When the news broke years ago that U.S. forces were using torture on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, many politicians and the public expressed appropriate horror. There was shock and disappointment that our country would resort to such inhumane, abusive actions against our fellow human beings, most of whom then were innocent victims of bounty hunters in Afghanistan.
With this frame of reverence in mind, it is unfortunate that many Americans do not contemplate -- or are simply unaware of -- blatant torture occurring in prisons every day right here in the United States. This form of physical and psychological violence is called many things: "isolation", "administrative segregation", "control units", "secure housing" and by its most well-known designation, solitary confinement. This practice of imprisonment is widely used across our nation with disturbingly little oversight and restriction. The full extent of the use of solitary confinement is truly alarming -- it is most certainly a human rights abuse and a blight on our national character.
Imagine yourself being locked in a small windowless room for days, weeks, or years... perhaps even for the majority of your life. You receive food and water through a small slot and have little-to-no human contact -- you might go days or weeks without speaking to another person. You are allowed out for perhaps an hour a day for some exercise. This is the living reality for tens of thousands of Americans in our prison system. Self-mutilation and suicide attempts among those in solitary confinement are far too common. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the majority of prison suicides are inmates who were being held in solitary.
Many more studies have shown that solitary confinement has a severe psychologically damaging effect on human beings. For prisoners already suffering from mental illness, it exacerbates their problems. Senator John McCain wrote of his experience in solitary confinement as a P.O.W. in Vietnam: "It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment."
Many might dismiss and even justify punishment by solitary confinement by convincing themselves that those subjected to it are "bad people." But this is a gross misunderstanding of its common use in our prisons. Many prisoners held in solitary are mentally ill, mentally handicapped, or illiterate. Some are placed in solitary purportedly for their "safety" to protect them from themselves or from other prisoners.
Some put in solitary are children as young as 14 or 15. What type of prison infraction would result in a 15 year old being locked up in solitary? -- "15 days for not making the bed; 15 days for not keeping the cell door open; 20 or 25 days for being in someone else's cell" are some, according to a report on the issue by Human Rights Watch.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Friday, January 24, 2014