Torture in the United States, pt 3

Amnesty also reported on conditions at the Maximum Control Complex (MCC) at Westville, Indiana, a control unit which opened in 1991. The practices at MCC mirrored those at Pelican Bay, the McAlester H-Unit and other control unit prisons despite an agreement by authorities to improve conditions following a lawsuit filed by prisoners.(26)

Similar problems exist in other control unit situations. Trenton State Prison in New Jersey utilizes a "Management Control Unit" in which inmates are confined to individual "activity modules," made of tubular steel and chain-link fencing, for group meals, indoor recreation, haircuts, meetings with counselors and classes.(27)

In Maryland, control units exist at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center (MCAC) and the Maryland House of Corrections Annex (MHC Annex). The MCAC's first warden was forced to leave because of an alleged pattern of sexual harassment of female employees.

In 1995, the United States Department of Justice initiated an investigation of the MCAC. The investigation found, among other things, that inmates are subjected to extreme social isolation by being confined to single person cells 24 hours a day; food is served lukewarm or cold; access to meaningful sick call is inadequate; staffing is inadequate; mental health care is inadequate to satisfy minimum constitutional standards; less than an hour of indoor out-of-cell time is provided every second or third day; there is a lack of outdoor exercise or exposure to fresh air and natural light; and there is a pattern of indefinite isolation and segregation. The investigation confirmed use of a "pink room," which was

The pink room was closed just prior to the Justice Department investigation. Since then, the pink room has been replaced by "cadre cells," which are normal cells, located in an isolated area, which are used for disciplinary purposes. "The doors to the cadre rooms have large metal closers on the inside of the doors which present a suicide risk."(29) Although the Justice Department was unable to uncover evidence of a pattern of physical abuse by MCAC staff against inmates, the report noted that the Department has "received and continues to receive a substantial number of inmate allegations that staff are using excessive force against the inmates out of the range of (surveillance) cameras."(30)

In response to the Department of Justice's letter informing the State of its findings, the State of Maryland replied:

The State's response also generally challenged the Justice Department's jurisdiction to investigate the facility, stating that "absent any...wholesale constitutional misconduct, the DOJ simply has no right to proceed against a State in the management of its prisons."(32) Ultimately, the State rejected the Justice Department's findings.

While the U.S. government deserves considerable praise for challenging the legality of the conditions in the Maryland super-max facility, the problems of abuse and inhuman treatment and punishment in super-max and control unit situations are widespread throughout the U.S. The extensive nature and scope of these abuses, and the problems the Department of Justice has experienced trying to enforce proper standards in Maryland, belie the claims of the U.S. government that adequate domestic standards and remedies exist to prevent these types of violations of CAT.


Quite apart from the abusive circumstances of super-max and control unit facilities, there is evidence of widespread abuses in the U.S. prisons that violate the Article 16 prohibition against official action amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The current tendency to "get tough on crime and criminals," together with increasing rates of crime and incarceration have tended to exacerbate these situations, and to increase the nature and scope of abuses taking place.(33)


As of June 1997, the U.S. prison and jail population stood at 1.7 million.(34)Because of increasingly strict federal and state laws regarding mandatory prison time,(35) incarceration rates are high, making it difficult for federal and state governments to keep up with demand for bed space, and causing extreme problems of over-crowding that often produce conditions amounting to inhuman treatment or punishment.

