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Amnesty International Says ADX-Florence Supermax Violates International Law

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is subjecting prisoners to cruel, degrading and “inhuman” conditions, in violation of international law, by locking them in long-term solitary confinement at the Administrative Maximum facility (ADX) at Florence, Colorado, according to a recent Amnesty International report.

ADX, known as Alcatraz of the Rockies, is a BOP supermax facility holding more than 400 gang members, foreign terrorists and other criminals deemed too dangerous for less restrictive confinement. ADX’s most notorious residents include: Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, 2001 attempted shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and 1993 World Trade Center bomber Eamzi Yousef.

ADX prisoners are locked for years in small single cells with solid walls and doors, depriving them of social interaction for 22 to 24 hours a day.

Thomas Silverstein’s contact with other people has been limited to one minute per day since being sent to ADX nine years ago, for killing another prisoner in Illinois. Silverstein sued, alleging that his prolonged solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment, but a federal appellate court disagreed in May, 2014.

Exercise is limited to locking prisoners in individual exercise cages “with no view of the natural world,” according to the report.

As we have reported extensively, solitary confinement significantly exacerbates mental illness suffered by many prisoners. Others with no history of mental illness develop depression, paranoia, and psychosis in ADX, according to the report.

One ADX prisoner identified as J.P. cut his scrotum with a piece of plastic, bit off his own finger, and sliced off his earlobe. Only then was he finally given an emergency medical transfer to another facility in 2013, the report found. ADX prisoner Jose Martin Vega hanged himself in his cell in 2010.

The BOP agreed to conduct its first review of solitary confinement at ADX and elsewhere, in 2013. That review is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to BOP spokesman Chris Burke. Meanwhile, officials plan to build a second federal Supermax in Illinois.

BOP officials joined a growing trend when it denied Amnesty International’s 2011 and 2012 requests to visit ADX. Supermax prisons across the nation now routinely deny access to reporters and human rights activists, according to Jean Casella, co-editor of Solitary Watch, which tracks solitary confinement in the United States. “Basically they’re black sites on American soil,” suggests Casella.

Juan Mendez, a United Nations expert on torture and other cruel punishments, recommends banning solitary confinement throughout the world in most cases. He says it should be used only in exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible. Amnesty International agrees, but American prison officials are not listening.

No other country uses solitary confinement as extensively as the United States, according to Amnesty International. Relying on nine year old data, the organization reports that an estimated 80,000 state and federal prisoners are held in solitary confinement on any given day.


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