Home of America's Cruelest Prisons: Arizona

Amnesty International report cites state's overuse of solitary confinement
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2012 10:11 AM CDT
Updated Apr 7, 2012 7:00 PM CDT
Home of America's Cruelest Prisons: Arizona
In this Nov. 14, 2009 file photo, an inmate stands at his cell door at the maximum security facility at the Arizona State Prison in Florence, Ariz.   (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

Of all the places to commit a crime, you may want to avoid Arizona. Amnesty International today released a report blasting the state's "cruel isolation" practices. It claims that Arizona's state prisons overuse solitary confinement, with prisoners spending as long as 15 years alone in a windowless cell for 22 to 24 hours a day. According to the state's figures, 8% of its prison population is jailed in maximum-security units, most alone. What's more, Amnesty says those figures also reveal that 35% of those 3,130 inmates committed non-violent crimes.

The Arizona Republic notes that only 1% of federal inmates and 1% to 3% of most state inmates are subjected to similar conditions. Other damning findings:

  • Amnesty tracked down 14 teens between the ages of 14 to 17 who had been held in isolation.
  • The "special management units" Arizona's inmates are isolated in have lighting on 24 hours a day (it's dimmed at night); inmates generally leave the cell no more than three times a week for two hours to exercise and shower (again, typically in windowless rooms).
  • Anyone sentenced to life is required to spend a minimum of the first two years of their sentence in solitary.
  • According to an ACLU lawsuit, prisoners in solitary tend to wait as long as six to eight months to meet with a psychologist; unlike many other states, Arizona allows mentally ill inmates to be placed in solitary.
  • Amnesty suspects that these conditions are fueling the state's prison suicide rate, which is double the national average; 70% of the most recent suicides were committed by those in solitary.
(More Arizona stories.)

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