Thursday, December 01, 2016

One Hell in America

That's what solitary confinement is. Between 80,000 and 120,000 men and women are held in solitary confinement every day in this country. Most of them are African-American or Hispanic, and make up 80 percent of the country’s prison population and 95 percent of the inmates confined in solitary cells. Things are getting worse: in the five-year period from 1995 to 2000, the most recent years for which data are available, the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement increased by 40 percent. Here's what a solitary cell in Rikers looks like:

Note that the light is always on. Usually there aren’t any windows. The toilet has no toilet seat or paper and there is no shower. In a book containing essays by former residents of solitary, Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement, residents describe being shackled to their bunks by their feet and hands, and moved from place to place like animals. They report being fed slop and also left without food in a state of extreme hunger. They write that hooded guards, armed with tasers and bats, in body armor and riot gear, extract prisoners from their cells and leave them lying on the floor, beaten, bruised, and unexamined by doctors. And the place truly stinks.

Prisoners are subject to the whims of prison officials, they have no legal recourse. They can be placed in solitary for minor infractions such as walking too slowly, or too fast, or talking too much. Prison guards are prosecutors, witnesses, and judges.

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