U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmareWATCH VIDEO HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbN8FGHrOgo&feature=share
Veröffentlicht am 20.08.2013
U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare
For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other — on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?
For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration — by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.
This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million — an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course — nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.
Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.
It’s important the attorney general brought up drugs, because the numbers are startling. Federal prisons, the group Holder was referring to, account for about 14 percent of our total inmates. In these prisons, the most serious charge for nearly half of all inmates is a drug offence. Compare that with state prisons, where only 20 percent of the inmates have a drug offence as their most serious charge.
More from CNN: Shame of mandatory minimums
Now, here is what is interesting. The federal prison population has increased every single year since 1980. On the other hand, state prison populations have been declining in recent years, so much so that the overall number of inmates — state plus federal — is actually down in each of the past three years. And here is the best part: the declines encompass 28 states, red AND blue.
Part of these declines are because budgets were simply collapsing. But it could also be because of a growing acknowledgment that the war on drugs has failed. According to the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance, the United States spends about $50 billion a year on the drug war — adding up to a trillion dollars in the last four decades — but there has been no real change in addiction rates.
Americans are not more prone to drugs or crime than citizens of other countries, so why should we put so many people in prison? Well, the good news is that the numbers are finally too large to ignore. The states are already acting. And Holder’s comments will add momentum to a growing chorus for reform.
The greatest challenge in pushing these numbers further down will be the prison lobby. Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners.
According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year — paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.
If our politicians can take on the prison lobbies, there really is hope for America.
- The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery? (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- If Sitting In a Prison Cell Was a Job … (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- America has more Prisoners than High School Teachrs (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery? (childreninprison.wordpress.com)
- US prison population jumps by 27% (rinf.com)
- First Guantanamo Commander Calls It ‘A Prison That Should Never Have Been Opened’ (thinkprogress.org)
- The Peaceful Protest the US Military Doesn’t Want World to See (commondreams.org)
- U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets – The Guardian (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- “Lockup Quotas” Guarantee Profits for the U.S. Private Prison Industry (cryptogon.com)
Aprox. 90 precent of Women in Prison as of 2008 are in for Killing Abusive Partner – While Abusers Get Little to No Time
“The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, to 15 years.
A pair of Maryland cases vividly illustrates this inequality in sentencing. In one case, a judge in Baltimore County, Maryland sentenced Kenneth Peacock to 18 months for killing his unfaithful wife. The very next day, another judge in the same county sentenced Patricia Ann Hawkins to three years in prison for killing her abusive husband. Significantly, the prosecutor in the Peacock case requested a sentence twice as long as the one imposed, while the prosecutor in the Hawkins case requested one-third of the sentence imposed.”
“As many as 90% of the women in prison today  for killing men had been battered by those men.”
Go here for more info and on what you can do. ~ The Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project
- Women have been particularly affected by the War on Drugs (iretablog.org)
- Female prisoners to be moved to jail near family home (theguardian.com)
- Female prisoners to be moved to jail near family home (theguardian.com)
- An analysis of Cuba’s slave labor policy (babalublog.com)
- 12. SoS from Slave Labor Camp (12160.info)
- A Map of the World’s Slave Workforce (theatlantic.com)
- Are Your Favorite Products Produced Through Slave Labor? (jordomenz.wordpress.com)
- American Prisons: Slavery By The Backdoor (vaticproject.blogspot.com)
Extreme Sentencing — the ‘New Normal?’
Director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice
It should outrage us that a homeless man will be in prison for the rest of his life because he was the middleman in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana. We can all pretty much agree that the punishment of growing old and dying behind bars for such offenses is a wildly extreme, tragic and wasteful overreaction to the crime.
But it should not surprise us. Cases like this man’s are just the tip of the iceberg.
Hundreds of thousands of people in American prisons are serving decades-long sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes. They comprise an increasingly aging prison population that costs more and more to maintain as their health deteriorates, increasingly strapping state budgets. In many cases, the person incarcerated could have been effectively held accountable in the community with no prison time at all. In other more serious cases where incarceration may be warranted, the person incarcerated could successfully return to the community after a much shorter time in prison, especially if job training and education were available to ease reentry. But this is not the norm.
