More from that HRW statement to the Senate committee in 2012.
The proliferation of super-maximum security prisons is a symptom of profound problems in the nation’s prison systems. Beginning in the 1980s, exploding prison populations caused by increasingly lengthy sentences and diminished opportunities for early release, constrained budgets, inappropriately low staff-to-inmate ratios, and punitive correctional philosophies limited the ability of officials to operate safe and humane facilities. Many turned to prolonged solitary confinement in an effort to increase their control over prisoners. A significant impetus for super-maximum security facilities also came from politicians, who found that advocating harsh policies for criminal offenders was politically popular. Reluctant to be accused of “coddling inmates” or being “soft on crime,” few politicians have been willing to publicly challenge the expanded use of solitary confinement on human rights grounds.
Ok let’s take it back a step – why is that? If that’s the case here why isn’t it the case in Canada and Sweden and Japan and New Zealand? Why is advocating harsh policies for criminal offenders so politically popular here that politicians can’t resist doing it? And/or why are politicians here so unprincipled and self-centered that they can’t resist doing the popular but evil thing?
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s partly because US politicians rely so heavily on tv advertising and because the money for doing that is almost entirely unregulated. (Hello Citizens United, may you rot in hell.) Maybe it has to do with religiosity. Maybe it’s something in the water. I do not know.
There has been scant public debate until recently about the justification for prolonged solitary confinement, its high price in terms of the misery and suffering it inflicts, and the likelihood that it reduces an inmate’s ability to make a successful transition to society upon release. Judicial scrutiny has been limited by both the courts’ tradition of deference to the judgments of prison officials and by jurisprudence that sets an extraordinarily high threshold for finding prison conditions to be unconstitutionally cruel.
This Committee’s hearing marks the end of an era of uncritical acceptance of or indifference to the use of solitary confinement in US prisons. It is particularly welcome because of the Committee’s recognition that solitary confinement raises serious human rights concerns.
Right…I take it nothing much came of that.