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Vol. 81/No. 48      December 25, 2017


Report documents over 100 prisoners killed with Tasers

One brutal aspect of the capitalist rulers’ criminal “justice” system that has received little publicity is prison guards using Tasers against workers locked up in U.S. jails and prisons. A special report released by Reuters Dec. 6 documents the deaths of 104 inmates, nearly all since 2000 when the weapon became widely used. Over two-thirds of those killed were already immobilized — handcuffed or held down by officers — before guards armed with the “nonlethal” weapon shot them.

The report described hundreds more instances where cops used Tasers to assault people in jail that were not fatal. When cops in Franklin County, Ohio, arrested Martini Smith in 2009, they told the pregnant woman to strip naked and remove all her jewelry. They deemed her too slow obeying their command to remove a stud from her tongue. Smith had been handcuffed for the previous six hours and said she needed help. So they stunned her with a Taser. She miscarried five days later.

Smith and eight other former inmates won a lawsuit against Franklin County prison officials for allowing guards to use Tasers 180 times between January 2008 and May 2010. The case detailed how guards used Tasers in “callous and sadistic” ways “to inflict pain, fear, corporal punishment and humiliation.”

On May 5 this year Tory Sanders, a mentally ill inmate, was stunned three times with a Taser at the Mississippi County jail, in Missouri, Reuters reports, when he refused to leave his cell after being detained on a misdemeanor warrant. He died shortly afterwards.

Because of the drastic decline in mental health facilities in the U.S. today, thousand of workers who are having trouble coping end up behind bars.

The website of Taser International Products says the weapons work by hitting a person with 50,000 volts. They can either be used in “probe mode,” causing muscle contraction to incapacitate someone, or in “drive stun mode,” which simply inflicts sharp pain.

Following publication of the Reuters report, Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, urged the U.S. government to investigate the deaths. He cited four jails in particular where Tasers are used to inflict “grave abuse” on inmates — Franklin County, Ohio; Cheatham County, Tennessee; Franklin County, Arkansas; and McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

In all four counties working people have been hard hit by the economic and social effects of today’s crisis of capitalism. Each has a higher than average poverty rate. In Franklin County, Ohio, deaths from opioid overdoses were up 88 percent from last year.

Amid this carnage, prison authorities’ brutal use of Tasers is one part of the capitalist rulers efforts to keep those they consider the “dangerous class” in check. And the deadly consequences are one more indication that the role of the capitalist “justice” system is to intimidate and break working people.

Taser International made a special effort to market their guns to California prison officials, because of the large numbers of workers behind bars there, some 126,000 in 34 different facilities. Los Angeles County jails hold about 17,000 people a day. This year San Bernardino County paid out $2.8 million to settle class action lawsuits involving prisoners who the guards persistently used Tasers on at the county jail there. These included prisoners in cruel and degrading “hazing rituals” and the routine use of stun guns on inmates while they slept in their cells at night.

Most of the deaths and abuse occurred in state and county jails, where a big majority of the 2.2 million workers in U.S. prisons are incarcerated.

The brutal and degrading use of Tasers is just one of the abuses inflicted on prisoners. An estimated 80,000 prisoners were kept in dehumanizing solitary confinement in state and federal prisons in 2015. Three state governments allow the sentencing of inmates to solitary units for up to 10 years for a single violation of prison rules.

Conditions like these led thousands of prisoners in California — where solitary confinement has been widely used — to go on a series of hunger strikes that won widespread support from working people across the country. Faced with the protests, state officials there were forced to pull back. The use of solitary confinement fell by over 50 percent between 2013 and 2016, the rights group Solitary Watch reports.
Related articles:
‘Militant’ wins victory over prison censorship
Florida officials lift ban on socialist paper
Holiday greetings to workers behind bars from the ‘Militant’
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