Our strategy has been to grant PA state authorities the opportunity to do the right thing while simultaneously preparing for the predictable reality that they will not. Our next steps are the filing of formal criminal complaints with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and the issuing of a major human rights report detailing our findings regarding SCI Dallas. The basic idea is to methodically link state authorities at every jurisdictional level into a chain of notice and liability and to reflect the failure of the government to enforce the rule of law and uphold basic human rights onto the public consciousness in order to create the degree of exposure necessary for enabling mass movements and coherent, collective action against the injustices of the police-security state.
In the process we seek to bring methodically incremental increases in the forms and effects of pressure so as to provide improvements in immediate conditions. Or, in other words, we seek to win small battles as a method for building power and strength for the larger ones. Success often appears distant.
I just saw on the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader website that another prisoner died at SCI Dallas on Saturday morning (read here). Autopsy results have not been determined and/or released, and the name has not been made public either. The article says the individual fell ill early Saturday morning and died at the hospital. My question is why is this one being reported? Deaths from "natural causes," i.e. medical conditions, are not required to be made public. Others have died at Dallas recently, or we've been informed, and the newspapers did not make mention of this. I've checked a half-dozen of our closer contacts and their names are still listed in the inmate locator. Nevertheless, I am concerned.
A3N: Does HRC see solitary confinement as a form of torture? Why do you think prison authorities use solitary confinement?
BG: What HRC or any members involve consider torture might be an interesting question, but it is of limited utility for effective political organizing. How do international law and the U.S. government define torture? The UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incident to lawful sanctions." Sounds clear enough.
How does U.S. statutory code define torture? Section 2340 of Title 18 of the federal criminal code defines torture as "an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control."
Do the conditions of control unit confinement meet this standard? There is not space here to go over the evidence, which could fill several hundred pages on the basis of our two-year investigations in prisons in PA alone, but those familiar with the subject have an unequivocal grasp of the reality that solitary confinement deliberately inflicts "severe pain and suffering," especially psychological, and cannot be justified on legitimate, i.e. "lawful," grounds. The reasons for these conclusions are several but I will simply touch on two matters here: the psychological impact of solitary confinement and its failure to meet stated policy objectives.
The scientific consensus deduced from copious research on the psychological impact of solitary confinement is that the experience generates considerable and sometimes permanent mental suffering. One of the foremost experts on the subject, Dr. Stuart Grassian, reveals that "even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern toward an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium," and outlines the following seven symptoms as being characteristic of an "organic brain delirium" associated with solitary confinement: a) hyperresponsivity to external stimuli; b) perceptual distortions, illusions, hallucinations; c) panic attacks; d) difficulties with thinking, concentration, and memory; e) intrusive obsessional thoughts: emergence of primitive aggressive ruminations; f) overt paranoia; g) problems with impulse control.
Questionnaires submitted by HRC/Fed Up! to over 75 prisoners in SCI Dallas and throughout the state confirm the presence of these same symptomatic patterns amongst a disturbingly large number of the solitary confinement population. Incidents of self-harm, including suicide attempts, occur regularly and are certainly under-reported. At SCI Fayette, between the months of July and September, HRC received reports from RHU prisoners that two men set their cells on fire, one of those same men cut himself and swallowed a razor, another man tried to hang himself, and another two cut their wrists and arms. These examples can be multiplied throughout the PA DOC and the entire country.
As for the pretext that solitary confinement reduces violence in prisons and ensures secure facilities, this is supported by literally zero credible evidence to my knowledge. All available testimony and reports would seem to indicate that solitary units create a psychological condition of such absolute repression that instances of violence and brutality proliferate. Not to mention the obvious fact that a stay in the hole exacerbates mental illness, rage, frustration, and other characteristics of anti-social behavioral traits.
Countless prisoners report being forced to max out their sentences because of alleged disciplinary infractions that land them in solitary. The conditions of confinement in the PA DOC are a major contributing factor to recidivism rates that hover around 50% in the first three years after release, helping to feed a chronic crisis of overcrowding. This refutes the notion that the PA DOC has any legitimate security, penological, correctional or other rationale behind the program.
In other words, there is nothing lawful in the sanctioning of one to solitary confinement, as it clearly contributes to social destabilization by engendering even more criminality on the part of prison personnel and prisoners in an endless cycle that diverts funding from desperately needed social programs in order to disappear and warehouse members of the underclass. These conditions are a flagrant violation of article 6 of the U.S. Constitution as well, which affirms that treaty law (i.e. international law) is the "supreme law of the land." Thus, article 10 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that "The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation."
A3N: What role does solitary confinement have in the overall prison system? Since 1970, the prison population has increased from 300,000 to over 2.3 million today. The US now has more total prisoners and the highest incarceration rate than any other country in the world. What do you attribute this increase to?
BG: I'll be concise here. Solitary confinement is the innermost core of the US-led imperial architecture of terror. A succinct overview of this architecture can be formulated as follows:
1) The solitary confinement population is used to terrorize the prisoner population;
2) The prison population is used to terrorize poor communities in general and communities of color in particular;