MTSU’s Honors College continued their fall lecture series on Monday with a speech on prison, security, and the rights of prisoners in “Supermax” security prisons by Ronald G. Turner, an attorney who has worked with the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
Supermax, Turner explain, are those prisons intended for “the worst of the worst.” However, due to overcrowding and budget issues, supermax prisons have on occasion become the home of prisoners who fall short of that level disobedience, he said.
Turner illustrated that minimal, medium and maximum security prisons all offer more rights to inmates by listing the similarities and differences between these lesser-level securities and supermax facilities.
Turner said that supermax inmates are often deprived of sensory stimulation including changes in lighting, outdoor contact, human contact, phone, radio and, in severe cases, clothing, blankets and even sufficient toilet paper supply, are arguably subjected to “punitive consequences” that do not always aid in rehabilitation or safety.
Although the goal of the stricter security is safety, this motive is often undermined by the prisons’ demand to fill cells or overcrowding.
“The last thing the [justice] system wants to see is an empty cell,” Turner said.
Turner compared the American penal system to corrections departments around the world. He said other correction systems allow more rights and shorter sentences, which leads to them having lower recidivism rates than those of the United States.
Turner said he informs attendees about not only the living conditions of the inmates, but also of the unconstitutional process by which prisons determine the security level to which they send an inmate.
After asking the audience to consider the legal, philosophical, psychological, and theological downsides to Supermax conditions, Turner issued a challenge.
“Learn about [prison conditions] and start conversation. You are the future leaders and need to be informed,” he said.
“Fyodor Dostoyevsky said ‘you can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners,’ but we need to revise that a little,” Turner said. “You can judge a society by how well it treats its worst prisoners.”
The series, “The Power of Place,” has featured speeches about the impact of place and environment on literature and society.
The next lecture will be on October 27. Patti Miller, the Assistant Vice President for Campus Planning at MTSU, is scheduled to walk audiences through the next projected 100 years of the university’s campus.
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