Saturday, February 27, 2010

The shamelessness of the United States government

ONE out of every four prisoners in the world is in a U.S. penitentiary. The composition of these prisoners is profoundly racist: one out of every 15 black adults is incarcerated; one out of every 9 is aged 20-34 years; and one out of every 36 Hispanics. Two-thirds of those serving life sentences are African Americans or Latinos, and in the case of New York state, only 16.3% of prisoners are white.

Every year, 7,000 people die in U.S. prisons, many of them murdered or suicides.

For example, U.S. prison guards routinely use Taser guns on prisoners. According to a recent report, 230 U.S. citizens have died as a result of the use of these weapons since 2001. The report refers to the case of a county jail in Garfield, Colorado, accused of regularly using Taser guns and pepper spray on prisoners, and then tying them to chairs in extreme positions for hours at a time.

It was recently reported that 72 people have died in the last five years in immigrant detention centers.

A report released by the U.S. Justice Department during W. Bush’s final term in office said that 22,480 prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries were HIV positive or AIDS patients, and an estimated 176 state and 27 federal prisoners died from AIDS-related causes. For example, a September 20, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times reported that 426 cases of death were recorded in California prisons in 2006 as stemming from belated medical treatment. Eighteen of these deaths were considered "preventable" and 48 others as "possibly preventable." A 41-year-old diabetic patient, Rodolfo Ramos, died after having been left abandoned and covered in his own feces for one week. Prison officials did not provide him with medical treatment even though they were aware of his condition.

In at least 40 of the country’s 50 states, courts treat juveniles of 14 to 18 years old like adults. About 200,000 minors in the United States are subjected to trials in courts for adults, even though it has been demonstrated that this proceeding is wrong.

Juveniles in 13 juvenile detention centers in the United States suffer from high rates of sexual abuse, and an average of one out of every three incarcerated minors report being attacked.

Approximately 283,000 prisoners are mentally ill, four times the number of patients in psychiatric hospitals.

In U.S. state and federal prisons, 4.5% of prisoners have suffered one or more sexual attack, and 2.9% report having suffered incidents involving prison staff. In addition, 0.5% reported having been sexually assaulted both by other prisoners and by prison staff.

Physical, direct forms of brutal treatment and torture of prisoners are endemic to U.S. prisons. A British film released a few years ago, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, features footage from prison security cameras in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, in which guards can be seen severely beating prisoners – even killing some – and using Taser guns and electric prods, attack dogs, chemical sprays and dangerous paralyzing devices.

However, the most harmful effect of this prolonged isolation is that the mental abuse of prisoners affects them alarmingly. Many prisoners go crazy (if they weren’t already mentally ill), or commit suicide, as a result of this inhuman punishment. They are in restricted segregated units, and many of them are also in isolation – but the government does not release that information. The majority of prisoners in the United States who are in isolation have been so for more than five years.

Translated by Granma International