It’s hard to feel any empathy for a person convicted of sex crimes, even if they are being harassed physically and mentally in the state prison system.

The first (and certainly most base) emotion is one of schadenfreude: finding pleasure in the misery of others. And there is something very Dantesque about the punishment of such people who took advantage of those who could not protect themselves. Now that they are on the inside, they are the ones who are vulnerable, living their lives alongside violent criminals every second of the day.

Two recent stories brought our attention to this issue.?And as much as we’d like to look away and discuss valentines and puppies, it’s important we consider the safety of inmates after the unexpected deaths of three such men in Umatilla and a lawsuit against the state filed by a Pendleton inmate.

First, at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, three inmates — all convicted of sex crimes and crimes against minors — died unexpectedly in just three months. The deaths are under investigation, and they may prove to all be due to natural causes.?That would seem to us to be one tremendous coincidence, however, for men aged 31, 39 and 67 with no immediate health problems.

With those deaths as a backdrop, an Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution inmate’s lawsuit has reached U.S. District Court. David George Chandler was convicted of rape and sodomy in Clackamas County. He alleges that mixing sex offenders with other prisoners subjects them to “endemic harassment, menacing, intimidation, coercion, extortion and assault,” according to court documents and reporting.

We imagine prison life is certainly not easy for any inmate and probably more so for those convicted of sex crimes.

“Prison is no fairy tale world,” as the narrator reminds us in Shawshank Redemption.

People talk and prisoners quickly seem to know each others’ rap sheets. There are gangs — both literal and more loosely grouped — who run and arrange the social hierarchy within prison walls.

We don’t doubt those who have been convicted of sex crimes get treated poorly in prison. On one hand, we’d like to tell them that prison isn’t a country club vacation. But on the other hand we have to consider our responsibility to their safety.

There may be ways to make prisons safer places without raising costs for taxpayers. Lunch shifts, for instance, where sex crime convicts eat separately from those who have committed non-sex related crimes, could be helpful. So too could quicker intervention to consistent harassment, physical or otherwise, before inmates become violent, or suicidal, or broken to a point that they cannot recover.

We don’t have the money nor the want to remake the state prison system to have sex offenders entirely separated from the rest of the prison population. They make up almost half of most prison populations. We imagine that would not be healthy, nor would it be safe.

But, as a state, we have the responsibility to make sure our wards serve the time to which they were sentenced.?We’d appreciate if they returned to the free world with new life skills, a better outlook, the desire to right wrongs and never return to incarceration. But at the very least, we must keep them safe from outrageous and continual harm while in our custody.

Before liberty and happiness, the Constitution promises us life. The Eighth Amendment gives us the right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

We leave it to our courts to determine?just what constitutes cruel and unusual.?But we created, support and abide by the American justice system. And we should care for those currently in it until their sentence runs out, no matter how despicable their actions may have been.

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