MSNBC: Are California Prisons ‘Worse Than Iran?’

Over the last 11 days, approximately 2,300 inmates in California have been engaged in so-called hunger strikes to protest solitary confinement conditions in California’s state prisons. Not surprisingly, MSNBC jumped on the story, bringing on former Iranian hostage and budding left-wing journalist Shane Bauer to ridiculously ask whether or not California prisons were worse than those in Iran.

Appearing on the July 18 Jansing & Co., host Chris Jansing led a segment with an extremely provocative on-screen graphic entitled “Worse Than Iran?” The segment began with Jansing bizarrely asking Bauer, “So, you were in Iran for nearly 26 months? Is it really worse in California?

For his part, Bauer, who writes for Mother Jones, did admit at the beginning of the segment that, “I wouldn't say in general that kind of California prisons are worse than Iranian prisons. Of course in Iranian prisons people are physically tortured.” Shockingly, Bauer then went on to say that certain aspects of California’s prisons were in fact worse than those in Iran:

When you’re looking at solitary confinement I would definitely say that the situation in California is more extreme. The cells in California are smaller than the cell I was in in Iran.

Bauer’s rant didn’t stop there:

In Iran I know of nobody being in solitary confinement for more than two years which is an extremely long period of time but in California in pelican bay state prison the average time is 7 1/2 years. There’s people there that have been there 10, 20 years. Almost 80 people have been in there for 20 years. One man has been in solitary confinement for 42 years.

Jansing clearly sympathized with Bauer’s cause, claiming that what goes on in California was “almost unfathomable” and why we should ignore the fact that there is a:

General perception or widespread perception these are criminals, so, you know, it's hard to get people frankly to feel sympathetic to them.

Of course, Jansing failed to bring on any California prison official to defend the state's incarceration policies and answer Bauer's claims.

Oddly enough, completely unmentioned in the segment was anything about the ongoing hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay, which leftists are equally if not more so concerned with than the California strike. President Obama could stop the U.S. military's controversial force-feeding of the Gitmo detainees participating in the hunger strike, but he's failed to do much more than deliver comments in a speech in which he expressed concern over the hunger strike.

If MSNBC were going for consistency in its left-wing advocacy, Jansing most certainly would have connected these two hunger strikes in some way. But alas, the Lean Forward network knows its limits. It will do far-left magazine's likeMother Jones a solid by promoting left-wing causes that don't in any way impugn the Obama administration, and it will entertain anti-American talking points such as describing American prisons as worse than Iran's. But raising an issue where the president is failing to live up to his pre-presidential liberal ideals on Gitmo? That's a bridge too far.

 

See relevant transcript below.


MSNBC

Jansing and Co.

July 18, 2013

10:51 a.m. Eastern

CHRIS JANSING: An attorney for a group of prisoners leading a hunger strike in California tells the "L.A. Times" 14 of those inmates have been moved to more isolated headquarters. Their access to broadcast news cut off and some of their legal papers have been seized. The statewide prisoner hunger strike began 11 days ago as a protest over solitary confinement conditions. And now more than 2,300 inmates are refusing to eat. A new Mother Jones article is giving a firsthand account of what solitary confinement looks like in California. I want to bring in the author Shane Bauer who was one of three American hikers imprisoned in Iran after being apprehended on the Iraqi border in 2009. Shane good morning.

SHANE BAUER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

JANSING: The title of your piece is "solitary in Iran nearly broke me then I went inside America's prisons." So, you were in Iran for nearly 26 months? Is it really worse in California?

BAUER: I mean, you know, I wouldn't say in general that kind of California prisons are worse than Iranian prisons. Of course in Iranian prisons people are physically tortured. But specifically when you’re looking at solitary confinement I would definitely say that the situation in California is more extreme. The cells in California are smaller than the cell I was in in Iran. There's no windows in the cells in California. And in Iran I know of nobody being in solitary confinement for more than two years which is an extremely long period of time but in California in pelican bay state prison the average time is 7 1/2 years. There’s people there that have been there 10, 20 years. Almost 80 people have been in there for 20 years. One man has been in solitary confinement for 42 years.

JANSING: It's almost unfathomable. And we’re seeing a little bit of it now. You shot a video to accompany the article and I just want to play a little clip from that.

BAUER: These prisoners are criminals. I was a hostage. But a part of me relates to them. Their desperate words sounds like the ones ricocheted through my own head when I was inside.

UNKNOWN PERSON: I think any time in solitary is enough time to break a human being.

JANSING: Tell me about the part of you, Shane that relates to these prisoners. What is about it their situation that you felt compelled enough to write about this?

BAUER: I mean we shared an experience. Our reason for being there is different, but, you know, we had both – we’d all kind of spent time in a cell alone and that's something that nobody really can connect to that hasn't experienced that. And, you know, in California, you know, it's hard for me even when I tell these inmates, when I’m corresponding with them I only spent four months in this situation. It's hard for me to really understand where you're at least but at least I have a window.

JANSING: Well the problem for folks like you who care about this issue for prisoner advocates is that I think there obviously is a general perception or widespread perception these are criminals, so, you know, it's hard to get people frankly to feel sympathetic to them. A New York Times op-ed piece did say this however. Why should you be concerned about the inhumane conditions of prolonged solitary confinement with all the social, emotional and mental deterioration that it entails? Well every year men from California's pelican bay and other supermax prisons around the nation are released directly from the vacuum of their cells into free society to live and work among you and your loved ones. What else would you say to folks who frankly want to disregard this because they’re prisoners, they did something wrong they deserve to be punished.

BAUER: Well, I think, you know, in this country we're concerned about issues of due process and what's important for people to understand is in California people are getting placed in solitary confinement for indefinite terms. This isn't necessarily because
-- it's not because of their original crime, it's not even that they necessarily got into a fight or stabbed somebody or something like that in prison. A lot of the people that are in there are in there for what's called gang validation. The evidence that's used to put them in can include the possession of books like Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, it can include drawings, it can include the use of the words tio and hermano in Spanish which means uncle or brother. Some of the evidence that’s used to determine who is a gang member can often be extremely arbitrary.

JANSING: Well Shane Bauer it is a fascinating article and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.

BAUER: Thank you.

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.