Why Are Prison Riots Declining While Prison Populations Explode?

A visit to corrections officers’ annual Mock Prison Riot
West Virginia Division of Corrections

On New Year’s Day in 1986, a group of 20 prisoners bearing shanks stormed the dining hall at the state penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia, where inmates had just been seated for dinner, and took hostage the correctional officers on duty. After ordering the stunned diners to “leave the fucking food alone,” the instigators ranged through the prison’s South Hall, freeing whole cellblocks and eventually capturing 16 staff members. They stripped the hostages to their underwear, dressed them up as inmates, blindfolded them, and placed them in separate rooms around the facility, to give themselves enough time to kill at least some of them in the event of a rescue attempt. What motivated the rioters were living conditions and sanitary standards inside the prison, which were inhumane. “You quit treating us like dogs,” one rioter screamed, “and this wouldn’t happen … We don’t want this any more than you do!” During the harrowing 52-hour standoff that ensued, things grew grisly: the rioters not only threatened violence against their hostages but also murdered three inmates thought to be either informants or the authors of especially repugnant crimes. One hostage, forced to watch the killing of a prisoner—Jeff Atkinson, a suspected informant who had been convicted of murdering a pregnant woman—reported that an inmate cut out Atkinson’s heart and said to a friend, “It’s amazing how this little thing will keep a fellow alive.”

Responding to the crisis, the governor of West Virginia cut short a vacation in Florida and hastened to the prison. He and his staff eventually negotiated an end to the standoff; 13 participants, including two leaders of the riot, were transferred to the maximum-security wing, and the rest were returned to their cells. Most of the hostages went back to work after their release, but the riot had taken its toll. “My nerves are shot,” one officer said before returning to work. “I can’t even write without shaking. I quit smoking 15 years ago and started again five minutes after I was released.”

In its length and brutality, the West Virginia riot was no anomaly. In 1980, a two-day riot in New Mexico had killed 33 people, and in 1971, the infamous four-day riot in Attica, New York, had killed 43. But here’s what’s significant about the West Virginia riot: it was among the last of its kind in this country. Sustained prison uprisings simply do not happen here anymore. In 1973, we had 93 riots for every 1 million prisoners; in 2003, we had fewer than three. Prison violence as a whole, in fact, is down dramatically. In 1973, we had 63 homicides per 100,000 prisoners; in 2000, we had fewer than five. Inmate assaults on staff dropped similarly over roughly the same period.

These are eye-opening statistics—especially given that the incarceration rate in this country has quintupled since 1970, and a remarkable 3 percent of American adults are now under the supervision of the correctional system. Some of the factors that have led to the decline in violence, despite the rising population, are known: Prison demographics have changed, with a higher percentage of nonviolent offenders serving time now than ever before. Many of the most dangerous inmates are now housed in super-maximum-security prisons. New surveillance tactics and restrictions on prisoner movement have been introduced. And prisons are now managed better, thanks in part to federal-court interventions. But there is one other factor, almost never discussed, that has contributed greatly to the decline: the development of elite security squads trained to preempt and put down prison disorder of every kind. Often known as Correctional Emergency Response Teams, they have become ubiquitous in correctional facilities over the past 30 years.

CERT has its roots in the national fear of civil disorder that roiled the 1960s and ’70s, when popular anxiety about armed racial conflict was very real. The 1965 Watts riot, in which civilian snipers prevented firefighters and National Guardsmen from entering burning neighborhoods, proved that even an army of regular police was ill-suited to cope with widespread public upheaval. In the aftermath of the riots, the LAPD groomed small, highly trained Special Weapons and Tactics teams to quickly respond to and quell disturbances—and in 1974, after SWAT teams successfully besieged a Symbionese Liberation Army hideout in South Los Angeles, the acronym became part of the national vocabulary. (The success of the effort, which played out live before a TV audience, led Aaron Spelling to produce the TV series S.W.A.T. for ABC the following year.)

