It has been debated by human rights activists that life in today's prisons may be a form of cruel and unusual punishment. In many jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers, confined individuals suffer from physical maltreatment, excessive disciplinary sanctions and barley tolerable living conditions. These factors coupled with overcrowding, inmate violence and rape make life dangerous behind bars. Most of these problems are evident in our maximum security institutions. According to the American Friends service Committee's there are more than forty control unit prisons that house more than 15, 000 prisoners nationwide. Today the toughest prison in the United States is The Florence Control Unit called Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX).
The ADX facility is located in Florence Colorado and houses the countries worst of the worst. Among the population at Colorado's ADX is Theodore Kaczynski "the Una bomber", Charles Harrelson, currently serving two life terms for killing a federal judge and Timothy Mcveigh served here before being put to death. Time in Florence is passed away by spending twenty-three hours a day in a twelve by seven foot cell. Beds, desks and schools are made of poured concrete while toilets have a valve that shuts off the water if an inmate tries to flood his cell. Sinks have no taps, just buttons all of this is necessary because inmates would make weapons out of anything and use what ever they had to sharpen it. Prisoners have to eat all three meals a day in their cell which is given to them threw a slot in the solid steel door that keeps the inmate from having contact with guards or other inmates.
To pass time a prisoner can look out a 42-inch window, 4 inches wide at the one man concrete recreation yard which in time the will use. When it comes time for an inmate to have recreation time they are taken from their cell stripped searched, checked for contraband and led wearing handcuffs to an 18 by 20 foot concrete room. There the can play basketball or just pace around in circles, whatever the inmate feels like doing that day. Florence is the leader in nationwide trend toward supermax prisons. In the past few years, 36 states have built strong box facilities to house their most dangerous inmates. In California, the most notorious are the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay and Corcoran, already the subjects of numerous lawsuits and investigations into alleged cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the staging, by guards, of deadly fights among inmates.
In 1990 prisoners in Pelican Bay's control unit facility filed lawsuits against the harsh conditions of their high-tech dungeon. The lawsuits contested of brutal conditions: serious medical and health-care deficiencies, routine beatings and torture with stun guns. Psychiatrists and Psychologists testified that "When human beings are subjected to social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation, they may deteriorate mentally and in some cases develop perceptual distortions, hallucinations, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, aggressive fantasies, inability to concentrate and problems with impulse control." The court ruled "many, if not most, inmates experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation." The court went on to say, even with the expert testimony, "All Control Unit Prisons, as currently operated do not violate any inmates Eighth Amendment rights which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment." By stopping short of declaring Control Unit imprisonment cruel and unusual punishment, this federal court set a legal precedent that allows the continued entombing of the worst of the worst in control units across the country. The trend toward building super-max prisons by both the federal and states represents a get tough on crime wave that has swept every level of government in America. In recent years, states have begun requiring longer prison terms for repeat offenders, and some have abolished parole. That has led to a growing number of prisoners serving longer stretches of time with no chance for parole, and no motivation to obey rules.
With nothing to lose, they do not have anything to gain by good behavior. They commit crimes in prison such as killing a guard or prisoner and are sent to super-max prisons. Many who end up in super-max are known gang leaders who are isolated so they won't recruit others in prison. In Texas they are beginning to see that these Control Unit Facilities are now necessary. Assaults on Texas prison guards jumped from 153 in 1990 to 918 in 2000, at the same time the prison population rose dramatically. With that in mind the high tech design of Estelle prison includes doors that are opened by computer and cameras that monitor every moment on the cell blocks.
As a result, there is little contact between inmates and guards. Some prisons do have contact between inmates and guards and as a result abusive conduct by guards was reported in many prisons. The threat of such abuse was particularly acute in supermax facilities. Since Corcoran State Prison in California opened in 1988, fifty inmates, most of them unarmed, were shot by prison guards and seven were killed. In February 1998, federal authorities indicted eight Corcoran officers for deliberately pitting unarmed inmates against each other in gladiator style fights which the guards would then break up by firing on them with rifles. In July of 1998, the state announced a new investigation into at least thirty six serious and fatal shootings of Corcoran inmates.
Guard abuse was by no means confined to California prisons. Across the country, inmates complained of instances of excessive and even clearly lawless use of force. In Pennsylvania, dozens of guards from one facility, SCI Greene, were under investigation for beatings, slamming inmates into walls, racial taunting and other mistreatment of inmates. The state Department of Corrections fired four guards, and twenty-one others were demoted, suspended or reprimanded.
In many other facilities across the country, however, abuses went unaddressed. Many of these facilities operated with insufficient control and oversight from the public correctional authorities. States failed to enact laws setting appropriate standards and regulatory mechanisms for private prisons, signed weak contracts, undertook insufficient monitoring and tolerated prolonged substandard conditions. In less than a year, there were two murders and thirteen stabbings at one privately operated prison in the state of Ohio. Hoffman, E. (1999).
Background on super Maximum Security Isolation Units. The Advocate, Vol. 21, No. 1 Thompson, E.
(1996). Supermax Prisons, High-Tech Dungeons and Modern-Day Torture, from the book Criminal Injustice. Internet web > Taub, M. (2001). Super-Max Punishment In Prisons.
Internet web > The Learning Channel. (2002) Documentary on Super-Max prisons. Oct. 29, 2002 Internet: web.