Torture in the United States, pt 4

In 1995, Human Rights Watch reported pervasive physical brutality and lack of a formal complaint system in the juvenile detention system of the state of Louisiana.(60)

The juvenile justice system of the District of Columbia, similar to its adult prison system,(62) has become notorious as an institution unable to protect its population. The District of Columbia's juvenile justice system has been the subject of serious litigation since 1970.(63) Despite the presence of a court-appointed monitor to oversee implementation of a 1986 consent decree entered into by the city and juveniles comprising a class that initiated legal action,(64) the District of Columbia has failed to implement the remedial action required by the Court.(65) Conditions at Oak Hill, the District's primary juvenile detention facility, have improved over the past ten years. However, there are still instances of failure to comply with the consent decree. Problems continue in such areas as extended delays between detention and trial, delays in securing community placements enabling release, allegations of sexual abuse by staff against female residents, occasional overcrowding in the girls' unit, unfair treatment of residents by staff, understaffing of professional social services personnel, and a "crumbling, poorly maintained, and dirty" physical plant.(66)

One of the most popular trends in juvenile justice has been the creation of military-style "boot-camps" as alternatives to institutionalization. A research report sponsored by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice found that although the camps were successful in some areas, such as program completion rates, improvement in educational performance, physical fitness and behavior, and cost-effectiveness, problems persisted in achieving a healthy balance between programming emphasizing military discipline and programming focusing on remedial education and counseling. Problems also were noted involving high levels of absenteeism, and insufficient monitoring after release resulting in re-arrest for additional crimes.(67)


Current trends in prison construction and management in the United States also pose problems under Article 16. With regard to the public policy effects of the prison construction industry:

[W]hat is new in criminal justice policy in the last decade is the growth of... private prison companies.... The American prison-industrial complex involves some of the largest investment houses on Wall Street. Goldman Sachs and Co. and Smith Barney Shearson Inc. compete to underwrite jail and prison construction with private, tax-exempt bonds that do not require voter approval. Titans of the defense industry such as Westinghouse Electric and Alliant Technisystems, Inc. have created special divisions to retool their products for law enforcement. Publicly traded prison companies such as the Corrections Corp. of America and Wackenhut Corp., as well as correctional officers unions, also exercise a growing influence over criminal justice policy.(68)
One of the primary problems caused by the privatization of prisons is that, since the companies are for-profit entities, "there is inherent pressure to provide a minimum of services in order to maximize profits."(69) Esmor Correctional Services, the corporation responsible for operating a private detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey(70) "hired correctional staff with little or no experience, served a substandard diet to the inmates and shackled detainees in leg irons when they met their lawyers."(71) As the private prison industry continues to grow, and more facilities are subjected to private control, abuses are increasing substantially.(72) Problems have arisen across the spectrum of private prison companies from small ones, such as Capital Corrections Resources, Inc., whose staff was videotaped abusing prisoners at Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas -- to the largest, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). For example, CCA's Youngstown, Ohio facility currently is under court order to stop admitting additional prisoners, in the aftermath of complaints of numerous abuses, including excessive use of force, inadequate medical care, and the failure to use proper classification systems for keeping violent prisoners separate from others -- the latter practice resulting in two murders of inmates.

Also troubling is the extent of influence of corrections officers unions. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association is that state's second-largest campaign donor.(73)


In recent months, the U.S. Government has been justifiably critical of the practice of some foreign governments, such as China, of using the prison population as a source of forced, under-paid laborers. What is not so widely known and understood is that similar practices occur in the U.S. under conditions that amount to prohibited forced labor and the use of prison labor as punishment.

At the Lockhart Work Program Facility, a Texas prison facility operated by Wackenhut, private employers locate production operations in the prisons and employ prison labor.(74) Current employers include a circuit board assembler, an eyeglass manufacturer, and a maker of valves and fittings. Prisoners built the factory assembly room. Those working on the assembly lines are paid minimum wage, of which the prison deducts 80 percent for room and board, victim restitution and other fees. The state pays for workers' compensation and medical care. The company pays $1.00 per year in rent and receives a tax abatement from the city of Lockhart.

