Ok, it isn’t technically the 11th anymore where I am, but I spent the whole day sequestered working on the Dark Odyssey WinterFire 2012 scheduling grid.
Dave Johns has written a compelling and somewhat distressing article for Slate.com about American prisons attempting to restrict or prevent prisoners from masturbating, noting that:
In fact, a number of state prisons regard jerking off as a rule infraction. American University law professor Brenda Smith, who conducted a 50-state survey of prison masturbation policies in 2006, says restrictions are “well-entrenched” in the correctional environment.
It isn’t a straightforward (so to speak) issue, and it is hard to deny that the need of female guards to a workplace free from harassment (or as free as I imagine female prison guards ever get) should be taken into consideration, among other salient issues. However Johns points out that there are factors that favor permitting self-gratification, as long as it done in a discrete way:
…some experts on prison sex contend that anti-masturbation and anti-porn policies in prisons are counterproductive because they effectively drive inmates to engage in risky sexual behavior
The prison culture in America has a long and established anti-masturbation viewpoint, even resorting to forced infibulation of male prisoners through via the insertion of a ring the the foreskin to prevent them from masturbating.
He also notes that the sex-negativity of some guards and prison officials can put prisoners in the position of being punished for masturbation even when clearly not attempting to engage in “exhibitionist” behavior:
…inmate Terry Lee Alexander was sitting alone on his bunk masturbating when a female deputy who was monitoring him from a central control room more than 100 feet away took exception to Alexander’s “blatant” exertions and wrote him up. Alexander was charged and convicted of exposure, with the jury determining that a cell is “a limited access public place.” The same deputy had also filed reports on seven other locked-up masturbators. When Alexander’s attorney asked the deputy in court if she had considered calling a SWAT team to halt his client’s activity, she replied, “I wish I had.”
Discussions about the multifaceted issues and injustices surrounding the prison system in the U.S. rarely touch on this delicate subject, but maybe they should. I can think of fewer victimless activities than discrete masturbation, and no reasons beyond institutional puritanism or cruelty to deprive people of its simple and harmless pleasure.