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More oversight needed 

More oversight needed

On Friday, Arkansas learned our women's prison in Newport, McPherson, is the centerpiece of a federal civil rights investigation concerning sexual abuse of the women prisoners in our custody at this unit. The fairly vague descriptions of taking photos, trading contraband for sex by officers and staff, and other human rights violations are part of the federal agency's concern. We also learned that our state is not in compliance with the non-mandatory Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) due to another federal lawsuit outcome that would be violated if the Arkansas Department of Correction met the PREA certification requirements. This is a serious concern among many of us who serve as prisoner advocates.

I believe all Arkansans need to be concerned about these allegations. Our prisoners are also our mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and friends. It is our role as citizens to ensure those we convict and send to prison are humanely treated and return home to our community — without the added trauma of sexual abuse. I have served men and women in our prisons and those returning to our communities for more than two decades, and I became acutely aware of the great importance of the prison staff to be mindful of the powerful dynamic between people who are incarcerated and those who are there to guard them — or those with power and those without any power in those circumstances.

I was an eyewitness to the steady development of the power of a staff person who is no longer there, who was given a great degree of power over the women with whom the staff person interacted — with little visible oversight from my perspective.

For me, the lack of outside oversight of our prisons is the overarching issue in the abuse of prisoners. As an example, in our two efforts to legislate a ban on the shackling of women in our prison during labor and delivery, the legislation offered by then-Sen. Mary Ann Salmon included an oversight and accountability provision, with reports to be sent to the governor's office. The legislation offered failed to pass due to the influence of the Department of Correction officials. Consequently, there is little we can truly know about the use of shackles during labor and delivery, or even information about the well being of babies born during a mother's incarceration in a our state prisons. And this is true about so many things that go on behind the walls of the prison.

As we hear far too often, we need greater transparency and more civic engagement in the day-to-day functioning of our state agencies, including our prisons. We all need to think of the ways we can provide appropriate oversight so such abuses will end and not recur. If I were a judge, I would be reluctant to send any woman to our state prisons for fear of such mistreatment. Regarding men in our system, rape is so common among our male prisoners that our community tolerates and accepts this as an ongoing part of incarceration. How can a correctional system work effectively when so many traumas are inflicted on those we want to rehabilitate? And how can we succeed in our re-entry and recidivism reduction when so much trauma has occurred?

Dee Ann Newell

Executive Director

Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind

Little Rock

Support Bernie

We have hundreds of days left before the 2016 general election. We have hundreds of days to amass a tremendous grassroots movement against the political machines of Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, etc. We have hundreds of days to let America know that we don't want another candidate that will pay lip service to corporations and Wall Street. We have hundreds of days to fight for someone that looks out for the common man — I can almost guarantee that is you, reader. Who is this someone that will truly look out for us (and not just when it is politically expedient)? His name is Bernie Sanders, a man that has been steadfast in his views since day one. Read through the 12 initiatives that Bernie will fight for: rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; addressing climate change; real tax reform; protecting the most vulnerable Americans; health care as a right for all; taking on Wall Street; making college affordable for all; trade policies that benefit American workers; raising the minimum wage; growing the trade union movement; creating worker co-ops. Join the fight for Bernie here in Arkansas. What do you have to lose? A primary?

Trey Weir

Little Rock

From the web, in response to The Observer's June 11 column, "A modest proposal," which, in the wake of Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying he believed it was legal for Arkansans to openly carry firearms, announced the formation of The Open Carry of Large Butcher Knives, Rusty Machetes or Razor-Sharp Hatchets Movement:

The ability to carry "arms," openly or otherwise, and everything you somewhat humorously wrote qualifies as such, is exactly the point. Your "wet my pants" feelings are of no concern to a right guaranteed.

Doug Charette

Amidst the trembling, teeth-chattering, knee-knocking, and quivering that must go on at your editorial board meetings, are you folks also channeling Kurt Vonnegut?

Michael Motley

Looks like the author forgot to take his meds today. I stand with the above. Oh, btw, nobody walks around with their pistol or rifle in their hands, not unless they intend to use the tool. Want to ban hammers next? How about vehicles? Lots of people get killed with cars and trucks every year, let's get those devilish implementations of murder off our roadways!

Chris Wardell

Each and every one of the above comments comes from an individual who signed on to the blog TODAY in order to comment specifically on this column.

Must have hit a nerve, eh? It's really kinda hilarious, in a pathetic sort of way.

Vanessa

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