Supermax Prisons Do Torture
By Kiilu Nyasha
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator
Barack Obama has clearly stated, �We don�t torture.�
Oh, yes we do. Big time.
myriad studies have clearly shown that human beings are social creatures
� making prolonged isolation torture.
The New Yorker published an article March 30, 2009 by Atul Gawande titled,
Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term
solitary confinement. Is this torture?
Gawande asks, �If prolonged isolation is � as research and experience
have confirmed for decades � so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically
cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of
our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?�
By 2000, some 60 supermax prisons had been opened nationwide, in addition
to new isolation units in nearly all maximum-security prisons.
The first such gulag was established in 1983 inMarion,Illinois. In 1989,Californiaopened Pelican Bay State Prison near
over 1,200 captives. It�s been the model for dozens of other states to
follow. The SHU (Security Housing Unit) is entirely windowless, and from
inside a cell with doors perforated with tiny holes, prisoners can only
see the hallway.
They�re confined 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year
with just a brief time (when permitted) in the �dog run� or outdoor enclosure
for solitary exercise with no equipment, not even a ball.
But after nearly 20 years,Californiais now holding more people in solitary
than ever; yet its gang problem is worse, and the violence rates have
actually gone up.
Nationwide, at least 25,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement with
another 50-80,000 in segregation units, many additionally isolated but
those numbers are not released.
According to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons
reported there are 216 so-called international terrorists and 139 so-called
domestic terrorists currently in federal facilities (I�m convinced the
real terrorists are on Capitol Hill). No one has ever escaped from these
�most secure prisons.�
In a 60 Minutes segment titled, Supermax: A Clean Version of Hell (revisited),
June 21, 2009, the reporters took cameras into the ADX-Florence, Colorado
Supermax where there have been six wardens since it opened in 1994. It�s
where Imam Jalil al-Amin and Mutulu Shakur are held captive, along with
myriad other political prisoners.
One former warden stated, �I don�t know what hell is, but I do know the
assumption would be, for a free person, it�s pretty close to it.�
�Supermax is the place America sends the prisoners it wants to punish
the most � a place the warden described as a clean version of hell.�
In a national study (Hayes and Rowan 1988) of 401 suicides in U.S. prisons
�one of the largest studies of its kind�two out of every three people
who committed suicide were being held in a control unit.
In one year, 2005, a record 44 prisoners killed themselves in California
alone; 70 percent of those suicides occurred in segregation units
Bret Grote is an investigator and organizer with Human Rights Coalition/Fed
Up!, a prisoner rights/prison abolitionist organization based in Pittsburgh,
In the Angola 3 Newsletter, Grote details how HRC/Fed Up! Documented many
hundreds of human rights abuses in Pennsylvania�s 27 prisons. Their investigations
concluded that Pennsylvaniais
�operating a sophisticated program of torture under an utterly baseless
pretext of �security,� wherein close to 3,000 people are held in conditions
of solitary/control unit confinement each day.�
Supermax prisons can also contain death rows where prisoners can spend
decades in isolation, torture, with the added torment of impending execution.
One obvious example is the highly political case of former Black Panther,
journalist and author, Mumia Abu-Jamal, falsely convicted of killing a
cop in 1981. Despite hard evidence of innocence, he�s still locked up
in SCI Green, a Pennsylvania Supermax, after 27 years on death row and
the signing of two death warrants.
These conditions are a flagrant violation of article 6 of the U.S. Constitution
which affirms that treaty law (i.e. international law) is the �supreme
law of the land.� Thus, article 10 (3) of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights stipulates that �The penitentiary system shall
comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their
reformation and social rehabilitation.�
Contrary to the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key rhetoric of politicians,
A Zogby poll released in April 2006 found 87 percent of Americans favor
rehabilitative services for prisoners as opposed to punishment only.
The Commission on Safety and Abuse inAmerica�s
Prisons, a bipartisan national task force, produced a study after a yearlong
investigation (2005-2006) that called for ending long-term solitary confinement
of prisoners. The report found practically no benefits and plenty of harm
� for prisoners and the public.
One of the most egregious cases of prolonged torture is the politically-charged
isolation of Hugo
Pinell still held inPelicanBay�s SHU after nearly 20 years. For
his active resistance back in the 1960s and assault conviction in the
San Quentin Six case (1976), my dear friend has spent a total of 40 years
in hellholes � 45 of his 64 years inCaliforniaprisons.
�In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced
legalized segregation,� writes Gawande, �ours has countenanced legalized
torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine
use of solitary confinement � on our own people, in our own communities,
in a supermax prison, for example, that is a 30-minute drive from my home.�
In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, Distrust all in whom the impulse
to punish is powerful!
Power to the people!
Interview With Kiilu Nyasha:America�s
Supermax Prisons Do Torture ByAngola 3 News
BlackCommentator.comGuest Commentator, Kiilu Nyasha, was a Black
Panther and has been part of the international struggle for nearly 40
years. She is currently host of a weekly TV program, �Freedom Is A Constant
Struggle,� on SF Live (Cable 76), a columnist for the SF BayView newspaper
and a member of the SF8 Committee. Clickhereto contact Ms. Nyasha.