Instead, in jurisdictions all around the country, incarceration has been touted as the solution to scores of problems it is ill equipped to address, pushing the number of people in jail and prison to over 2.3 million people. That’s more than the number of people living in New Mexico. This prison-focused punishment system is wildly expensive, destructive to families and communities, and does not work. Research shows diminishing returns of long sentences–the longer a person is incapacitated and removed from family and work opportunities, the less bang we get for the buck in terms of reduced recidivism.
Many policy makers agree that sentencing law relics of the 1980s and 1990s are ineffective. So what stands in our way? For too many Americans, the long sentences we mete out are just the “new normal.” It is hard to shock us when it comes to our criminal justice system. The ease with which we throw away certain people’s lives, particularly the lives of black and brown men, women, and children, demonstrates a general disregard and devaluation of certain communities as irredeemable and unworthy of meaningful interventions that might actually change the course of their lives and heal their communities, and to which many other communities have easier access.
Much of the extreme sentencing in America is justified in the name of victims, with the aim of preventing violence and keeping communities safe. The irony and the lesser known fact is that the majority of crime victims in this country come from the same high incarceration communities. Moreover, polls of victims of crime have found that the vast majority do not want the people responsible for hurting them to be incarcerated if alternatives are available. What matters most to victims of crime is that what happened to them not happen to anyone else. They see the sky-high recidivism rates, and recognize that long prison terms are doing a terrible job of ensuring that people don’t commit crimes in the future. If our goal is to promote safe and healthy communities, we need a different strategy, one that promotes real solutions, such as robust, community-based programs that provide job training, education, classes, and other accountability measures to people who have committed crimes.
The 3,278 people profiled in the ACLU’s recently-released report, A Living Death, did not commit crimes with direct victims. Yet even they received sentences at the extreme end of the spectrum: life without parole. It is time to hold our system accountable for its actions.
We can do better. We know that extreme sentencing is not the answer. Help us fight it at www.aclu.org/fairandsmart.
Read some of the stories of people serving life without parole on our interactive story map.
- ACLU: Over 3,000 Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes (abcnews.go.com)
- 23 Petty Crimes That Have Landed People in Prison for Life Without Parole (publichealthwatch.wordpress.com)
- New ACLU report spotlights thousands of nonviolent prisoners serving LWOP terms (sentencing.typepad.com)
- JURIST – Paper Chase: ACLU: more than 3,200 serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes (innerstandingisness.com)
- 3,278 Inmates Are Currently Serving Life Sentences For Nonviolent Crimes (americanforchange.com)
- ACLU Finds More Than 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses (orrazz.com)
- ACLU: Over 3,000 Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes (abcnews.go.com)
- More Than 3,000 US Prisoners Locked Up for Life Without Parole for Non-Violent Crimes (readersupportednews.org)
- This Man Was Sentenced to Die in Prison for Shoplifting a $159 Jacket: This Happens More Than You Think (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
- Thousands serve life without parole for non-violent crime (salon.com)
- Extreme Sentencing — the ‘New Normal?’ (huffingtonpost.com)
Half a Life in Solitary: How Colorado Made a Young Man Insane
By Andrew Cohen
The story of Sam Mandez is appalling on so many different levels it’s hard to know where to begin. Convicted for a murder no one has ever proven he committed, sentenced to life without parole at the age of 18 because the judge and jury had no other choice, confined for 16 years in solitary for petty offenses in prison, made severely mentally ill by prison policies and practices, left untreated in that condition year after year by state officials, Mandez personifies the self-defeating cruelty of America’s prisons today.
And yet Mandez is not alone in his predicament. All over the nation, in state prisons and federal penitentiaries, officials are failing or refusing to adequately diagnose and treat inmates who are or who are made mentally ill by their confinements. The dire conditions in which these men and women are held, the deliberate indifference with which they are treated, do not meet constitutional standards. And yet there are thousands like Mandez, symbols of one of the most shameful episodes in American legal history.