The prison population grew by almost 40,000 inmates during the first half of 1994, the equivalent of more than 1,500 per week, or three additional 500-bed prisons. At the end of 1993, there were 1,432 African-American inmates per 100,000 African-American United States residents, and 203 White inmates per 100,000 White residents. The predictable consequence... is extensive overcrowding.(36)
  One of the effects of prison overcrowding is "double" and "triple-bunking." Facilities built to provide single-cell accommodations instead are housing two prisoners or more in the same cell, and more beds have been crammed into open dormitory spaces.
Other effects of overcrowding are deteriorating physical conditions of sanitation, as well as reduced level of basic necessities, such as staff supervision, health care and counseling services and recreational facilities. Moreover, overcrowding is directly linked to the spread of airborne diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB). In addition, HIV infected individuals are more at risk in contracting TB and the drug resistant of the disease....(37)
The problems of overcrowding and other forms of prison abuse have been made considerably worse by the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in April 1996.(38) The Act limits the power of federal courts to impose and retain injunctive relief to improve prison conditions. Perhaps the most dangerous of the PLRA's provisions is the one that attempts to end all injunctions, whether entered after trial or by consent, unless the plaintiffs can immediately prove that a "current and ongoing" constitutional violation exists. Requiring such proof is a particularly cynical gesture by Congress, since in theory the injunctive order is designed to prevent a "current and ongoing" violation, even if it is likely to reappear as soon as the injunction is terminated. Moreover, unless the court reaches a final decision on whether to continue the injunction within 90 days, the injunction is automatically suspended ("stayed").

PLRA also limits the use of other court ordered remedial devices such as special masters, and attempts to drive private lawyers out of prison abuse cases by sharply limiting attorneys' fees. Finally, PLRA seeks to bar prisoners from seeking damages for violations that do not result in physical injury. This provision means that a female prisoner who is maliciously and abusively strip-searched by male guards can not sue for damages. Some courts even have used this provision to bar prisoners from instituting damage actions based on denial of the right to practice freedom of religion.

All in all, the result of all these restrictions is that PLRA makes it considerably more difficult to raise issues in court relating to attempts to end abuses in our prisons , jails and juvenile detention facilities, and undercuts a number of important gains that have already been made in these areas. If the forces that oppose prison litigation succeed in stripping the federal courts of their all too rarely exercised powers in these cases, we could return to the days when supervising staff in correctional facilities had nothing that would prevent them from assaulting and abusing prisoners. For example, two recent examples of horrific abuses -- a staff conspiracy to murder prisoners at the Corcoran State Prison in California, and a staff riot at the Hays State Prison in Georgia -- came to light only because of private litigation brought by abused prisoners. Litigation also represents one of the primary ways that similar forms of neglect and abuse of related to improper medical and psychiatric care of prisoners can be brought to light and remedied. Policies such as those contained in the Prison Litigation Reform Act represent a significant failure of the Government to deal with prison abuses, and an effort to keep these abuses from receiving the attention they deserve and require.


Rape and sexual abuse of prison inmates, both women and men, by guards and other inmates, remains a significant problem that frequently involves officially condoned or sanctioned inhuman treatment or punishment.

A separate section of this report analyzes the specific problems and issues related to the sexual and other gender specific abuses directed at women in prison (see following section). With regard to the situation of rape and sexual assault against male inmates, these are frequent occurrences that often are exacerbated by the actions and policies of correction officials, and frequently involve the dangers of pervasive transmission of HIV and AIDS. One of eight New York State prisoners is HIV-positive, and half of HIV/AIDS prisoners are in New York, Florida and Texas.(39) Because of the extreme danger of contracting fatal sexually transmitted disease as a result of prison rape, the failure of prison officials to adequately address the problem and prevent its occurrence may well constitute "deliberate indifference" to conduct that amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment by prison officials under the meaning of these terms in CAT. However, the U.S. courts have refused to consider these conditions as constituting "officially condoned" conduct,(40) and have declined to deal with the problem, considering it a matter not subject to federal jurisdiction.(41)

Two case studies provide graphic descriptions of the type of problems and practices that exist, and how they are treated by prison officials. In the case of Mathie v. Fries,(42) an inmate alleged that the Chief of Security in a Long Island prison handcuffed him and raped him repeatedly between January and April 1990. The inmate was diagnosed in April 1990 with post traumatic stress disorder, specifically, rape trauma syndrome. An investigation undertaken in 1980 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a pattern of sexual misconduct involving prisoners by the Chief of Security going back to 1972 with a number of corroborating witnesses. However, the Department of Justice declined to prosecute.

