Bringing Prison Abuse Out of the Shadows to End It
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 09:48
By Bonnie Kerness, Truthout | Op-Ed
Those held in US prisons describe inhumane conditions including extended isolation often lasting years, use of torture devices, sexual harassment, brutality, cold, filth, callous medical care, and more. We are haunted by the stories from our prisons, such as this one from a young girl in New Jersey:
I was 12 when they put me in isolation (solitary confinement). I heard people scream. They used pepper spray on this girl and she couldn't breathe. They kept hitting her. We told them that she had asthma, but they wouldn't listen.
Tragically, on any given day, more than 80,000 men and women are locked in solitary in US prisons - alone for 23 hours a day. And even more are held in isolation in immigrant detention centers and juvenile facilities.
Long-term isolation has no rehabilitative benefit - but it does have serious negative psychological effects. In fact, solitary confinement is considered a form of "no touch" torture by human rights experts and under international law.
This month is Torture Awareness Month. Please acknowledge it by contacting your state and federal lawmakers and urging them to introduce legislation to end isolation and other forms of "no touch" torture in US prisons. It is not only a stain on our nation's soul; it is an offense against international conventions for human rights that the United States has subscribed to - and often criticizes other nations for failing to honor.
The United States has the largest prison population in the world with 2.2 million people incarcerated - a 500 percent increase in the last 30 years. Our tax dollars are used to lock up more people per capita than any other nation in the world - more than India, more than Russia and more than China.
African-Americans and Latinos comprise 58 percent of all prisoners, despite being just 25 percent of the population - more proof that racism is alive and well in our justice system.
The continued expansion of the US penal system, and the continued expansion of solitary confinement in the system, is a profound spiritual and moral crisis for our nation.
These statistics are even more disheartening when we consider that for many, the motivation for putting so many people behind bars is cold, hard cash.
You might ask, how is it that a 14-year-old boy in a poor neighborhood, who has little hope of getting a decent job or affording college, can suddenly generate up to $30,000 a year once he's trapped in the criminal justice system?
It's because our prisons are a boon to everyone from private prison operators to food vendors to medical services companies, all with one thing in common: a pay check earned by keeping human beings in cages...
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Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
BONNIE KERNESSBonnie Kerness is director of the Prison Watch program of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization working around the world to build conditions for peace and justice.
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