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ACLU Responds to New Yorker's Solitary Confinement Profile

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April 13, 2009

Solitary confinement is an issue we’ve heard a lot about lately when it comes to torture and abuse in Guantánamo and other U.S.-run detention facilities overseas. But we must not forget that it’s an issue in the context of inmates incarcerated in United States facilities as well, and that’s exactly what Atul Gawande’s powerful piece, “Hellhole,” confronted in the March 30 issue of The New Yorker.

Today, NewYorker.com published a letter to the editor from John Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project:

An increasing number of jurists throughout the world have concluded that our system of capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in part because the vast majority of U.S. death-row inmates are required to remain alone in their cells twenty-three hours a day and denied virtually any human contact. Unlike other prisoners, however, they are made to endure these barbaric conditions not because of their conduct in prison but because they have been condemned to die, and they have no opportunity to end their isolation through good behavior. Rather, they are made to sit alone in their cells day after day and year after year, envisioning what they continually fear is their impending execution.

Gawande writes: “The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?” After reading the article, we think you’ll agree with us that it is indeed.

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