On July 26, 1992, an elderly woman named Frida Winter was murdered in her home in Greeley, Colorado. The police recovered fingerprints from the scene and later found some of Winter’s things in a culvert near her home. But for years the investigation went nowhere in large part because it was flawed in nearly every way. Other fingerprints from Winter’s home were not recovered. Leads were not adequately pursued. Logical suspects were not properly questioned. At the time of Winter’s death, Sam Mandez was 14 years old.
Four years later, the police caught what they considered a break. Fingerprints from Winter’s home finally found a match in a police database—and the match was Sam Mandez, who had just turned 18. They brought him in for intense questioning. But Mandez had a strong alibi. He and his grandfather had painted part of Winter’s home in 1991, a year before her death. There was good reason for his prints to have been on the window that was broken on the night of Winter’s death. Mandez had been in trouble with the law before—but never for a violent crime.
There were no eyewitnesses. There was no confession. There was no evidence of any kind that Mandez had murdered Winter. But there was one other link between them. Among the items recovered from that culvert after Winter’s death was a matchbook from a business in Henderson, Nevada. The Mandez family had relatives there. The cops said this proved that Mandez had been inside Winter’s house on the night of her death: He had burglarized her home, and thus, under a dubious extension of Colorado law, he was necessarily guilty of first-degree murder….
- Half A Life In Solitary (theatlantic.com)
- Half a Life in Solitary: How Colorado Made a Young Man Insane (amadmanspathtoreason.com)
- Half a Life in Solitary: How Colorado Made a Young Man Insane (asolitarytorture.wordpress.com)
- How Colorado Prisons Made A Young Man Insane (businessinsider.com)
- Wyoming town says murder sentencing a step toward healing (trib.com)
- Interim parole chief to head Colorado prison system (denverpost.com)
- Lawmaker will seek to abolish solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners (coloradoindependent.com)
Texas prosecutor to serve 10 days for innocent man‘s 25-year imprisonment
A former Texas prosecutor who won a conviction that sent an innocent man to prison for nearly 25 years agreed Friday to serve 10 days in jail and complete 500 hours of community service.
Ken Anderson also agreed to be disbarred and was fined $500 as part of a sweeping deal that was expected to end all criminal and civil cases against the embattled ex-district attorney, who presided over a tough-on-crime Texas county for 30 years.
Anderson faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of tampering with evidence in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton, who wrongly spent nearly 25 years in prison…..
- US prosecutor jailed for misconduct (bbc.co.uk)
- Ex-Prosecutor Gets 10 Days in Jail For Sending Innocent Man To Prison for 25 Years (darkgovernment.com)
- Corrupt prosecutor faces 10 days in jail after sending innocent man to prison for 25 years (sott.net)
- Corrupt prosecutor faces 10 days in jail after sending innocent man to prison for 25 years (blacklistednews.com)
- Texas prosecutor will serve 10 days in jail for wrongfully convicting man imprisoned for 25 years (rawstory.com)
- 10 Days in Jail for Ex-Prosecutor Who Sent Innocent Man to Prison for 25 Years (reason.com)
- For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man (dailypaul.com)
Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets
- The Guardian
- Monday 11 November 2013
Sweden has experienced such a sharp fall in the number of prison admissions in the past two years that it has decided to close down four prisons and a remand centre.
“We have seen an out-of-the-ordinary decline in the number of inmates,” said Nils Öberg, the head of Sweden’s prison and probation services. “Now we have the opportunity to close down a part of our infrastructure that we don’t need at this point of time.”
Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next, Öberg said.
As a result, the prison service has this year closed down prisons in the towns of Åby, Håja, Båtshagen, and Kristianstad, two of which will probably be sold and two of which will be passed for temporary use to other government authorities.
Öberg said that while nobody knew for sure why prison numbers had dropped so steeply, he hoped that Sweden’s liberal prison approach, with its strong focus on rehabilitating prisoners, had played a part.
“We certainly hope that the efforts we invest in rehabilitation and preventing relapse of crime has had an impact, but we don’t think that this could explain the entire drop of 6%,” he said.
