Paul Wright’s speech at the International Conference of the Foundation to Battle Injustice with a report on «Torture in the United States: what an ordinary American or an immigrant may face in places of detention»

Paul Wright, american human rights activist, expert on US prison issues, editor-in-chief of Prison Legal News (PLN) magazine, took part in the International Conference of the Foundation to Battle Injustice and the Patriot media Group “The Problem of Tortures and Its Undermining of the Criminal Justice Systems of the Modern Countries of the World. Searching for Solutions“, making a report on “Torture in the United States: what an ordinary American or an immigrant may face in places of detention.”

Paul Wright

Torture in the United States: what an ordinary American or an immigrant may face in places of detention

One of the things is to start of is that there are over 300 million people living in the United States, and in any given day there is more than 2.5 million of them are locked in a jail the country. About 1 million people are on parole or under special supervision. These amounts in total make up about 3% of the adult population of America. These number have been stately increasing for the last 5 years. The reality is that United States has more people in its prisons and jails than at any time in the history, both in terms of percentage population and in terms of raw numbers. And the conditions of this prisoners are held in tense to be from simply harsh to extremely brutal. Jails are typically operated on the city and county levels. Jails typically have pre-trial detainees who have not been even convicted. And the United States has over 3500 jails scattered throughout the country, almost every county has jail. Prisoners hold typically more than one year in incarceration. There are more than 2,000 prisons scattered around the United States that are run by the state. And also, prisons run by for-profit private corporations. In addition to the criminal population, pretrial detainees and convicted the United States has at least 45,000 migration detainees. As well as several thousand military prisoners, juvenile prisoners and also sex offenders that have completed their criminal sentence. I’m not including in this discussion military prisoners or prisoners held by a military. The conditions of confinement for differs from location to location, from jail to jail. Nevertheless, there are some common features common to all prisons in the country. One of them is the low level of medical care and heaths treatment. And every year at least 5-6 thousand prisoners die in custody. The majority died from medical neglect and not enough medical care. Some of the characteristics that are unusual, that distinguish the United States from other countries are the extension use of solitary confinement. In any given day at least 80 – 100 thousand prisoners in the United States are being held in solitary confinement. The UN and many human rights organizations have found solitary confinement be a form of torture. Prisoners in the United Stated are routinely held in solitary confinement for years. American prison conditions deny many basic elements of human need. For example, the magazine that I edit Prison Legal News, we have reported of the recent death of American prisoners. Usually, those prisoners died due the starvation, dehydration, exposure to cold and dozens are dying every year from exposure to heat due to inactively cooling prisons in hot states like Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

Many prisons in the United States are overcrowded. Despite having built over 900 prisons in the last 30 years, many prisons are dangerously old and neglected. One thing that is also driven bad conditions is extremely heat and the lack of staff. This is due to the low salaries of prison staff. Excessive force by guards and staff is very common. We regularly report how some of the prisoners were beaten to death, and other cases we have reported are prisoners that have been starved to death by guards and burned to death. Stun guns and other instruments of torture are also used in prisons. One of the consequences of prison overcrowding and lack of staff is the high level of violence in prisons, including by prisoners towards each other. This also includes the location of prisons in places remote from large settlements and poor nutrition. Another feature of American prisons is the lack of control over what happens in prisons. A critical factor is that there are no laws against torture in America. Despite the fact that the American government has signed the UN Convention against Torture, citizens cannot do anything against torture without government authorization. The international community has seen all those photos with scenes of brutality and violence from Abu Ghraib (Iraq), where a large number of soldiers resorted to violence, these soldiers were attracted as prison guards.

One of the other reasons is excessively long prison terms. About 200 thousand people were sentenced to life imprisonment. This means that they will die in prison. This leads to the fact that more and more people in prisons need medical care. Over the past 30-40 years, prison conditions have deteriorated significantly. Prisoners can only ask for better conditions through the federal court. Because of this, it is difficult for prisoners to ensure that their rights are respected. The lack of transparency in prison management means that journalists will be denied access to most federal and state prisons. Individual interviews with prisoners are also prohibited. This is the end of my report. If anyone has any questions, I will answer them.


Artemiy Semenovsky: A couple of months ago, I accidentally went to the website of the US penitentiary system. there is a section “Ethnic and national composition of prisoners”. I was surprised to find that African Americans had completely disappeared from the chart, as if they did not exist. That is, now the diagram of the national-ethnic composition will look like this: whites, Latinos and everyone else. It’s kind of funny, as if African Americans aren’t there. What do you think, for what purpose is this done, and what consequences can it lead to?

Paul Wright: There are disproportionately many black prisoners in prisons, given their proportion to the American population. Their number in prisons varies from state to state. I have not seen the graph you mentioned, but the Ministry of Justice regularly publishes the results of its research, which indicate an excessively high proportion of prisoners among representatives of national minorities.

Mira Terada: Thank you, Paul. We will definitely send you a link, as we were surprised when we saw this chart.

Paul Wright: I’m not surprised by what the federal government is doing, even trying to justify mass incarceration in front of the black community.

Lev Spiransky, “Moskovsky Komsomolets”: Please specify the first part of your report, in which you provided a lot of figures, data, and information. What kind of research is this? Who conducted them? And maybe tell us a little more about them.

Paul Wright: I have been covering the state of prisons in America for 33 years, and thousands of articles about prisons in America have been published on our Prison Legal News website. We take information from different sources. We take statistics from the data provided by the Ministry of Justice.

Lev Spiransky, “Moskovsky Komsomolets”: The second question. As an expert on US prison issues, I would like to hear your opinion on how to stop this regression and degradation of the system you spoke about. Maybe you have specific suggestions that can change the situation?

Paul Wright: The most important thing is to increase transparency in the management of the prison system and strengthen control over it. In addition, the United States should be made accountable to international organizations and put before them the same standards in respect of human rights that other countries already observe. Therefore, before America can point out to other countries the violation of human rights, it will have to answer for the violation of the rights of its citizens. One way out of the situation may be to reduce the number of prisoners. The number of prisoners in America has increased by 500% over the past 30 years. In addition, condemning the violation of human rights in America at the international level would also be able to improve the situation.

Ivan Melnikov: Paul, thank you very much. As a human rights activist, I also support these methods and I want to tell you about their effectiveness. In particular, about transparency. Together with journalists, we visited pre-trial detention centers in Moscow, where prisoners were tortured. We have publicly condemned torture, and this has led to good results. I hope that at the end we will have a corresponding resolution, and we will support it. I would like to draw your attention to another topic that you have raised today, which is also important, namely, the reduction of the prison population. You spoke about the dependence of the so-called private prisons and about their large number. A well-known case in the United States about Mark Siavarella, a judge who put children in private prisons for bribes from corporations. Michael Moore and other famous American directors have talked a lot about this. Do you think there is a correlation with the 500% increase in the prison population over the past 30 years, which you mentioned? Is there any lobbying on the part of corporations that deal with this topic? Can public control reduce the number of prisoners?

Paul Wright: There has been an increase in private prisons over the last 30 years. Mass incarceration is a disease, and private prisons are a symptom. 7% of the total number of prisoners are in private prisons. This indicator has been stable in the last few years. The federal government and states rarely use private prisons. Private prisons as a phenomenon would have disappeared 20 years ago due to poor governance and corruption, if not for the help of Bill Clinton and the US Congress. So we can only watch how long private prisons will be able to exist in the United States.

Mira Terada: Paul, do you think if America has an effective system of human rights organizations, the situation in America will change?

Paul Wright: Yes, there has been progress in American society lately, and the problem is rather a lack of resources.