SWAT spread quickly after that, from large metropolitan police departments to sheriff’s departments, where officers assigned to lockup duty in county jails began adapting its tactics to cellblocks, especially after Attica, effectively launching what would become the era of Correctional Emergency Response Teams. Over the next four decades, CERT moved into prisons, as did black males, whose incarceration rate has nearly tripled since 1980. Today, the acronym is one of several (others include SERT, for Special Emergency Response Team, and SORT, for Special Operations Response Team) used generically to describe any team that carries out special operations within a jail, or a state, federal, or military prison. It can refer to outfits with an enormous range of training and operations, and widely varying professionalism and autonomy. Some teams carry firearms, while others are trained to respond to uprisings only with what are known as “less lethal” means, including chemical-grenade launchers, electrified riot shields, K-9 units, and fist-size rubber bullets. Also sometimes labeled CERT are cell-extraction squads (which forcefully remove intransigent prisoners from their cells), surveillance snipers, and regular corrections officers who are trained to leave their posts to run to a developing emergency.

There are no national standards for CERT, nor is there a governing body. But there is one national training event, held each year at the state penitentiary in Moundsville, which was decommissioned less than a decade after the 1986 uprising. Run by West Virginia’s Division of Corrections, along with a nonprofit called the West Virginia Corrections Training Foundation, the event is officially known as the Mock Prison Riot, and its organizers boast that it is the place where the jailers of the world come for new ideas. For four days, the former penitentiary becomes a giant training ground where common (and not-so-common) prison disturbances are simulated, new tactics and ideas are discussed, and dozens of specialized vendors sell everything from shank-resistant undershirts to suicide-proof dental floss. Seventy people attended the event in 1997, its first year, and since then it has grown dramatically. Fifteen years later, in May of 2012, nearly 1,000 people came from all over the world to take part in this Woodstock of American corrections. I was one of them.

Not long after arriving in Moundsville, I climbed to the top of the other main attraction in town: the Grave Creek Mound. A 60-foot-high burial site constructed more than 2,000 years ago by the American Indians of the Ohio River Valley, the mound is the highest point in town. From its summit, I looked to the west, where I saw the Ohio River slicing between Ohio and West Virginia, and to the east, where, just a two-minute walk away, the penitentiary sat: a hulking, crenellated Gothic behemoth. The prison’s North Hall was once used as its punishment cellblock. Pedestrians along Jefferson Avenue, which runs between the prison and the mound, could hear much of what was going on inside. Things got so loud and chaotic at times that the officers had to communicate with one another by writing messages on a chalkboard, and had to work under a metal latticework canopy designed to protect them from the debris inmates tossed down at them from the upper cells. “Hello!” someone shouted as I was taking in the view. I turned to see four Chinese men in identical yellow polo shirts and khakis cresting the mound, all waving at me and smiling the obsequious smile one must stoop to wear in a foreign place. They introduced themselves as corrections officials from Hong Kong. I asked them why they had made the 8,000-mile pilgrimage to Moundsville. The team leader, Lam Kang-Kwong, explained that because the American correctional system is so violent, it has much to teach the rest of the world, especially when it comes to the control of prisoners. “Our No. 1 mission,” an officer named Chan Chi Yan interjected eagerly, “is to learn how to use a Taser.” Chan’s job, it turned out, was to get certified in Tasering at the event and then write a report for his boss back home, who would determine whether the weapon should be used in Hong Kong’s prisons. First, though, Chan wanted a picture with his co-workers on top of the mound, with the battlements of the prison’s east wall in the background. I obliged him, wished the group a successful riot, and descended the hill to the prison gates.

The day before the riot scenarios began, the organizers put on a sort of corrections decathlon called SuperSWAT, for which they had erected an obstacle course and a shooting range that ran nearly the entire east wall of the prison’s South Yard. After descending the burial mound, I wandered over to check it out. At the center of the course stood a 25-foot, three-tiered wooden tower. As I crossed the yard, a crowd of men in uniform—black cotton shirts tucked into green utility pants tucked into black combat boots—were shouting encouragement to a tiny blond woman on the second level who was hoisting a 100-pound dummy, meant to simulate an unconscious officer, up to the top. Many of the men were filming her exertions, and the group belted out its approval when she finally succeeded. “You’re a fucking warrior!” one of them yelled. She responded with a victorious shriek and then continued on through the course.

Her name was LaDonna Brady. After she finished, I approached her. She was crying. Today was a triumph, she told me. It had been more than two years since she had finished treatment for breast cancer, and she wanted to prove that she could train her body to be stronger than it was before her diagnosis. Last year she had been unable to lift the dummy to the top level and had been disqualified. Her team captain this year, a boulder of a man named Scott Brock, nodded with pride as she spoke. “We’re a family,” he said. From the writing on their shirts, I understood the family to be the CERT from the sheriff’s office in Lee County, Florida.