In the opinion piece in Sweden’s DN newspaper in which he announced the closures, Öberg said that Sweden needed to work even harder on rehabilitating prisoners, doing more to help them once they had returned to society.
One partial explanation for the sudden drop in admissions may be that Swedish courts have given more lenient sentences for drug offences following a ruling of the country’s supreme court in 2011. According to Öberg, there were about 200 fewer people serving sentences for drug offences in Sweden last March than a year previously.
Sweden’s prison services will retain the option to reopen two of the closed prisons should the number of inmates rise.
“We are not at the point of concluding that this is a long-term trend and that this is a change in paradigm,” Öberg said. “What we are certain of is that the pressure on the criminal justice system has dropped markedly in recent years.”
Hanns von Hofer, a criminology professor at Stockholm University, said that much of the fall in prison numbers could be attributed to a recent shift in policy towards probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor thefts, drugs offences and violent crimes.
Of the fall in prison population between 2004 and 2012, he pointed out, 36% related to theft, 25% to drugs offences and 12% to violent crimes.
According to official data, the Swedish prison population has dropped by nearly a sixth since it peaked at 5,722 in 2004. In 2012, there were 4,852 people in prison in Sweden, out of a population of 9.5 million.
How the rest of the world compares with Sweden
The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia’s inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000.
Brazilian prisons hold 548,003 citizens, 274 people per 100,000; finally, India’s prison population amounts to 385,135, with a per capita rate of just 30 inmates per 100,000 citizens.
Among the countries with the smallest prison populations are Malta, Equatorial Guinea, Luxembourg, French Guyana and Djibouti. Sweden ranked 112th for its prison population.
• This article was amended on 12/11/13 to clarify the figures regarding theft, drug offences and violent crime.
- “DYING INMATES in NY STRUGGLE TO GET HOME” NorthCountryPublicRadio (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- NY Prison Create Dementia Unit as Inmate Population Ages (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Population of Oregon inmates with mental health issues surges (oregonlive.com)
- America has more Prisoners than High School Teachrs (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets (theguardian.com)
- Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Sweden closes four prisons as number of inmates plummets (engineeringevil.com)
New Hampshire prison official calls to ‘legalize, control, regulate, tax’ marijuana
The head of one jail in New Hampshire said on Monday that his experience in the prison system had made him sure that it was time to legalize marijuana.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed a bill earlier this year to decriminalize small amounts of weed, but Cheshire County Department of Corrections Superintendent Richard Van Winkler told Vermont Public Radio that the law did not go far enough.
“If we decriminalize we allow the illegal drug enterprise to flourish. That money goes to bad guys, that money funds terrorism,” he explained. “If we legalize, control, regulate, tax in the same way that we do for alcohol, we put the illegal drug dealer out of business.”
- New Hampshire prison official calls to ‘legalize, control, regulate, tax’ marijuana (rawstory.com)
- New Hampshire prison official calls to ‘legalize, control, regulate, tax’ marijuana (alternativenewsalert.com)
- NH jail official backs legalizing marijuana (wptz.com)
New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails
An important new report and accompanying press release issued by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) finds that solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons and jails is both “overused” and understated.
The report further states that the use of isolation, as practiced by the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), violates the human rights of those subjected to it by isolating people suffering from serious mental illness and permitting the use of prolonged segregation. Findings of the study are based on a year-long investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the state’s correctional facilities. According to the release:
Solitary confinement means detaining a prisoner in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in small cells, where the person is banned from most out-of-cell activities and social interaction. The investigation found that both state prisons and county jails hold hundreds people in solitary at any one time around the state. The average length of stay of solitary in the prisons is almost 3 years. In the jails, it can last for months, or even years at a time.
