"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

U.S. 'supermax' prison is seen as 'inhuman and degrading'

Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado
Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado
Opened in 1994, the Colorado supermax prison is the toughest and most controversial correctional facility in the U.S. federal system.

It is dubbed the "Alcatraz of the Rockies," and has housed some of the nation's most notorious prisoners, including Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; and Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber. No one has ever escaped.

Food is delivered through a slit in the cell door. Family visits are banned, conversations with others are restricted, and rarely, if ever, do inmates glimpse a tree or a bird through a window. They spend days and nights alone, their feet on concrete, their thoughts to themselves.

It's considered so harsh that in recent years, defense lawyers have increasingly used the specter of the prison fortress to persuade jurors to vote against the death penalty and instead send their clients to supermax. They argue, in effect, that time there would be worse than capital punishment.

This May in Boston, defense expert Mark Bezy testified that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, if spared the death penalty and sent to supermax, would be limited to two 15-minute phone calls with his family each month, and his mail would be screened.

For the victims and their families, he would be forgotten, Bezy testified, calling supermax "a mechanism to cut off an inmate's communications with the outside world."

The jury sentenced Tsarnaev to death anyway. Though he was initially transferred to supermax, he will eventually be moved to federal death row in Terre Haute, Ind.

The issue of solitary confinement has been raised in other formats too. President Obama, who last month became the first sitting president to tour a federal prison, wondered whether solitary confinement "makes sense." Last month, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said locking someone away all day and night "exacts a terrible price."

Some European nations see the U.S. prison system as a barbaric anomaly in a country that has often insisted on the protection of human rights around the world.


Source: Los Angeles Times, Richard A. Serrano, August 9, 2015

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