The United Nations had reiterated its call to President Barack Obama to make it easier for the organization to visit U.S. prisons to promote criminal justice reforms. The organization is aiming to see how U.S. carries out solitary confinement as punishment to more than 80,000 inmates in the country.
UN on regulating solitary confinement
“I look forward to working with the US Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez said in a statement.
“The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture. Reform along such lines will have considerable impact not only in the United States but in many countries around the world,” added Seong-Phil Hong, UN’s Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The call from Méndez and Hong comes after the landmark visit of Mr Obama to El Reno prison in Oklahoma to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NACCP. In his speech, Mr Obama highlighted reasons why reforms to America’s criminal justice system are imperative as soon as possible.
In his speech, Mr Obama said that America’s criminal justice system remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth.
“A growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, detained. African Americans are more likely to be arrested. They are more likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. And one of the consequences of this is, around one million fathers are behind bars. Around one in nine African American kids has a parent in prison,” Mr Obama said.
Méndez and Hong both hope that Mr Obama’s recent actions ensure concrete steps are being taken for UN to visit U.S. detention facilities. The organization would like to conduct private interviews with detainees.
Rampant torture in US prisons
The forms of torture and human rights violation in U.S. prisons go beyond solitary confinement. In June, Human Rights Watch penned a letter to the Department of Justice. The letter is urging the government to conduct a full investigation of violations of federal criminal laws relating to the rendition, detention and interrogation of prisoners held or questioned by CIA in relation to the Sept 11 attack.
In May, the Human Rights Watch also released a report detailing the torture endured by mentally challenged inmates inside U.S. prisons. In the report titled “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” Human Rights Watch exposed how prison staff deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. There are also instances where prison staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their deaths, the report said.
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