Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

“The Anti-Supermax Battle Broadens”

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That’s the headline from this article at The Crime Report, by Guggenheim Fellow Lance Tapley. The article discusses a shift in strategy from individual lawsuits challenging specific prisoners’ solitary confinement, to legislative reform campaigns and efforts to get supermax confinement declared torture under international law. From the article’s opening paragraphs:

New to the fight are the four-year-old National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and 24-year-old Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). In recent years both have played major roles in denouncing the federal government for torturing prisoners at locations overseas.

NRCAT, an alliance of more than 280 religious groups across the country which cut its political teeth on the Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib controversies, announced a drive early this year to end prison solitary confinement in the United States. Citing studies that show periods of enforced isolation can aggravate and even create mental illness among inmates in supermax prisons, NRCAT says it wants to be consistent in opposing torture at home and abroad.

Working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has a history of suing states on this issue, NRCAT is trying to get legislatures to require state corrections departments to rethink their dependence on solitary confinement. For years the ACLU has been part of a loose coalition — including Human Rights Watch and the American Friends Service Committee — attacking supermax conditions.

The ACLU’s and NRCAT’s first battleground was Maine, where their affiliates and other groups convinced the legislature on April 6 to order a study of solitary confinement.

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