Brock and Brady ran off to cheer on a teammate, and I headed to a squat, bleached-white chapel at the end of the course. Inside, two supervising officers in yellow vests idled. On a table on one side of the room, a rifle lay next to a box full of bullets and spent casings. Competitors had to pick out the good bullets, load them into the rifle, and hit a target at the other end of the chapel: all small-motor tasks, one of the officers told me, that were extremely difficult, physically and cognitively, after the exhausting obstacle course. The whole course seemed daunting to me, if not impossible. I asked the other supervising officer, a tall man who looked like a triathlete, how difficult the entire gantlet was, on a scale of one to 10.

“For me?” he said, smiling sheepishly. “A two.”

That evening, I attended an awards banquet in the nearby city of Wheeling, in the ballroom of the White Palace, an old stucco mansion that looks a little like the Alamo. The hall was half empty when I arrived. Teams had staked out places at long white tables, where they were drinking beer and eating fried chicken off paper plates. Lee County’s CERT was the star of the evening. The team members wore matching tuxedo T-shirts, dispensed magnanimous fist bumps to those on their way to the stage to accept awards, and occasionally howled at an inside joke. LaDonna Brady received a special award and a standing ovation. By the end of the night, when they were named best overall team, they had erected a four-tiered ziggurat of empty Bud Light cans at their table.

Alabama, however, stole the show. They were the last group to arrive at the banquet, and the hall went silent when they did. All of the officers were men, the majority were black, and many had shaved heads. They wore black shirts, pants, and boots. Many looked like bodybuilders. They headed to the table where I was sitting, alone. Each member of the team put his hands on the back of a chair and then waited until the coordinator, a titan in wire-rimmed glasses, bellowed “Seats!” In unison, they sat.

I found myself next to Aaron Lewis, a trim 51-year-old African American with broad shoulders, large, dark eyes, and a neat black mustache. A former soldier and sheriff ’s deputy, Lewis stressed to me the high standard to which he and his fellow CERT officers, who all worked other jobs in Alabama prisons, held themselves. For his CERT service, Lewis got a 5 percent bump in his salary. “None of us do this for the money,” he told me. They had all signed up for the challenge, the sense of pride. CERT gave them a way to distinguish themselves.

Mike Coleman, the director of security for the West Virginia Division of Corrections, thanked everyone in the audience for coming. This was the first year the proceedings were being run exclusively by the state, he said. The feds had funded the event for a decade but this year had decided to stop. Six months earlier, the event’s very survival had been in jeopardy. But now the turnout was impressive. For a moment, the people in the audience considered a world with no Mock Prison Riot, and then applauded themselves for not letting that come to pass. Grinning, Coleman—who was one of the officers taken hostage at the prison in 1986— gave his benediction: “Let’s have a safe riot!”

 

The energy in the prison the next morning was nervous and tribal, like the first day of school. A big riot planned for the North Yard kept getting pushed back because a team from the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, hadn’t yet shown up. Bands of mock prisoners in loose and torn jumpsuits, looking like road-warrior extras from a post-apocalyptic Western, kept away from the CERT teams—who, in turn, kept away from one another and instead formed clusters in matching T-shirts. Finally, word came that a riot scenario was ready to go: prisoners had seized the dining hall.

I headed over for the show. The rioters—role-playing criminal-justice students from Utah—wore short-sleeved orange jumpsuits, knee pads, face shields, and goggles. When I got to the dining hall, they were chatting excitedly with one another and with observers. One hammy prisoner pranced the length of the kitchen, from food window to food window, slamming metal counters and demanding his “chef ’s salad, CO, right fucking now.”

Then Alabama entered the dining hall—and once again, everyone stopped talking. Still wearing all black, the team moved in low and fast and spread out along the wall, forming a phalanx of batons, helmets, boots, and clear-plastic riot shields. Suddenly the student rioters seemed less credible as barbarians. Together, the Alabama team moved away from the wall, advancing in formation toward the prisoners, some of whom charged the line, only to be thrown or pushed to the ground, where they were pinned down by knees or shields. The team’s formation was elastic. The line would momentarily stretch to absorb the charge of a prisoner and then, having quickly taken him down, would almost instantly snap back into shape. Watching the fate of their fellow inmates, those on the far end of the room lay down on the floor, prone. The Alabama team now crossed the hall in slow lockstep, bodies angled sideways, stomping one foot forward and then dragging along the other. The noise this produced was genuinely frightening. It suggested not just overwhelming force but also the inevitability of its application.

