Prisoner Prosecuted for Masturbation:

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:

Terry Lee Alexander … was sitting on his bunk alone in his cell masturbating when a female deputy, monitoring his cell from a nearby control room, took offense.

Today he’s scheduled to go to trial to fight a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge and the maximum one-year jail sentence that would go with a conviction. The incident occurred in November.

Although masturbation, a common jailhouse occurrence, violates most jail and prison rules, it doesn’t often result in criminal charges. It is generally dealt with internally with a disciplinary write-up and temporary loss of phone or recreation privileges, Florida jail and prison officials said….

Deputy Coryus Veal … has brought similar charges against seven other inmates in six months.

Seems to me that this sort of restriction is guaranteed to be flouted, and is needlessly cruel. If a prison wants to limit the more visible forms of masturbation, that’s fine, so long as it informs inmates what they may and may not do. But a total ban on masturbation strikes me as a very bad idea.

The story suggests that the policy in practice turns on the visibility of the masturbation — “Generally, we prosecute such cases in which the inmate exposes himself in such plain view of the detention staff or other persons,” said a prosecutor’s office spokesman. But there’s no evidence that inmates know what is and is not allowed. And while most of us would know enough, even without being told, not to visibly masturbate in front of strangers, I take it that many inmates aren’t constantly conscious of being observed by video, or aware that it’s OK to masturbate if they do so under a blanket but not otherwise.

Such prosecutions also lead to situations such as this (thanks to How Appealing for the pointer):

[D]efense attorney Kathleen McHugh … faced 17 prospective jurors and asked point-blank who among them had never masturbated.

No hands went up.

Then, she went one-by-one, asking each prospective juror if he or she had ever masturbated.

All nine men said yes, two of the 10 women said no.

At least I appreciate the honesty of south Florida male jurors.

UPDATE: The prisoner has been convicted.