The local AFL-CIO has charged that Wackenhut and Texas have violated federal law by not providing prisoners with fair compensation for their labor, and by engaging in practices that adversely affect the civilian workforce. In 1992, the United Auto Workers made a successful court challenge against an auto parts manufacturer in Ohio that had hired prisoners at $2.05 per hour (less than half the minimum wage), of which the prisoners actually received 35 cents. The UAW claimed that use and underpayment of prisoners instituted unfair labor practices and undercut the civilian workforce. As a result, the auto parts manufacturer was ordered to eliminate its prison labor contract.(75)

The CBS-TV Sixty Minutes series aired a segment on October 20, 1996 describing how the federal government uses prison labor, at cut-rate wages, to produce over $500 million of products each year. The Congressionally created corporation that administers these prison factories also has been given special status allowing it to automatically be selected for any government contract it seeks, even if outbid by private contractors. This preferential treatment in both wage rates and bidding has, according to Sixty Minutes, resulted in a substantial loss of jobs and the closing of a number of private businesses.

Another disturbing trend at the state level is the reinstitution of chain gangs. Currently, Alabama, Florida and Arizona have reintroduced this form of punishment, which had been outlawed because of its highly abusive and unnecessarily harsh punitive elements. Wisconsin and California also are considering it.(76) The new chain gangs are somewhat different in form from the old system, which was dismantled in the 1960s. Today's chain gangs do not engage in large-scale private or public works and are not bound together by heavy-gauge chains. But, the primary purpose of current chain gangs continues to be humiliation, punishment and intimidation.(77)

Chain gangs at Limestone Correctional Facility in Alabama began by cutting weeds and picking up trash along the highways. Now they break rock. Prisoners are shackled together with lightweight leg irons, walk into a barbed wire pen, and work on the rock pile with sledge hammers.(78) Interestingly, chain gangs are cost efficient, an important factor in light of increasing prison populations. "One officer can guard 40 chained prisoners but only 20 without chains."(79) Facility officials take pride in showing the chain gangs to the media and tourists.(80) In Arizona, members of chain gangs are shackled at the ankles but not to each other. Prisoners are used for road clean-up.(81) Chain group for women prisoners also have been instituted recently as a method of punishment and to discourage recitivism.


A number of other practices that involve severe pain and suffering and are imposed in an arbitrary and punitive way unrelated to security needs have been reported. One of the most frequently reported is the indiscriminate use of pepper spray. One prisoner at the Arizona State Prison in Florence reports that, "The use of pepper spray and beatings is a part of everyday life within the system at the Special Management Unit ... if it is not being sprayed directly on you, then the entire wing is being sprayed." Prisoners in that unit report that it is not uncommon for up to eight cans of pepper spray to be used on a single inmate, and for 10 hours to be allowed to pass after a spraying before prisoners are allowed to wash the chemical agents off of their bodies, resulting in continuing burns, blisters, and severe pain, for an unnecessarily long period of time. Another prisoner who experienced similar treatment reported losing control of his bowels and bladder when forced to stand in the sun, covered with this chemical agent, with temperatures reaching the upper nineties, for almost 6 hours.

Frequently, these sprays are applied to prisoners in controlled environments and in isolation cells, where there can be little justification for their excessive use, including situations where prisoners already are in leg irons, chains and other restraints. Prisoner Yashya Messiah of Connecticut indicated he was sprayed while in restraints to the point where he lost consciousness.

Amnesty International reports that more than 60 people have died in police custody since the early 1960s as a direct result of exposure to pepper spray. They also point out that an internal memorandum by the largest supplier of the spray points out serious health risks if someone is sprayed with more than a single, one-second burst.

Excessive use of restraints for punitive purposes is frequently cited. Inmate Randy Abeenth of California reports being placed in waist chains, leg chains and chains around the neck, in addition to being subjected to shock treatment from a stun belt while waiting in a holding cell prior to a court appearance. A social worker incarcerated at Utah State Prison reported that another prisoner was kept virtually immobile in a restraint chair, unable to relieve himself without soiling himself, for over 30 hours, with a urine soaked pillow case placed over his head like a hood. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an article dated April 26, 1998, described the beating of inmate Antonio Noguelol while he was handcuffed, which included a guard jamming a nightstick into his mouth to dislodge a gold tooth, and tracing "KKK" on the floor in the victim's blood.

