissinger was thrown into solitary confinement, and eventually transferred to a different prison. Through the transition, Kissinger’s personal belongings were all thrown away and specific facts in regards to his care and status were kept quiet from family members of the inmate.

The result of mistreatment in Angola became a systematic norm, that eventually translated into a culture through inmate to inmate, inmate to official and inmate to the system as a whole, interactions. The instance involving Kissinger is one of many, however since the inmates are warned of repercussions for communicating with outsiders and media sources, the stories of mistreatment are rarely shared.

In terms of neglect, there are many cases in which Angola has blatantly neglected to care for its inmates. One instance in particular involved a group of prisoners that took Angola to court as a result of “Angola officials routinely delaying medical access and treatment, failing to provide medication and follow-up care, not having enough qualified medical personnel, which resulted in some medical tasks being performed by unqualified people like other prisoners.” This quote is stated in an article in courthousenews.com, where the case is discussed in great detail. Although medical neglect is very prevalent throughout Angola, it is not the only form of neglect that prisoners face on a daily basis.

There are many negative effects of neglect, especially in such an institutionalized environment. For one, prisoners have a lower self-esteem as they feel as though they are not worth the time and resources of the system. In addition, specifically with medical neglect, prisoners can die, develop severe infections, or worsen previous diagnoses. As mental illness is highly prevalent throughout the prison system, neglect in terms of mental health care plagues the most institutions.

Recently throughout the news reports of abuse throughout Angola have arisen. Four prison guards have been arrested, one fired and one placed on administrative leave for acts such as sexual misconduct and smuggling drugs. Acts of sexual misconduct have been reported for years, with numerous rapes and assaults by officers reported. One article on News Star discusses the recent reports, states that the prison is unable to hire higher quality guards due to the fact that the pay for the position is very low. With such a low salary, the position tends to attract uneducated, lower class individuals.

The effect of the abuse prevalent throughout Angola leads to a lack of respect and boundaries between the relations of officers and inmates. When there is such an imbalance of power, brought on by such things as abuse, prisoners will most likely revolt or act out, sometimes joining forces to both test the boundaries and receive compensation for injustice. In the following quote by Bayard Rustin, “when an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him,” one can begin to understand the feelings of inmates who have experienced abuse. The fact that these individuals are labeled as prisoners, they are viewed by society as “scum” with very little dignity. When prisoners are then abused, their dignity is lowered even further, leading to as discussed in the quote, protest.

There is no clear-cut answer presently available as to what causes such severe corruption and flaws, however evaluating examples and specific instances of these inadequacies can help us to gain further insight into these issues. One example of corruption in the New Orleans government is in the scandals surrounding Ray Nagin, the city’s Mayor who helped rebuild the city after hurricane Katrina left the city in complete distress in August of 2005. The ex-mayor is currently serving out a 20-year sentence on the account of fraud and other finance related charges. Alongside the ex-mayor, is also the previous chief technology officer, Greg Mefferet, who was charged with 63 felony counts. The irony behind this instance is that at the beginning of Nagins time in office, he had promoted an anti-corruption campaign.  This example of corruption, although at the political level instead of the correctional level, can point to the overarching problem of abuse of power throughout New Orleans. This abuse of power, after the hurricane became especially more prevalent as the city was and still is in an extremely vulnerable state where it relies heavily on its leaders.

This event has had great significance in various aspects of the correctional system throughout New Orleans and Louisiana. Since Nagin held such a high position in the city of New Orleans, many citizens and staff of the city had looked up to him. The effect of Nagins abuse of power can be deduced to the quote by Francois de La Rochefoucauld, “nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce it’s like.” In both Angola, through wardens and correctional officers, as well as police officers in the New Orleans correctional system, the abuse of power set as example by Nagins and his colleagues is seen to be carried over.

With government affairs clearly corrupt it is no surprise that corruption is translated over to  inter-police force affairs, police to citizen affairs as well as corruption within Angola itself. One instance of inter-police force corruption is in a case dated March 4,1995. This case involved an officer by the name Antoinette Frank, as well as her partner, a civilian by the name Rogers. The two ended up returning to an establishment that Frank worked security detail on, where her police partner Robert Williams was currently working. The two had wound up shooting and killing Williams, as well as the owners of the establishment and their workers. The motive behind the murder of Williams was that he was aware of Franks involvement in criminal activity, and was going to report it to the department. This type of corruption has negative impact on prisoners, civilians and workers of the correctional system, as it weakens the trust between officers, creating a police force that works for the needs of each individual as opposed to the needs of the city and the system as a whole.

Corruption between police and citizens results in a weakened system as civilians do not trust officers to carry out justice and protocols, and instead fear inappropriate use of weapons and power. An example of this corruption can be found in a case that occurred in November of 1980. On this date, a patrolman by the name of Neupert was found dead. Officers responding to the report of his death blamed it on the drug dealer’s local to the area. As a result of the rage of losing their colleague and friend., the reporting officers began to open fire without warning, killing four civilians and injuring almost 50.  This incident drove a wedge between the civilian population of New Orleans and the police force, as the police force was now viewed as “the enemy.” Current movements such as black lives matter share the same idea and mindset of the citizens of New Orleans after this incident, realizing that police officers can easily abuse their power, using it to benefit their own prejudices.

Corruption within Angola is heavily present. The trial mentioned earlier regarding sexual assault and the smuggling of drugs is one example of corruption. Another example, both an Angola and in a way a form of government corruption, is the recent trial involving the prisons warden Burl Cain. In this trial, Burl Cain was accused of stealing money and resources in the form of prisoner labor in order to update his private home. Funds were also embezzled allowing Burl Cain to live a life of luxury. This large systematic form of corruption potentially has contributed to the normalcy of corruption throughout Angola staff and correctional officers.

In order to solve the overarching problems of corruption within inter-police force affairs, police to citizen affairs, and Angola, as well as the mistreatment, neglect and abuse of prisoners in Angola, new policies and procedures must be put into place. Currently, the city has an organization called the Office of the Independent Police Monitor which is an organization run by civilians to monitor police officers’ actions. In addition, policies within the prison itself must be put into place, with stricter standards of healthcare and the basic allowance of human rights. Without some sort of reformation of the prison and the correctional system, the quality of care and conduct will continue to fail eventually resulting in overall systematic failure. In addition, it is necessary to begin to enforce governmental checks and balances, as it is necessary to help correct the larger corrupt system as smaller departments are likely to follow in the footsteps of these larger departments.

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