In Bell v. Phenster,(43)an inmate at the Indiana Youth Center complained to several officials that he was in danger of sexual abuse from a fellow inmate. Following his complaint, he was moved into a cell with his pursuer, and was anally raped by him. After reporting the rape, the inmate was treated at a hospital and diagnosed as a rape victim. But instead of investigating the case and punishing his assailant, prison officials punished the victim for reporting the crime. He was placed in solitary confinement, shackled hand and foot to a steel bunk, face down, with arms and legs crossed, wearing only underwear, with the window open and rain coming through. He was kept without hot food until he agreed to withdraw his demand for an investigation. Later, he was denied asthma medication for one week and was near death when brought to the hospital. He was charged with 30 violations of prison rules and again placed in solitary confinement. As a result of these punishments, his release date was postponed.


The number of women in prison in the United States is increasing. Between 1980 and 1997, the number of women in state and federal prison increased from 12,331 to 78,067.(44) However, women still comprise only approximately 6.4 percent of all prisoners in the United States.(45) Because of the relatively low number of women inmates, the number of prisons for female inmates is relatively low. Consequently, many women are housed far from their homes (and families) and, as a result, receive few visits. This is particularly difficult for women serving time in federal prison system because there are so few federal facilities that house women. Female inmates generally have fewer educational, recreational and vocational opportunities than their male counterparts.(46)

Although some federal courts have found such conditions to be violations of the United States Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws, other courts have disagreed.(47) On April 4, 1996, women prisoners housed at two large California prisons, the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) at Chowchilla and the California Institution for Women (CIW) in Frontera, filed a federal class action charging "that the prisons' dramatically deficient medical care for chronically and terminally ill women has caused needless pain and suffering and threatened their health and lives."(48)

Lead plaintiff Charisse Shumate is incarcerated at CCWF and suffers from sickle cell anemia, serious heart problems, pulmonary hypertension and asthma. In spite of her life-threatening condition, Ms. Shumate frequently has been denied necessary medication and appropriate medical care and treatment. She does not receive the diet necessary to maintain her health.(49)

The lawsuit describes case after case of shockingly deficient treatment:

A more complete analysis of gender-based abuses of women in prison can be found in the following section of this report.


Current trends in juvenile justice policy and practice in the United States also pose problems under Article 16. Increasingly, states are passing legislation which subjects some juvenile offenders as young as 14 years of age to prosecution as adults. The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act "permits the federal government to prosecute juveniles as young as 13 as adults in federal court."(51)

A related problem is posed by bills pending in both houses of Congress that propose ending the requirement that states maintain separate facilities to house adult and juvenile offenders.(52) The proposed legislation also would do away with the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).(53) The OJJDP is the branch of the Justice Department charged with developing approaches for prevention of abuses in the juvenile justice system by setting standards and supplying technical assistance. In place of the OJJDP, the legislation would establish an administrative office within the Justice Department to oversee the spending of federal juvenile justice funds distributed through the Department. It would focus more on law enforcement and less on protection of juveniles.(54)

Children are increasingly involved in the criminal justice system. Between 1989 and 1993, the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes increased 36 percent.(55)During the same period, due to the major increase in weapons use among young people, arrests for homicide have increased nearly 40 percent.(56) Further, "a growing proportion of convicted criminals are children. Nearly 600,000 juveniles were under some type of correctional supervision in 1991, according to the [Bureau of Justice Statistics]," 100,000 of whom were in prisons, juvenile detention facilities or jails.(57)
 The problems associated with the conditions of juvenile confinement are serious. According to a 1994 OJJDP report, "substantial" and "widespread" problems exist with regard to living space, health care, security, and control of suicidal behavior.(58) The research team that compiled the report visited 95 randomly selected public and private juvenile facilities. Notably, the team found that "deficiencies were distributed widely across facilities. Most had several deficiencies, and the types of deficiencies at these facilities varied considerably."(59) The report noted specific problems related to "crowding," insufficient staffing, insufficient screening for suicidal behavior, and inadequate health screenings.


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