Inmates allege severe injuries to arms, hands, ankles, legs, back and knees as a result of being strapped for prolonged periods in a "Pro-restraint" chair, a device that has prompted several lawsuits and is criticized by the ACLU and Amnesty International. Michel Valente is one of several prisoners who died as a result of the immobility imposed by the restraint chair, that caused blood clots. Similar deaths have resulted from immobilization on the "restraint board," with prisoners strapped face down in seven places from ankle to head, making movement impossible.

Use of electro-shock devices, such as stun belts, stun shields and stun guns is emerging as the newest form of abusive punishment. These devices produce an eight second powerful electric shock of 50,000 volts to the kidney area, causing severe pain and incapacitation. Stun belts currently are in use in the federal prison system, the U.S. Marshall's Service, 16 states and over 100 county corrections facilities. Unfortunately, they also produce death and long-lasting injury for those suffering from heart or other health problems, a circumstances that is not always known to those applying the current.


Significant problems exist regarding the treatment of individuals being detained pending deportation, including those petitioning for asylum as refugees who are awaiting determination of their asylum claims. Despite the fact that most of these individuals are not criminals, and that some are eventually granted refugee status, during their detention they are housed with the criminal population and frequently subjected to abusive, cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment.

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS),

The conditions of these INS contract facilities both public and private, are of particular concern, especially for female detainees.


The conditions of detention for women awaiting deportation are particularly troublesome. In September 1995, a delegation of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children issued a report on the conditions of INS contract detention facilities in the York and Berks County Prisons in Pennsylvania. They found that because INS detainees are considered flight risks, many are housed in the maximum security area of the prison's female wing.(83) Generally, the normal practice is to mix deportees with the regular criminal population.

"In the minimum security area, they sometimes bunk together and share the common area. In the maximum security area, they are sometimes housed in the same cell, as well as commingled in the common area.

The INS detainees are afraid of the criminal inmates. They reported being harassed when speaking their native languages or when trying to watch television shows of their choice. If there is an altercation between INS detainees and the criminal population in the maximum security area, [the INS detainees] are placed in solitary confinement."(84)

The report noted that the INS claimed to be unaware of the practice of mixing the two populations, while prison authorities openly acknowledged that commingling was a general practice, and that they "intentionally treat the INS detainees exactly like the criminal inmates."(85)

With regard to isolation at York County, the report noted that the INS detainees are "generally cut off from the outside world."(86) Because most have been transferred to York from other INS facilities in other parts of the country, their opportunities for contact with their legal representatives, family or friends are sharply reduced. One attorney representing several inmates held at the facility was quoted as saying "there is a 100 percent correlation between those who have given up and returned to their homeland because they don't have contact with the outside world as opposed to those who are sticking it out because they receive cards, letters, visitors, assistance for their attorneys, etc."(87)

It was reported that female INS detainees at York also receive inadequate medical treatment.(88) Reported cases include INS violation of a court order to provide an interpreter to a Chinese detainee undergoing surgery for an infection caused by an IUD;(89) confiscation as contraband of vitamins from a pregnant INS detainee from the Ivory Coast despite the fact that the vitamins had been provided by the County Hospital; denial of medical attention to pregnant women;(90) lack of dental attention to a French-speaking detainee from Guinea;(91) and lack of mental health counseling, an especially urgent need for refugees fleeing torture and persecution.

With regard to conditions at Berks County Prison, a medium security facility, the female INS detainees are commingled with the criminal population in a two-story cell pod.(92) The facility lacks adequate translation services and recreation or exercise opportunities, and provides poor food.(93)

One of the key problems uncovered by the Women's Commission report was that the INS did very little to monitor and supervise the treatment of detainees in contract prisons.

[T]he INS exercises very little oversight.... The INS Philadelphia District Office, like other INS districts, formally monitors its contract facilities only once a year... Visits to most facilities otherwise are sporadic and informal and generally conducted by INS District Staff. The INS requires contract facilities to meet standards laid out for such facilities by the American Correctional Association within nine months of opening. However, these standards are not designed with civil incarceration in mind.

The INS delegates its detention responsibilities almost entirely to local facility staff, allowing them tremendous discretion to treat the detainees as they deem appropriate."(94)

 On June 18, 1995 rioting by detainees erupted at the INS contract facility located at Elizabeth, New Jersey and operated by Esmor, Inc., a private corrections facility. The detainees were protesting the inhuman conditions. They took over the facility, destroyed the interior, and barricaded themselves inside for several hours.(95)


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