“Inside the Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails” states that New Mexico houses approximately 16 percent of its total prison population in some form of solitary confinement, also noting the substantial increase in the cost associated with holding a prisoner in solitary as opposed to that for a prisoner held in the general population. “While it costs more money to detain prisoners in isolation than in the general population, it does not improve public safety or reduce prison violence.” The report also elaborates on the detrimental effects inflicted on people subjected to the practice:
[I]mposing extreme isolation on prisoners, without allowing for social interaction, education and opportunities for rehabilitation, can have dire consequences. Countless studies have shown that otherwise mentally stable people can experience severely adverse effects from even short periods of enforced isolation. Symptoms can include social withdrawal, panic attacks, irrational anger, loss of impulse control, paranoia, severe depression, and hallucinations. The effect on children and those already suffering from mental illnesses can be particularly devastating.
Mentioned throughout the study was the challenge associated with obtaining clear information on New Mexico’s use of solitary confinement, a problem largely attributable to reporting by NMCD that “lacks adequate transparency at both the state and local level.” The release states:
“The amount of information we were able to gather is dwarfed by the amount of information we still lack,” said Steven Robert Allen, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. “New Mexico desperately needs to implement uniform transparency requirements to fully reveal how and why solitary confinement is being used in our prisons and jails.”
Not surprisingly, the report further elaborates on the paucity of data available on the state’s use of segregation:
This research project illuminated just how difficult it is to acquire clear data on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico. For example, it was impossible to determine with any degree of certainty either the percentage or raw numbers of prisoners held in solitary confinement in New Mexico jails because this data simply is not compiled in an accessible, uniform manner.
Solitary Watch reports on the obstacles encountered by journalists in reporting on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons here and here. Based on their findings, the NMCLP and ACLU-NM identify key areas in need of urgent reform, proposing that the NMCD implement the following measures (each of which are expanded upon in detail in the report):
• Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement • Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days • Mandate that all prisoners be provided with mental, physical and social stimulation • Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill • Ban the use of solitary confinement on children
NMCLP and the ACLU make a point to commend NMCD for its willingness to cooperate with their investigation, and for efforts at reform already underway:
NMCD is now looking at new ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement in its facilities. In June 2012, NMCD invited the Vera Institute of Justice (www.vera.org) to conduct a comprehensive assessment on its use of solitary confinement at state detention facilities. This process will hopefully lead to a sensible reduction in the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons with corresponding taxpayer savings and an increase in prison and public safety.
“We got in the habit of making it to easy to lock down prisoners,” says Jerry Roark, NMCD Director of Adult Prisons. “Right now, we have way to many non-predatory prisoners in segregation. We need to change that, and we’re working on it.”
Living in a box
By Alex Hannaford Photos by Adam Voohres 07 November 13
Solitary confinement is an American human-rights scandal, recently prompting hunger strikes across Californian jails in protest. Think you could survive being isolated in a tiny, windowless, concrete cell, 23 hours a day? GQ prepares to experience lockdown…
On 8 July 2013, 30,000 inmates throughout California’s prison system refused to eat. Many of the men were incarcerated at the state’s notorious Pelican Bay State Prison – an enormous grey fortress built on a 275-acre clearing in a pine forest near the coast, six hours north of San Francisco. Charles Manson was once locked up there, as was notorious Cripps gang member “Monster” Kody.
There, 1,500 of its 3,000 prisoners were in cells within an X-shaped cluster of white buildings known as the Secure Housing Unit. It depends what state you’re in, but secure housing, special housing, administrative segregation – all are solitary confinement by another name. In an extraordinary show of solidarity, inmates across the state joined the Pelican Bay protestors in their hunger strike to demonstrate against California’s practice of locking up its inmates for 22 out of 24 hours in isolated, windowless, concrete cells that measure about 11ft by 7ft (3.35m by 2.13m), often for years at a time. By the time August had rolled around, the California Department Of Corrections And Rehabilitation had won the legal right to force-feed around 70 of the remaining hunger strikers. By then, however, the world was watching.
Solitary confinement has become the United States’ next great human-rights scandal. Inmates can be put in solitary for a number of reasons, including violating prison rules, if they’re deemed an escape risk, because they’re a danger to other inmates, or for their own protection. And it’s not just California that excels at the practice. According to Solitary Watch, an independent body that collects information about solitary confinement, at least 44 states within the US federal system now have “supermax prisons”, most of which almost entirely comprise solitary confinement cells. Although Solitary Watch says it’s difficult to determine just how many people are currently held in solitary in the US due to a lack of reliable state-by-state information, a 2005 census of state and federal prisoners conducted by the Bureau Of Justice Statistics – considered the most accurate – found more than 81,622 inmates were held in “restricted housing”.
