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Reply #76: Supermax prisons are politically expedient, but it probably isn't helping to "reform" people [View All]

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Selatius Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-12-06 11:33 AM
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76. Supermax prisons are politically expedient, but it probably isn't helping to "reform" people
That appears to be the case; however, politics gets in the way of things. Instead of Reason, supermaxes become the convenient avenue of escape for people wanting to look "tough on crime."

From Human Rights Watch:

In almost every state in the nation, exploding prison populations, meager budgets, and punitive political climates have overwhelmed the ability of corrections professionals to operate safe, secure, and humane facilities. They lack the funds to recruit, properly train and retain adequate numbers of staff, and to provide programs and productive activities for the men and women in their custody. Thinly staffed, overcrowded, and impoverished facilities breed tension and violence, particularly where prison management has not placed a high priority on promoting staff-inmate and inmate-inmate relations predicated on mutual respect. Many corrections authorities have turned to prolonged supermax confinement in an effort to increase their control over prisoners. They believe that if they can confine all the most dangerous or disruptive inmates in facilities designed specifically for that purpose, they will be able to increase safety and security in other prisons. Some thoughtful corrections professionals, however, recognize that the proliferation of supermax facilities is unwise. While acknowledging that there will always be a few extremely dangerous or disruptive inmates in a prison population who need to be segregated for extended periods of time, they believe placing thousands of prisoners in prolonged isolation is neither good corrections practice nor necessary. Reducing the size of prisons and providing increased prison services and programs would help address the very problems supermaxes are now supposed to remedy. Unfortunately, few corrections professionals have been willing to publicly voice their objections to supermaxes, urge corrections strategies that would make supermaxes unnecessary, or even suggest more humane alternatives for high-risk inmates to the current supermax model of isolation and deprivation.

A significant impetus for supermax confinement also comes from politicians. Crime and punishment have been central issues in American politics for over two decades, and advocating harsh punitive policies for criminal offenders remains a politically popular position. Elected officials advancing tough-on-crime policies have promoted large supermax prisons for their symbolic message, regardless of actual need. Fearful of being accused of "coddling inmates" or being "soft on crime," few politicians have been willing to publicly challenge supermaxes on human rights grounds.

There has been scant public debate about the penological justification for supermax confinement, its high price in terms of the misery and suffering it inflicts, and the likelihood that it reduces an inmate's ability to make a successful transition to society upon release. The public has either been indifferent or has uncritically accepted the punitive penal views of those who endorse the supermax approach. Judicial scrutiny has been limited by both the courts' tradition of deference to the judgments of prison officials and by jurisprudence that sets an extraordinarily high threshold for finding prison conditions to be unconstitutionally cruel.

In short, neither elected officials, the courts, the public, nor corrections professionals have opposed the proliferation of supermax facilities or insisted on better conditions within them. Prolonged segregation that previously would have been deemed extraordinary and inconsistent with concepts of dignity, humanity, and decency has become a corrections staple.
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