Posted on August 26, 2016 in Crime
Our state is home to some of the country’s most extreme supermax prisons. In them, prisoners are subjected to a harsh environment that many attorneys and rights advocates believe violate the 8th Amendment. In 2012, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections regarding these poor circumstances. Today, Craig Orent, a Phoenix criminal defense attorney, has seen numerous complaints about conditions in these prisons.
Arizona solitary confinement is physically and psychologically damaging, but Arizona’s supermax prisons take the experience one step further. The Special Management Units (SMUs) here have no windows, and overhead lights remain on all day and all night. Those incarcerated in the SMUs have minimal contact with the outside world. They may only spend 6 hours outside of their cells per week in an exercise room that only offers a few more square feet and no additional amenities. Reports indicate that some inmates only receive two meals a day in these spaces.
At first glance, the conditions sound more like a horrible psychological experiment than part of a modern prison system. Inmates may live in these conditions for a few days or for years on end. Many of those placed in solitary confinement suffer from severe mental disorders, and some develop such conditions while in solitary confinement. A few states have stopped using solitary confinement completely, while others have put extreme restrictions in place.
Comparatively, solitary confinement in countries such as Norway is completely different. There, isolated inmates live in cells with apartment-like amenities. One mass murderer responsible for the deaths of 77 individuals has access to a treadmill, a gaming console, and a computer. Interestingly, the inmate still filed a lawsuit against the government for torture related to his isolation.
Ethically, solitary confinement doesn’t make sense. Without a way to judge time or to occupy the long hours in prison, many inmates struggle. They ultimately resort to extreme behaviors. Some even attempt to commit suicide and may receive a longer confinement period as a result. Amnesty International released a statement in 2014 indicating that the way the US administers solitary confinement is a breach of international law.
Arizona solitary confinement is physically and mentally damaging. In addition to depression and anxiety, inmates may suffer from paranoia, high blood pressure, and other stress-related health conditions. Regardless of mental illness, the experience can erode social skills and prevent a criminal from ever attaining true rehabilitation.
The lawsuit filed in 2012 on behalf of 33,000 inmates was settled in 2015. Solitary confinement was just one issue addressed in the case. Advocates were also concerned about medical care throughout the prison system. In the settlement, the department of corrections agreed to the following terms:
In April of this year, however, compliance documents indicated that the prison system hadn’t made changes in accordance with the settlement. Those who filed the lawsuit are now seeking a court order to force the department of corrections to comply. Four years after the initial lawsuit was filed, thousands of inmates are still waiting for change.
The answer to the title question is a resounding no. For a short period of time, extreme confinement may make sense. The way the prison system uses solitary confinement currently, however, isn’t humane. Just because someone is in prison doesn’t mean that individual has lost all of his or her rights. As long as human rights groups, attorneys, and advocates pursue justice in the system, the nature of solitary confinement may slowly start to change.