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Carnell Hunnicutt, Sr. Northern Correctional Institution, Somers, CT. Courtesy Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility. Via Solitary Watch.
Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. Organised by the United Nations, the day of action is based around the central tenet that “Each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights. Human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.”
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains several articles which would apply broadly to prisoners and former prisoners in the U.S., but unfortunately remain unrecognized by the U.S. government.”
Specifically, we should be looking at the enforcement of policy and law as they would uphold Articles 4, 8, 9 and 21.
The problems are endless. Executions need to stop — the state shouldn’t be murdering citizens. Mass incarceration, generally, brings with it almost insurmountable problems (overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, predation, sexual and psychological abuse). The prison industrial complex magnifies these problems in poor communities. I’ve noticed a cycle of issues-du-jour that append to critique of American prisons. Most recently, no doubt, the issue of solitary confinement has been widely discussed. Why? Because it is abusive and counter-productive. Moves in the right direction are starting to reign in the rampant use of solitary as a disciplining technique. I wrote about what’s at stake for Daylight Digital last year:
Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, is clear that solitary confinement is torture and permanently damages the mental health of prisoners.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” said Mendez in front of the UN General Assembly in June 2011. “It is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”
Prisoners lose their minds quickly when deprived of human contact. Identity is socially created, and it is through relationships that individuals understand themselves.
Solitary confinement “undermines your ability to register and regulate emotion,” explained Craig Haney, psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in an interview with WIRED. “The appropriateness of what you’re thinking and feeling is difficult to index, because we’re so dependent on contact with others for that feedback. And for some people, it becomes a struggle to maintain sanity.”
Common symptoms resulting from long-term isolation include chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair. In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving and become essentially catatonic.
If a prisoner doesn’t withdraw within him or herself, he or she may resort to aggression. In his study of Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, Haney found that nearly 90 percent had difficulties with irrational anger, compared with just 3 percent of the general US population.
Physician Atul Gawande has compared the permanent psychological impairment described in Haney’s research to that incurred by traumatic brain injury.
For many, calendar days such as these serve to raise brief awareness. Often not much more. In our busy lives it can be hard to stay on top of the ebb and flow of politics, policy and information; it’s tough to hold those in power accountable, especially if day-to-day we’re just trying to get the bare minimum done.
I don’t know what I think of e-petitions as I don’t know how to gauge their efficacy, but I do know it takes seconds to sign one and you can do it after the kids are in bed and the washing up’s drying.
Thanks to Prisoner Activist for this comprehensive list of 22 active petitions against solitary confinement.
ACLU of Arizona: Arizona is Maxed Out! No New Supermax Prison Beds
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): Stop Abuse of
Amnesty International: US super-maximum security prisons must be opened up for UN scrutiny!
Amnesty International USA: Free Albert Woodfox – End the Injustice. Remove Woodfox from Isolation
Amnesty International USA: Solitary Confinement: US Government Must End This Cruel and Inhumane Practice
Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB): Demand the State of California Stop the Torture
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR): Honor the Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Demands
Friends Committee on Legislation of California: Stop the abuse of solitary confinement
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): End Prolonged Solitary Confinement Now
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): Take Action to End Solitary Confinement of Youth in California
National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT): People of Faith Support Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014
New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC) Says: End Solitary Confinement; No Supermax at Rikers
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Support Pelican Bay SHU Prisoners’ Five Core Demands (hunger strike)
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition: Corcoran SHU Prisoners Start Hunger Strike for Decent Healthcare
Roots Action: End prolonged solitary confinement
Sylvia Rivera Law Project: DOCCS, Make Housing Safer for Trans People in New York State Prisons!
The Petition Site: End Child Torture: Stop Holding Our Kids in Solitary Confinement!
Anonymous. Pinhole photograph made by girls incarcerated at Remann Hall, WA, in a workshop facilitated by Steve Davis.
On November 20, 1989, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The treaty banned Juvenile Life Without Parole (JWLOP) and other harsh sentencing practices, such as trying children in adult courts. Along with Somalia and South Sudan, the U.S. remains one of the few nations that has not ratified the treaty. 25 years after the passage of such a landmark treaty, the U.S. incarcerates more children than any other nation.
IN CONVERSATION WITH BRYAN STEVENSON
This is the context in which we should listen to lawyer Bryan Stevenson. On the occasion of the release of his new book Just Mercy, I’ve edited and republished a Prison Photography interview with Stevenson from late 2012 on Medium. I paired Stevenson’s words with decade-old pinhole photos made by girls incarcerated at Remann Hall Juvenile Detention Facility, WA.
