Harold Koh, legal advisor to the US State Department, went before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in November of last year and declared that the US is very proud of its human rights record. He responded to recommendations the UNHRC made in its universal periodic review of the United States’ respect for human rights. Koh said in the section addressing recommendations on criminal justice, “The U.S. criminal justice system rests on the protection of individual human rights and basic principles of due process and fair and equal treatment.” Prisoners striking at the Pelican Bay supermax prison in California are demonstrating to Americans and the world the scale of fraudulence behind the above statement.
On July 1, 2011, Pelican Bay prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike to protest the conditions in the prison. Across prison-manufactured racial and geographical lines, prisoners came together behind five core demands to force the prison officials to end the use of “group punishment”; abolish a “debriefing policy and the current criteria for determining who is and who isn’t a gang member; comply with the US Commission 2006 Recommendation Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement and end conditions of isolation, make segregation a last resort, end long-term solitary confinement and grant access to adequate healthcare and sunlight; provide adequate food and stop using it as a tool to punish inmates; and expand constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.
SHU stands for “Security Housing Unit.” In some prisons, the SHU is called “the hole.” The SHU is a “prison-within-a-prison.” Solitary Watch explains the SHU became more widely used after two guards were killed in the Marion, Illinois, federal prison in 1983. That led to the Marion Lockdown with prisoners being “confined to their cells without yard time, work or any kind of rehabilitative programming.” Read the rest of this entry →