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California prisons: ‘Solitary confinement can amount to cruel punishment, even torture’ – UN rights expert

August 23, 2013

 

Geneva, Aug. 23, 2013 –United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez today urged the United States government to abolish the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. There are approximately 80,000 prisoners in the United States of America who are subjected to solitary confinement; nearly 12,000 are in isolation in the state of California.

Hunger strike rally Oakland Jerry Elster MC 'End long term solitary...' 073113, web
Jerry Elster of All of Us or None emcees a spirited protest at Oscar Grant Plaza on July 31, 2013.
“Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time, it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if the resulting pain or sufferings are severe, solitary confinement even amounts to torture,” Mr. Méndez stressed as nearly 200 inmates in Californian detention centers approach their fifth consecutive week on hunger strike against cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions.

“I urge the U.S. government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances,” he said, “including an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row.”

The independent investigator on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment urged the U.S. authorities to ensure that “solitary confinement is only imposed, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and with established safeguards in place.” In Mr. Méndez’s view, “its application must be subject to independent review, and inmates must undergo strict medical supervision.”

“I urge the U.S. government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances.”

Since July 8, 2013, thousands of prisoners detained in nine separate prisons across the state of California have gone on hunger strike to peacefully protest the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions. The inmates are demanding a change in the state’s excessive use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure and the subjugation of prisoners to solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time by prison authorities under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In California’s maximum security prison in Pelican Bay more than 400 prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over a decade, and the average time a prisoner spends in solitary confinement is 7.5 years. “I am extremely worried about those numbers and in particular about the approximately 4,000 prisoners in California who are held in Security Housing Units for indefinite periods or periods of many years, often decades,” Mr. Méndez said.

Special+Rapporteur+on+torture+Juan+E.+Méndez+by+Jean-Marc+Ferré,+UN
Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez – Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré, U.N.
In many cases inmates are isolated in 8-foot-by-12 foot cells and lack minimum ventilation and natural light. The prisoners are forced to remain in their cells for 22 to 23 hours per day, and they are allowed only one hour of exercise alone in a cement lot where they do not necessarily have any contact with other inmates.

In the context of reported reprisals against inmates on hunger strike and a district judge’s approval of Californian authorities’ request to engage in force-feeding prisoners under certain circumstances, the U.N. Special Rapporteur also reminded the authorities that “it is not acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike.”

Mr. Méndez addressed the issue of solitary confinement in the U.S., including prison regimes in California, in his 2011 report to the U.N. General Assembly and in numerous communications to the government. He has also repeatedly requested an invitation to carry out a visit to the country, including state prisons in California, but so far has not received a positive answer.

“My request coincides with some prominent voices in the United States, including the first-ever congressional hearing chaired by Sen. Durbin on June 19, 2012; the decision to close Tamms Maximum Security Correctional Center by the State of Illinois on Jan. 4, 2013, and numerous editorials by prominent columnists in major papers addressing the excessive use of solitary confinement across the country,” Mr. Méndez said.

“It is about time to provide the opportunity for an in situ assessment of the conditions in U.S. prisons and detention facilities,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur underscored.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur reminded the authorities that “it is not acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike.”

Juan E. Méndez of Argentina was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on Nov. 1, 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas.

He is currently a professor of law at the American University – Washington College of Law and co-chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Mr. Méndez has previously served as the president of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009 and was the U.N. Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010.

To learn more, log on to http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx. Check the 2011 report on solitary confinement, at http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/445/70/PDF/N1144570.pdf?OpenElement or http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=103, and the U.N. Human Rights Country Page – United States of America, at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx. For more information, contact Sonia Cronin at scronin@ohchr.org or Stephanie Selg at ssleg@ohchr.org or write to sr-torture@ohchr.org.

 

3 thoughts on “California prisons: ‘Solitary confinement can amount to cruel punishment, even torture’ – UN rights expert

  1. renaldo.ricketts

    We'redealing with peoeple who've imprisoned innocent people form othr countries in Gitmo,held wiht out trial for over 10yrs. What does that tellyou about the mentality of these sick prison guards. How can they goaround the world and preach about how great the "demon-crazy " tey've created and hold people in barbaric conditions in their country. This clearly shows the mentality of the jail keeper, the objective is to inflict pain,and continual torture. They call this a democracy we al know itls closer to a DEMON-CRAZY. The abuse of prisoners has reached epedemic proportions ,the inhumane tratment of the prisoners is beyond tortuie ,they are literally bleeding the minds of these prisoners,the objective is to degrade and eventulaly kill or render them mentally in capeable of functioning in society ever again!

    Reply
  2. Renaldo Ricketts

    There is noshame in the barbarian's game, how can the US run around the world torturing people into their demon-crazy.Are they serious,does anyone in th world believe in the formof goverment they practice at home and abroad ? I hate to in formthe US gov. bu they are not believed anywhere in the world,the Neathertal tactics of abuse of prisons is well known.They can no longer run around the world bragging about their con-stitution and bill of whites/rights for them only. People have ereached a saturation point ,the in formation age has brougt us an e-mail away form each other teh torturin of prisoner in Iraq is known all all coners of the world "Abu Grey " is a house hold word ,the pictures are ingraned n the minds of children around the world the sick twisted minds of the US military is well documented . This is what communication has done for the common person ,we're all journalist .The eyes of truth is what people represent ,they are no longer able to stage fake reports of disinformation and have it ingested by the uninformed Amerikant public .
    The truth shall be told ,the people have risen upand are reporting on the inhumanity of the gov.over seas,yes we see you,our eyes hav enever lost touch with the truth . Lies are being exposed daily. manufactured ,contrived nonsense is being exposed world wide ,the beast can nologer hide,and confide in it's own bile . I t took us a while bu the tehnology is on our side,your protrascted lies are not the only news around the world .Independent newspapers areth eyes of the people we no longer need CNN = Control Network Nonsense-CBS Control Bull -Shit=ABC =All -Bull -Contrived .We're th new eyes of justice! Wake uop and smell reality.

    Reply
  3. Renaldo Ricketts

    Prisons are designed to cause mental anguish, imagine your psychological state of mind when you're released from this tortured cell of hell. The inhumanity of the institution breathes contempt and disharmony in your soul. After years of torture what do you think becomes of the fractured psyche in jail, I know one thing for a fact, the mind is splintered, pounded and beaten like a runaway slave on a plantation. Punishment is daily how can one even escape this sardine infernol for a moment.
    The institution is a chamber filled with poisenous snakes,that snip at you daily, compounded by deranged inmates, no fault of their own and sadistic guards, they are mere victims stuck in a hell hole on fire where barbarism feeds on itself. You become a beast you prey on he weaker to survive, the Darwinian law of the jungle politics dictates the living order of the dis order. The sound of the metal bars is the music that drives you mad, the constant banging, the perpetual noise from the interna linferno drives you insane.

    So this is the rehabilitation box I'm placed in, this prepares me to enter society as a productive citizen? The system is designed to keep you for ever, 90% of parolees are back in prison within the first 9months. After years of being dehuminized do you expect a fractured mind to act normal, get a job and raisde a family? No ! They know you're bouncing back to cell-hell -this was by design my borther, the game is on you,your the basketball in this movie ! The beast never sleeps it just plots,roams for his new victims to torture in the prisosn industrial complex, that's convexed. Wake up and smell reality -it's waiting for you !

    Reply

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