Stevenson is founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He has fought racial and economic inequality in the criminal justice system for a quarter of a century including wins at the U.S. Supreme Court for fair treatment of children, and successful exonerations of wrongfully convicted men. For the moneyed-class at TED, he spoke truth to power. For everyone else, he appeared on The Daily Show.
A NOTE ON MEDIUM
You can find our conversation on Medium, which is a place I’ve been experimenting with. I intend to use it mostly to republish some of the best of archive stuff on Prison Photography and to cross post relevant new articles too. The main advantage, for me, at Medium is the display of images larger than appear here on Prison Photography‘s 7-year old WordPress template!
Please, take a peek at the Prison Photography on Medium.
April 4th is the United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness.
Raphaël Dallaporta‘s Antipersonnel is a typology of these little fuckers that take doors off armoured vehicles and dice humans into small bloody portions.
Photographed against a black backdrop with the high production value of advertising photography, Dallaporta in some ways disarms us (‘xcuse the pun). Dallaporta’s work has some of them looking more like Tamagotchi’s than instruments of war. If we’re not careful, we might forget that for most of their existence these objects are either being put together in a factory, stored in cache or waiting to blow. They’re a one purpose gadget with only negative outcomes.
Human’s piece the deathly components together and then bury them under shallow soil in full knowledge they’ll exist quietly, perpetually, until someone or something presses down a medium amount of load. Yes, it’s all or nothing for these little fuckers.
But, I am anthropomorphising. These objects are not to blame. We are to blame. You can fire 1000 rounds from a gun and you cannot know how many will achieve their destructive purpose. But 1000 landmines are going to rip apart 1000 lives. They’re a guaranteed return. They are the absolute in nihilism and hate. That’s why it is important to distinguish antipersonnel mines from other weapons and that is why it is good the UN leads an effort to see them banned.
Since the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, commonly known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention opened for signature in 1997, 156 countries have ratified or acceded to it. More than 41 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed, and their production, sale and transfer have in essence stopped.
All images: Raphaël Dallaporta
This blog is 10 weeks old. At that same age an infant is lifting its head and neck without help, blowing bubbles, smiling and cooing. I reckon this blog is straining its neck, blowing hot air, cooing to no-one, but certainly smiling to itself. So, things look good. I’d like to propose a vague rhythm for my posts. Now, read carefully for I shall say this only once.
Every week or so you’ll see long, well-researched and edited pieces about critical prison issues. Between these “anchor” posts, to keep the juggernaut powering on the information-super-motorway, I’ll post items a little more flimsy. They’ll definitely be prison and photography related, and usually with great visuals and little text. This is a warning to all you early readers to decipher the serious stuff from the really serious stuff.
Sudan, at last count, with 12,000 prison inmates had the lowest prison population of any North African country. In fact, Sudan is doing very well at not locking its population away. It is joint fifth, with Angola, of all the African nations for the lowest prison population (36 per 100,000 people). Sudan is surpassed by Mali (34), Nigeria (33), Gambia (32), and Burkina Faso (at a mere 23 inmates per 100,000 people)! Source.
These figures should absolutely be compared to US figures where 1,000 of every 100,000 American adults are behind bars. 1 in every hundred US adults is under the jurisdiction of federal or state corrections! It’s madness, it’s broken and it’s costing a fortune. (I warned my politics might creep through every so often).
Torit and Chukudum are in the very southeast of Sudan, close to the borders of Uganda and Kenya. This site is over a thousand miles from the Darfur region. It’s even further to the border and refugee camps of Chad. I have no comment on Darfur here. I only wanted to point out that as we grasp and grapple to understand the people in the world around us and we conjure makeshift plans and patchwork solutions, sometimes they involve small personal sacrifices and sometimes they involve locking other human beings in shipping containers.
As of August 2002, Sudan had 125 sites of incarceration – 4 federal prisons, 26 local government prisons, 46 provincial prisons, 45 open and semi-open prisons and 4 reformatory centres for juveniles. I wonder what the nomenclature is for this box? The picture was taken in April, 2007 by Tim McKulka, who has also done some photography covering the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana, an event of which I have opinions. Indeed, I have a piece up my sleeve on my hard drive, awaiting…