I took in Alabama’s exercise in the dining hall alongside Hofni Danin, a major in the Israeli Prison Service. He was there, like the officials from Hong Kong, to learn about American CERT tactics and equipment. A short, tan, affable fellow, Danin was second-in-command of the elite Masada unit of the prison service, which is responsible for what he called “irregular events” at prisons: hostage situations. Danin was struck by the discipline of the Alabama team, especially since its members did this work as a side job. He marveled that they didn’t use their dummy pepper-spray rifles in the simulation, as his men would have done. After the exercise was over, I asked Danin how he thought Alabama’s tactics differed from his own team’s. “They use the baton more,” he said. “They are very physical.”

That afternoon, I watched a Michigan CERT put down a 15-person riot in the recreation pen in the North Yard, contained on all four sides by a chain-link fence. I agreed to film the exercise on my phone for a doughy young officer with a shaved head whose e-mail address contained the compound noun meat-shield. Arriving to quell the riot, Michigan marched into the pen and formed up across from the prisoners, dressed in their inmate motley. Spectators pushed up to the fence on all sides. They stuck their fingers and noses through the links and hooted their approval, giving the exercise the ambience of a competitive game of pickup basketball. Michigan, unlike Alabama, made abundant use of their guns: small black semiautomatic carbines that shot dummy rounds meant to simulate pellets of pepper spray. A clicking sound filled the air as the officers emptied their rifles, and modest clouds of powder erupted here and there as the rounds connected with their targets. Michigan brought the inmates to heel in less than five minutes.

Correctional Emergency Response Teams have acquired a reputation for recklessness and brutality in some states. In 1999, a Florida prisoner named Frank Valdes was beaten to death during a team’s attempt to remove him from his cell. The medical examiner found boot prints on his body. In 2010, during another cell extraction, a four-person team at a maximum-security prison in Tennessee asphyxiated a prisoner named Charles Toll by holding him under a riot shield. In the summer of 2011, four inmates at a prison in Georgia sued members of a CERT and other officers, alleging that the group, infuriated by an attack against another officer, had retaliated by handcuffing and beating them until they bled. The suit, which was settled in February 2012, described a cellblock that echoed with inmates’ screams.

In between the Alabama and Michigan exercises, at lunchtime, I followed my nose to a barbecue stand in the North Yard, where I ran into the team from Hong Kong. The men had spent the morning in a Taser-certification class. Chan looked exhilarated.

“How did it go?,” I asked him. He turned around and pointed to the back of his thigh, where a spot of blood the size of a silver dollar had soaked through his gray corduroys. I cringed. “Will you recommend the Taser to your boss?,” I asked.

“No,” he told me. “It is too forceful for Hong Kong. Much too forceful. Good for America.”

The morning of the third day, I played an escaped prisoner who, along with an accomplice, had taken a civilian hostage in a nearby apartment building. My partner, Sarah Grim, was a 30-year-old cook at a Columbus-area high school and a criminal-justice student at ITT Tech. The “apartment” was a two-story particleboard set, built inside the old inmate-processing center in North Hall and furnished with the barest of gestures: an old bed frame and a mattress, the state of which might best be described as unsettling. It was like a particularly austere staging of Pinter.

Through an open window flew a “throw phone,” lobbed our way by the Lee County CERT negotiator, for us to use to make our demands.

The phone rang. Sarah picked it up and said, “Hello?” After listening for a moment, she turned to me and mouthed, “What do we want?”

I suggested $500,000 in unmarked bills, and a helicopter to the Bahamas. Sarah relayed the demands as our prisoner, another ITT student, Michelle, yelled “Haaaalp!” and giggled. The mood seemed too light, so I proposed some supplementary rhetoric to Sarah, who shouted into the phone, “Or the bitch gets it!” She hung up, and Michelle giggled some more.

