Home Torture in U.S. Prisons

Ending Torture in U.S. Prisons

theonThe National Religious Campaign Against Torture's work to end torture in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers is primarily focused on the use of solitary confinement.  Solitary confinement has a variety of labels including isolation, segregation (“seg”), “the hole." Regardless of the label, the conditions violate Constitutional and international human rights standards and constitute torture.  Incarcerated adults and youth are held by themselves alone, or with one other person, in small cells for 22-24 hours per day and spend the remaining hour alone in an exercise cage. Food is pushed through a small slot in the door.

In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, released a report stating that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition.” Yet incarcerated adults and children in the U.S. continue to be held for months, years, even decades, in these isolated conditions. On any given day, over 80,000 adults are youth are subjected to these conditions in the U.S.



Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement, such as hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks and suicide.  Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement.

The U.S. accounts for 5% of the world's population, and 25% of the world's incarcerated.  There are over 40 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison in the U.S.-- each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement. In the early 1980s, there was one. From 1995 to 2000, the growth rate of segregation units significantly surpassed the prison growth rate overall: 40% compared to 28%.  Some argue that the use of solitary confinement is a necessary management tool used for only the “worst of the worst.” However, the reality is most prisoners end up in solitary confinement or are unable to move out of isolation due to non-violent rule infractions and as a result of mental illness.     

Solitary confinement destroys prisoners’ minds, denies the opportunity for community, and violates the inherent, God-given dignity and worth of every person. These are part of the interfaith principles that guide our work on ending prolonged solitary confinement. It is a moral imperative to end this practice and you can learn more about the interfaith principles here. We invite you to join the nationwide effort to end long-term solitary confinement.

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