Smith, who is from Elgin, Illinois, was expected to serve a few days in jail for violating his probation on a drug charge. The room was actually a conference room that had been turned into a holding cell temporarily.
The Kane County Sheriff's office announced today that there would be an investigation to find out what happened. They also said that the cell was "not normally used to house inmates when court is not in session."
Smith says that he's pursuing his legal options in the matter, but his case brings us to the larger issue of human rights for those who are incarcerated. While we might be in love with the idea that anyone who is arrested for a crime deserves whatever they get, one must stop and realize how this takes our society down a very slippery slope. Consistent abuses such as beatings by guards, malnutrition or prison rape should not be part of the criminal justice package in America, for it makes us no better than the countries we critique around the world.
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any country earth, so most of us are one bad situation away from finding ourselves in a holding cell. While we would fully expect to be punished for violating the law, broader systemic changes are in order to ensure that there is a baseline of decency used when we deal with those who are incarcerated. These are our sisters, brothers, cousins and children, so there must be a limit to our vengeance.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.