Without warning, the front door opened, and into the room poked a long metal nozzle, disgorging a damp gray mist—dummy tear gas. In less than five seconds, none of us could see. Suddenly, a nearby voice commanded me to get down, and then a short man in a gas mask appeared in front of me. I began to lie down on my own but was vigorously assisted. I felt knees on my elbows and then was hoisted up, hands behind my back, and frog-marched out of the building, past LaDonna Brady, who was filming my capture. I felt an unexpected desire to spin around and tackle the man holding my wrists.

After the exercise ended, I asked a member of the entry team what would have happened if they had used live gas. “Your toenails would hurt,” he said.

That afternoon, I met Henry Leung, a trunk-necked Michigander with a crew cut who was in charge of a team from the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington State. Some of the exercises he had seen at the event, he said, approached military standards of discipline, order, and efficiency. But some did not. Leung told me about a riot scenario in the dining hall that he had just watched, similar to the one I had seen the day before. Instead of entering the room through one door, though, this team had split into two. The rioters, facing one direction, had immediately rushed the first group. The second group, upon entering, saw its teammates being attacked and began blasting inert rounds into the melee.

I asked Leung why this was a bad tactic.

“Fratricide,” he responded.

As we chatted, Leung and I soaked up the sun in the South Yard, along with most everyone at the prison. We were all waiting for the final act of a two-part scenario that had begun indoors and would culminate in the helicopter evacuation of an injured officer. A big man wearing a Wayne County CERT T‑shirt plunked himself down next to us, along with some teammates. The previous night, it seemed, had been a late one, and this officer, a puffy-faced man with adventurous sideburns, had only just made it to the prison.

“The hotel bar ran out of Red Stag and Jack Daniels,” one of his teammates told me. “If it hadn’t been so late, I would’ve driven to Sam’s Club to get more.”

“I did excellent designated driving,” someone else said, “of the elevator.”

“I think I drank all of it,” the puffy-faced man said.

“You sure smelled like it this morning.”

A helicopter chuffed in from the south and landed. CERT officers from several federal prisons rushed across the yard to the helicopter, carrying the man playing the injured officer on a stretcher. As they loaded him on board, a corrections officer from another team wandered over to our group, smirking and bearing his smartphone aloft.

“Watch this,” he said. He pressed the play button, and we watched his just-shot video of the helicopter descending. A crude rendering of a rocket flew in from the left side of the screen and exploded on top of the aircraft. Everyone laughed. He had a video app, he explained, for shooting rockets at things.

Later that afternoon, I attended a cell-extraction workshop taught by John Kingston, the CERT commander for the western region of Pennsylvania. If there was a rock star at the event, he was it. Tanned and bald, with an aquiline nose and long, dark eyelashes, he wasn’t huge like many of the officers he taught (“I only go about 198,” he told the class), but nevertheless, his presence was commanding. His stride was pitched at the fulcrum of strut and saunter, and his voice sounded uncannily like the comedian Lewis Black’s.

Formerly a soldier and a steelworker, Kingston became a corrections officer in 1986. Initially he had been drawn to the work simply for the money, but after a raft of Pennsylvania prison riots in 1989 (at Rockview, Huntington, and, most famously, Camp Hill), he got serious about it. “Seeing hundreds and hundreds of people run amok,” he said, “changed my sensibilities as a corrections officer.” Now he seemed to have reached a quasi-philosophical understanding of the relationship between officer and prisoner. “I do not like inmates,” he said. “But if I worked in a cannery for 27 years, I would not like fucking peaches.”

Cell extractions, he explained, were as dangerous as they were common. Inmates experience them as violations and react accordingly. “It may stink and it may need a paint job,” Kingston said, channeling an inmate, “but this is my house.”

CERT officers carrying out an extraction are trained to form a line, typically made up of five people, outside the cell, and then to enter one by one, behind a single riot shield. Kingston calls the formation “the Snake.” In an extraction done right, the Snake pushes the inmate straight back (“Drive him through the wall!,” Kingston shouted to one team), and then splits apart as officers move in different directions to pin the inmate’s limbs against the wall. The next step involves pulling the inmate to the ground, where, if necessary and possible, they can restrain him under the shield. Today, for legal reasons, almost all cell extractions are filmed.

The Snake is powerful, but possible to evade by moving from side to side. Many prisoners, when they know an extraction team is coming, pour shampoo onto the floor. Some use their own urine and feces. Unsurprisingly, extractions can be harrowing for officers, who may not know whether an inmate is infected with HIV or has weapons inside the cell. Using a few volunteers as officers, Kingston showed us how an inmate at an officer’s flank can stab at the weak spots in his body armor: under the armpits, at the throat, at the groin, and on the sides of the leg.

