[JURIST] Solitary confinement conditions in Arizona’s maximum security prisons violate international human rights law, according to a report [text] published Monday by Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. The report describes isolation conditions in maximum security prisons run by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) [official website], especially the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Eyman [official website] in Florence, Arizona. According to the report, the prisons currently keep nearly 2,900 prisoners in isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day in conditions that violate Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], a treaty calling for humane treatment of prisoners, which the US has ratified. The report acknowledges the need to maintain order in prisons, but not at the expense of human rights protections:
In raising the above concerns, Amnesty International does not seek to minimize the challenges faced by prison personnel when called upon to deal with disruptive, dangerous or disturbed individuals. However, all security and disciplinary measures must be consistent with states’ obligation under international law to treat all prisoners humanely. Amnesty International considers that the conditions in SMU and other Maximum custody isolation facilities—including confinement to enclosed or windowless cells, lack of access to natural light and fresh air, lack of exercise, lack of educational and rehabilitation programs, and social isolation—are contrary to international standards for humane treatment; the cumulative effects of such conditions, particularly when imposed for a prolonged or indefinite period, constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of international law.
The report also calls on prison officials to improve solitary confinement conditions and to lessen the number of prisoners in such facilities. Although AI investigators were not allowed access to the prisons, AI used testimony from prisoners, prisoner advocates, former prison employees and information from official prison handbooks in its research for the report. According to the ADOC, prisoners in solitary confinement present the greatest threat and isolation policies protect facility staff and the public.
US prisons have been criticized for conditions leading to human rights abuses and overcrowding. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released its annual World Report and criticized US illegal detention programs [JURIST report], pointing to extreme prisoner rights abuses and a high level of incarceration of illegal immigrants and racial minorities. A week earlier, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) [official website] criticized the US human rights record, including the indefinite detention [JURIST report] of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] detainees, in a report that called the situation in Guantanamo “the main outstanding [human rights] issue” in the US. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners [JURIST report] to remedy the state’s overcrowded prisons [JURIST news archive].