Given the recent history of torture inflicted by U.S. agents abroad, we’d be wise to ask if torture is also being practiced in the U.S. prison system.
Conservative columnist George Will recently wrote: “Tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in prolonged solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture.”
It’s time to ask government officials to end prolonged solitary confinement, and investigate how widely punitive isolation has been used.
Prisoners in solitary commit half of all suicides inside our country’s prisons. “Isolation changes the way the brain works . . .” writes George Will. “The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction.”
While our country has 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prisoners -- and the number of U.S. prisoners held in isolation is growing.
I’m urging officials to investigate and discontinue punitive, long-term solitary confinement.
Although allegedly aimed at separating out prisoners who are violent or mentally ill, solitary confinement has often been used to demoralize and “break” prisoners, especially those who are politically active. Of the “Angola 3” -- former Black Panthers who were incarcerated in Louisiana’s notorious prison -- two have now been held in solitary for 40 years.
In “liberal” Oregon, where Democrats control the governor’s mansion and the state legislature, abuses of solitary confinement are being reported – including the case of politically active prisoner Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, currently housed in the Intensive Management Unit at the remote Snake River Correctional Institution. Johnson recently wrote an article on Oregon prisoners committing suicide while in solitary; he is currently being kept in isolation for that and other acts of resistance.
Yes, it’s time for officials -- including Oregon’s governor -- to stop prolonged solitary confinement, and investigate whether prisoners are being punished for objecting to this abusive treatment.
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-- The RootsAction.org team
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P.P.S. RootsAction is an independent online force endorsed by Jim Hightower, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Bill Fletcher Jr., Laura Flanders, former U.S. Senator James Abourezk, Coleen Rowley, Frances Fox Piven, and many others.
George Will: “The Cruel and Unusual Nature of Solitary Confinement”
The New Yorker: “Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?”
Physicians for Human Rights: “UN Advisor Says Solitary Confinement in the US is Torture”
Solitary Watch: “Total Isolation – Solitary Confinement in Oregon”
Kevin Rashid Johnson: “Oregon Prisoners Driven to Suicide by Torture in Solitary Confinement Units”
“Kevin Rashid Johnson and Oregon’s Isolation Torture Unit”
Kevin Rashid Johnson: “The South Is Risen: Old Jim Crow Thrives Inside Oregon Prisons”
New York Times editorial: "The Abuse of Solitary Confinement"
Democracy Now! on the Angola 3
NBC News: “Criminal justice system’s ‘dark secret’ – Teenagers in solitary” (Mar 22, 2013)