The monstrous Honduras prison fire that killed 355 recently merely puts a spotlight back on what must be intolerable and combustible conditions throughout much of the hemisphere.
Not to say U.S. prisons are perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but they’ve got two huge advantages over their
cousins to the South:
The Eighth Amendment.
While the First and Second amendments, along with the Fourth, encompass some of the most basic of human rights, the Eighth Amendment doesn’t do too shabbily either – and in the most concise manner available to a Revolutionary-era pen:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
No government with any amount of credibility would be without such a creed. It’s what drastically reduces the chances of the kind of horror seen in Honduras from being visited on 21st-century America.
That, and lawyers.
Say what you will about our friends of the bar; we’ve said it ourselves, on occasion. But the truth is, lawyers and the rest of our judicial system are the guardians of our unalienable rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Without implementation and vigilance, the Bill of Rights is but an epic poem.
As troublesome as frivolous lawsuits and the threat of them are – and they are a real problem – lawyers and lawsuits, when applied in moderation, do create a level of responsibility and accountability that may otherwise be lacking. They help make sure our food supply is safe, our buildings secure, our infrastructure navigable, our neighbors’ actions answerable to the law, our contracts legal and binding.
And while the “lawsuit lottery” is a dangerous and damaging game, a well-placed civil claim can go a long way toward righting a grievous wrong.
Don’t imagine for a second, for instance, that the survivors from the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship wouldn’t jump at the chance to take full advantage of the American judicial system for recompense. As it stands, due to international laws and the forms you sign in order to board ship, the victims and their families may not be justly compensated for the harm done to them by the apparent wanton negligence of the captain.
Agreeing to a quick and paltry settlement, as has been offered by the company, would also preclude asking some very important questions – such as what might have been in this captain’s background and behavior that could have, or should have, tipped the company off that he was a disaster waiting to happen. And whether industry-standard passenger safety training and drills were adhered to; news reports indicate they were not.
As we said at the time of the ship’s crash, this was not a maritime disaster so much as a human resources one.
A strategically placed lawsuit could not only answer such questions, but might also actually help the cruise industry itself in the process, by forcing it to face some difficult issues head-on – and letting the sea-going public know it.
The thing is, if crew members on that ship, or the people who supervise them, had been more worried about their legal obligations, they might have given more thought to their moral ones.