Kingston drilled his trainees on the importance of not harming the inmate. The force of several officers piled on top of a riot shield on top of an inmate can cause asphyxia, and Kingston reminded his students again and again to check for the signs: wheezing, the inability to speak, blue and purple skin. Charles Toll died this way, under an electrified riot shield. “A curved shield was pressed against his back,” the medical examiner wrote, “and held in place by approximately four guards for over ten minutes.” Toll’s mother claims that the extraction came in response to an incident in which her son, who had been punished more than 50 times previously, threw a liquid believed to be urine at an officer.

At the start of the workshop, Kingston asked how many of the officers had been spit on or urinated on or struck with feces by an inmate. Half the attendees raised their hands. Kingston was acknowledging one of the profound indignities that is a part of life for those involved in corrections work: the need to suffer through the verbal and physical aggression of prisoners and do nothing in response. Not surprisingly, when violent actions, among them cell extractions, are officially sanctioned, they can come to be seen as a rare opportunity for payback. “Now is my chance” is how Kingston described the illicit excitement a corrections officer can feel when he knows he’s allowed to use force against an abusive inmate.

The biggest people I saw at the Mock Prison Riot were those who attended Kingston’s class, including an officer from North Carolina who was so large, his teammates claimed, that he was used in lieu of a riot shield. How did these enormous men, stressed and disrespected, manage to harness their aggression so they could incapacitate truly violent people without harming them? After my time in the class, I found myself surprised that more people don’t die under riot shields—and that, given the fear and the resentment that festers in prisons, a CERT has not yet produced its own Abu Ghraib.

Nine months before the Moundsville event began, two inmates at Northern Correctional Facility, one of the West Virginia prisons that took inmates from Moundsville when it closed, broke the locking system in their cells and took a senior officer hostage. The inmates were young and did not make any demands, which was unnerving: they were unpredictable.

The disturbance began at 11 p.m. By midnight, the regional CERT commander had arrived at the prison and was consulting with the warden. They quickly decided to send in five men to apprehend the prisoners and rescue the hostage. One inmate began to flee across a mezzanine, at which point a young officer named Chad Richmond shot at him from 60 feet away with a 40-millimeter hardened-plastic round, bringing him down. The team then entered the cellblock and easily captured the other inmate, who was hiding behind a makeshift barricade. It was the perfect CERT operation: a swift, professional response to an unfolding crisis that ended safely for everybody involved, including the hostage.

At the Mock Prison Riot banquet, Mike Coleman awarded Richmond a special commendation, sounding emotional as he praised the officer’s heroics. As Coleman told me, he and his colleagues gather each year not just for CERT training but also to demonstrate their worth. It’s important to publicly celebrate stories of performance under pressure, Coleman said, because all too often, even within the world of law enforcement, corrections is viewed condescendingly, if not derisively, as simple, brutal work done by simple, brutal people.

After my time in Moundsville, I appreciated Coleman’s point. The CERT officers I met were, with a few exceptions, highly disciplined, highly professional, and well intentioned. But the irony is this: the rise of CERT has not only helped quell disturbances and reduce violence in our prisons but also served to keep the whole subject of prisoner control, which we tend to care about solely when it fails, out of the public eye. CERT is an effective way to keep the peace in our swollen and non-rehabilitative prison system, and that’s undoubtedly a good thing. But after watching the efficient suppression of so many mock riots, I couldn’t help wondering whether the rise of CERT hasn’t also stifled the voices of some genuinely mistreated prison inmates who need to call attention to their plight. What was it that the organizers of the 1986 Moundsville riot were aiming to do, after all? To bring attention to the atrocious conditions under which they lived. And they succeeded. Later that year, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the five-by-seven-foot cells in which inmates lived constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered that the prison be decommissioned. What would conditions in our prisons be like today if emergency-response teams had prevented all those uprisings a generation ago? Where and how are prisoners being mistreated today, in 2013? It’s hard to know, and for that perhaps the success of CERT is partly to blame. As Mike Coleman told me, “What we do is behind walls.”

Joseph Bernstein is an editor at BuzzFeed.
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