As far as Britain is concerned, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Ministry Of Justice told GQ the government didn’t have details of the number of people in solitary, but a report for Solitary Watch said even though Britain had the highest per-capita incarceration rate in Europe (153 out every 100,000 people), it “pales in comparison to the US”. By some estimates, about 500 people are housed in solitary in the UK at any one time, but even then it’s not for extensive periods. The Solitary Watch report noted that “overcrowding, brutal use of segregation and general mismanagement sparked extreme violence in British prisons throughout the Seventies and Eighties … [and] by 1998 solitary confinement was reduced in favour of Close Supervision Centres … designed to combine isolation with engagement … education programmes, libraries and daily exercise.” Compared to the US, then, our own prison system seems somehow progressive.
The 2013 California prison protests – which ended on 5 September – and the media coverage they attracted shone a light on an otherwise covert, unregulated corner of the US justice system: that placing prisoners in solitary is often an arbitrary arrangement, conducted at the discretion, some would say whim, of the individual prison warden. According to James Ridgeway, co-director and editor-in-chief of Solitary Watch, there’s rarely, if any, judicial oversight on imposing solitary confinement. “Placing an inmate in solitary is not determined in court – it’s determined by wardens and a self-serving committee of guards,” he says. “Unfortunately the American public has an appetite for retribution and that’s not going to change overnight.”
The unpalatable truth is that solitary confinement is tantamount to torture. Studies have proved that the practice of isolating prisoners for extensive periods of time can precipitate a descent into madness. Devoid of human contact for so long, often with just a handful of books and possibly a radio for company, many inmates in isolation scream out in the night; some lie naked in their recreation yards, urinating on themselves; smearing excrement over their bodies; indulging in often gruesome bouts of self-mutilation with razor blades or shanks fashioned from items in their cell.
In June 2012, Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator for Illinois, chaired the first ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. “America has led the way with human rights around the world,” Durbin said in his introductory remarks. “But what do our prisons say about our American values?”
The US has five per cent of the world’s population, but a shocking 25 per cent of the world’s prison population. That’s 2.3 million inmates. And the US leads the world in incarcerating some of those prisoners in isolated boxes, often for decades. As David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project told me, the US is a “global outlier” in that respect, and no other democratic country comes close.
During the senate hearing, Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University Of California, Santa Cruz, told the room that solitary confinement could lead to psychosis, mutilation, and suicide. As one of the country’s leading experts on inmate mental health, Haney wrote in a paper he published on the psychological impact of prison that it was in the mid-Seventies that the US moved from a society that saw incarceration as a means of facilitating “productive re-entry into the free world” to one that “used imprisonment merely to inflict pain on wrongdoers”. Studies have found those in solitary confinement develop psychopathologies at higher rates (28 per cent to 15 per cent) than those in the general population and are much more likely to engage in self-mutilation. Solitary Watch says suicide, too, is a consistent trend among inmates in isolation.
Wherever American penal law is applied, of course, solitary confinement – the practice, plus the scandal – travels. In February this year, 100 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, embarked on a hunger strike for several months, protesting their continued incarceration without trial. They were force-fed by the US Military. I visited Guantánamo in July 2010 and was shown how detainees are fed Ensure, a powdered nutritional supplement, using a tube inserted into their nostril and down their oesophagus. I was also shown the tiny solitary cells, with beds formed from concrete. Approximately 70 per cent of the men detained there are still in solitary confinement. One described his cell as his “tomb”.
Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, has called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in exceptional circumstances, and even then for 15 days at most. He also called for an outright ban in the case of juveniles and the mentally ill. The United States has yet to take Méndez up on his suggestion.
PLEASE, read whole article here: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-11/07/solitary-confinement-american-human-rights
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