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America's 100,000 tortured inmates: Most pressing, ignored human rights issue

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100,000 prisoners being tortured in America

America's widespread torture of 100,000 people in solitary confinement is one of the nation's most pressing and ignored domestic human rights issues according to veteran human rights defenders, James Ridgeway, Jean Casella and Andy Worthington, referring to success of the historical Pelican Bay Prison hunger strike by 7,000 inmates that began July 1 and officially ended this weekend. The prisoners peacefully brought to attention of the world that the United States justice system includes torture in prisons.

"Prisoners in solitary confinement at California's notorious Pelican Bay State Prison began accepting meals that were slipped to them through slots in their solid mental cell doors. For many, it was the first time they had eaten in three weeks," reported Ridgeway and Casella in The Guardian on Monday.

At Pelican Bay Prison, prisoners in solitary confinement called Security Housing Units, "the SHU," had decided to protest tortuous conditions in isolation using the only means available to them, a hunger strike that quickly spread to over a third of California's 33 prisons, 16 prisons where up to 7,000 prisoners, according to a prisoner attorney, refused food.

According to the Guardian report, after some prisoners lost as much as 30lb (14kg), the strike officially ended.

"If this seems like a desperate measure by desperate men, it is," reported Ridgeway and Casella.

Solitary confinement results in psychosis, insanity, and suicide, as confirmed in the 20th Century by CIA researchers. California SHUs, filled with mainly Blacks and Hispanics, are one of the main conditions that prompted the starvation by prisoners this month.

Describing SHUs, Trevor Paglen explains the Oubliette:

"The medieval dungeon, constructed in the foundations of castle towers, sometimes contained an additional prison-within-a-prison. This hole in the dungeon, called the Oubliette, from the French word meaning 'to forget' was a small hold in the dungeon into which prisoners were either thrown or lured. Prisoners in the Oubliette were left to starve, drown when the groundwater rose, or simply forgotten and left to die.

Effects of solitary confinement include physical injury, as Worthington explained Sunday in The Guardian:

EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

Aside from solitary confinement, Californian prisoners have been subjected to other forms of torture, one of which is "Potty Watch" at Pelican Bay Prison. This is the prison that was established in 1989 as a prototype for American prisons, including Supermax solitary confinement cells.

"That problem, in a nutshell," reported ant-torture human rights defender Andy Worthington on Sunday, "is that at least 100,000 prisoners in America’s prisons — both in “supermax” facilities and in other prisons — are held in long-term solitary confinement, which, to be blunt, is a form of torture."

7000 California prisoners' cry for help successful: August 1 set for International Day of Solidarity with U.S. tortured prisoners

One Tehachapi Prison hunger striker urged, "Contact all media networks and let them know this is a peaceful protest and we have been given no other option for relief rather than to hunger strike in the hopes that someone, ANYONE, will care enough to step in and help us."

Worthington wrote:

"... any unilateral attempt at reform is shot down by legislators, corrections officers and the media. The commissioner’s conclusion? 'It is pointless for commissioners to act unilaterally … without a change in public opinion.'"

"If the public at last begins to acknowledge long-term solitary confinement as a form of torture and a major human rights issue, it will be owing largely to the efforts of these activists – and to a group of prisoners who, for a few weeks this summer, starved themselves in solitude to bring their torment to light," stated Ridgeway an Casella.

During a national conference call with California prisoner family members and advocates across the country on Thursday, hosted World Can't Wait, activists proposed an International Day of Solidarity to support the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay, at the other 15 participating prisons, and their five core demands - plus to let authorities know that further retaliation against or punishment of the strikers is unacceptable.

The date set for the International Day of Solidarity with the Prisoner Hunger Strikers has been set for Monday, August 1 according to Sweet, head of Wold Can't Wait.

Human rights, peace and justice groups will be gathering on August 1 "in support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California," according to Sweet.

The hunger strikers "challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units and inspired support of people far and wide" she stated Tuesday.

A member of the Pelican bay Hunger Strike Solidarity group commented following the article, "7000 Calif. Prisoners' hunger strike to end their torture a historical event" on Examiner:

"The fight to stop the sadistic behavior of the CDC has just gotten a huge boost in public awareness. We need to gather up all the new supporters and urge them to continue putting the pressure on the egregious California Department of Correction WITH NO REHABILITATION!"

Sweet stated, "We now call on people of conscience everywhere across the U.S. and beyond, to join in an International Day of Protest and Solidarity."

With only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. houses twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners in its 50 billion dollar a year industry, with California leading. This figure excludes tens of billions of dollars spent by the federal government to police, prosecute, and imprison individuals, most of which are obsolete in Restorative Justice systems being successfully implemented in many places around the globe.

Lance Tapley in The Crime Report recently described a “dramatic reduction of solitary confinement” in Maine State Prison. Changes under leadership of a new Commissioner of Corrections, Joseph Ponte was paved by a grassroots political movement that pressed for legislation to limit solitary confinement in Maine's state’s prisons and jails.

Public desire for human rights was then manifested by Ponte as described by Tapley:

"A 64-year-old turnaround specialist who had straightened out some of America's most violent prisons, Ponte also quickly made personnel changes. In the spring he fired two associate commissioners; and last month he dismissed four Maine State Prison guard captains along with the prison’s controversial security chief, a veteran deputy warden whom prisoners, prison critics and former employees had long accused of dealing harshly with both inmates and staff."

Torture and other violence breeding practices in prisons will not end in other states until the public demands substituting lucrative violence based "justice" with peaceful evidence-based justice system.

Families of prisoners combined with rights and peace groups ready to demand an end to American torture are being requested to send word of their August 1 International Solidarity plans to prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com and to sf@worldcantwait.org.

News and information about this action can be followed at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

Related articles by Deborah Dupré

  • Dying for human rights: Calif. mass suicide in prisons continues, Day 18
  • 7000 Calif. prisoners' hunger strike to end their torture, a historical event
  • Torture in America: Calif. prison hunger strikes, national protests continue
  • Pelican Bay Prison force-feed showdown: Just follow orders or human rights?
  • How to urge Calif. officials to end human rights abuses of prisoners striking
  • Gov. Brown to face nat'l anti-torture religious group as inmates lay dying
  • Prisoners leak urgent call for American solidarity: Pelican Prison Strike Day 19
  • Urgent state-sponsored prison torture protests uniting inmates, churches, towns
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