Revolution #241, July 31, 2011
Posted August 3, 2011
An important op-ed piece about the prisoner hunger strike at Pelican Bay Prison appeared in the New York Times on July 17 2011—titled Barbarous Confinement, by Colin Dayan. Read this excerpt and then click here to read the whole commentary.
Solitary confinement has been transmuted from an occasional tool of discipline into a widespread form of preventive detention. The Supreme Court, over the last two decades, has whittled steadily away at the rights of inmates, surrendering to prison administrators virtually all control over what is done to those held in "administrative segregation." Since it is not defined as punishment for a crime, it does not fall under "cruel and unusual punishment," the reasoning goes…
Officials at Pelican Bay, in Northern California, claim that those incarcerated in the Security Housing Unit are "the worst of the worst." Yet often it is the most vulnerable, especially the mentally ill, not the most violent, who end up in indefinite isolation. Placement is haphazard and arbitrary; it focuses on those perceived as troublemakers or simply disliked by correctional officers and, most of all, alleged gang members. Often, the decisions are not based on evidence. And before the inmates are released from the barbarity of 22-hour-a-day isolation into normal prison conditions (themselves shameful) they are often expected to "debrief," or spill the beans on other gang members.
Colin Dayan, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, is the author of "The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons."
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