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Originally published April 19 2012

Arizona inmates treated worse than animals

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Most people have probably heard about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's the Arizona lawman who's become famous for things like making his prisoners wear pink outer- and underwear, sleep in tents and pedal bicycles to generate enough power to watch TV.

Some would call that justified, given the fact that his inmates have been convicted of crimes and many Americans believe prisoners may be too coddled these days as it is.

But whether you agree with Arpaio's antics or not, a new report by human rights group Amnesty International (AI) reveals some things about Arizona prisons that, frankly, seem barbaric.

According to the organization, thousands of inmates throughout the state are confined in extreme isolation, without access to fresh air, regular exercise and natural light. Many of these inmates are mentally unstable and malnourished, and scores are kept in cells with walls caked in blood and excrement - all of which is in violation of international standards.

Breeding hopelessness, not reform

Such are conditions in many of Arizona's Department of Correction's Special Management Units (SMU), says the report, as well as isolation cells in other maximum-security facilities across the state.

The group said that, on any given day, some 3,000 of the state's 40,000 total inmates - a sub-group that includes women and children as young as 14 - experience those kinds of medieval conditions.

"SMU prisoners are confined, most of them alone, for nearly 24 hours a day in sparsely furnished cells which are designed to reduce visual and environmental stimulation," said the report.

"The only natural light source comes from a skylight in the area beyond the cell tiers, with little natural light filtering into the cells. The lighting in the cells is controlled by guards, and remains on 24 hours a day, although reportedly dimmed at night. It is reported that little fresh air enters the SMU cells or housing pods, which become hot and stuffy in summer when temperatures are regularly above 100 degrees Fahrenheit," it noted.

Staffing shortages - and indifference to inmates' complaints about the conditions - are only making matters worse.

While death-row inmates are regularly isolated, other prisoners who are far less dangerous often spend months or even years in isolation, sometimes for rule infractions that reasonable people should consider relatively minor.

"Amnesty International was told by an advocacy organization that had worked on prison issues for many years that a violation for three, even minor, rules within a 90-day period can result in a major write-up which could lead to a prisoner being sent to the SMU," said the report. "The organization viewed the record in one case that showed a prisoner had his custody level raised from level 3 to level 5, resulting in SMU assignment, for offences which included throwing liquid on another inmate (causing no injury), feigning a seizure and refusing to come to the cell door to be restrained."

Third-world treatment in first-world society

Not surprisingly, such disparate conditions have led to a distinct rise in suicides.

"At least 43 suicides are listed as having taken place in Arizona's adult prisons in the five and a half years from October 2005 to April 2011, with several more cases to June 2011 still under investigation," said the organization, in its report.

Moreover, the state corrections apparatus may be trying to hide even worse treatment, Amnesty International suspects. According to the group, investigators were barred access to the state's largest SMU facility during a fact-finding trip in the summer of 2011. An official with the Department of Corrections blamed the incident on a scheduling conflict, according to Courthouse News Service.

"In addition to the above concerns, conditions in some of the SMU housing pods are reported to have become increasingly unsanitary in recent years, with food, urine and [feces] stuck onto walls," the report notes.

Prisoners don't get adequate cleaning supplies for their cells, AI said, and steam cleaning is no longer regularly performed, resulting in higher incidents of staph infections among inmates.

For the record, Arizona has the sixth-highest incarceration rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That may have no real bearing on anything, but the fact remains that the state's prisons seem more akin to a third-world country, not one with a Constitution that is supposed to protect Americans from "cruel and unusual punishment."

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