26 Cal. W. Int'l L.J. 139 (1995-1996)
International Protection of the Rights of Prisoners: Is Solitary Confinement in the United States a Violation of International Standards

handle is hein.journals/calwi26 and id is 151 raw text is: COMMENT
INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF
PRISONERS: IS SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN THE UNITED
STATES A VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS?
Since the discovery of the human rights atrocities committed against
detainees of World War II, treatment of prisoners has been an issue of
worldwide concern. The international community's approach toward the
treatment of prisoners has evolved into a formal recognition of basic prison-
ers' rights. These rights are embodied in a series of resolutions, several
conventions and elaborate model instruments setting out minimum standards
and prohibitions applicable to prisoners and prison conditions. However, in
spite of the development of this international body of law, prisoners remain
a vulnerable population, and as such, are easy targets for continued human
rights abuses. Routine cruelty of imprisonment is tolerated even in countries
that are generally respectful of human rights, because prisons, by their
nature, are out of sight; and because prisoners, by definition are outcasts.'
According to the American Civil Liberties Union/Human Rights Watch
Report, Human Rights Violations in the United States, the United States is
guilty of many human rights violations against prisoners.' These violations
include overcrowding,3 lack of protection against violence creating fear for
personal safety,4 issues pertaining to female prisoners,5 and disciplinary and
1. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, THE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH GLOBAL REPORT ON PRISONS xV
(1993).
2. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH & AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, HUMAN RIGHTS
VIOLATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES 98-114 (1993).
3. Overcrowding is the most significant cause of human rights abuses in the U.S. prison
system. Id. at 103. At any given time, approximately 1.3 million men and women are
incarcerated in the U.S. prisons and jails. Id. Overcrowding results in a lack of privacy,
deteriorating prison conditions and sanitation, and reduced levels of basic necessities, such as
staff supervision and health care services. Id. In the United States in January 1992, the courts
found that overcrowding was so severe that it violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and
unusual punishment in forty states, the District of Columbia, and more than 500 jail jurisdic-
tions. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 1, at 10.
4. Ultimately, these conditions can create significant stress which leads to violent resolution
of a problem or dispute. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH & AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, supra
note 2, at 101-03. Overcrowding exacerbates the problem of inmate-on-inmate violence by
forcing prisoners to live together with little regard for individual tendencies toward violence. Id.
at 103-108. Lack of space and privacy increases tension and stress which results in violent
attacks by both prisoners and staff. Id. For a discussion of research on the effects of overcrowd-
ing, see Barton L. Ingraham & Charles F. Wellford, The Totality of Conditions Test in Eighth
Amendment Litigation in AMERICA'S CORRECTIONAL CRISIS: PRISON POPULATIONS AND PUBLIC
POLICY 13, 24-29 (Stephen D. Gottfredson & Sean McConville eds., 1987). For a statistical
study of the effects of overcrowding on prison violence, see Gerald G. Gaes & William J.
McGuire, Prison Violence: The Contribution of Crowding Versus Other Determinants of Prison
Assault Rates, 22 J. RESEARCH IN CRIME & DELINQUENCY 41 (1985).

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