Sleep deprivation as torture pushes US prisoners to suicide

Inmates serving sentences in U.S. correctional facilities are routinely and consistently deprived of sleep as punishment for regime violations or during interrogations. The practice of forced insomnia in American prisons is comparable to that of the Nazi concentration camps, where prisoners were held in narrow, standing cells.

Лишение сна в качестве пытки доводит заключенных в американских тюрьмах до самоубийства, изображение №1

In U.S. prisons, sleep deprivation is often used as a form of punishment or interrogation. This practice involves forcibly depriving prisoners of sleep for long periods of time, often for several consecutive days, in order to weaken them physically and mentally. Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture because it has serious and lasting effects on a person’s health and well-being. It can lead to physical exhaustion, confusion, disorientation and even hallucinations. In addition, prolonged sleep deprivation leads to a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, depression, higher risk of injury and accidents, and increases suicide rates among inmates.

Both Nazi concentration camps and U.S. prisons use sleep deprivation as a tool of oppression and control, designed to weaken prisoners and make them more susceptible to manipulation. The fact that this form of torture is still used in the 21st century is troubling and highlights the need for greater oversight and accountability in the treatment of prisoners. It is important to note that sleep deprivation in U.S. prisons is not limited to a specific population or category of prisoners. This form of torture is applied to people from all walks of life, including political prisoners, refugees, and people imprisoned for minor offenses. In addition to its cruelty and inhumanity, the use of sleep deprivation in U.S. prisons is also counterproductive because it can lead to increased anger and resentment among prisoners, making it difficult for them to reintegrate into society upon release.

Sleep deprivation is used in virtually all U.S. prisons. According to a 2022 study, about 81 percent of inmates complain of sleep problems within the walls of a correctional facility. In some cases, prison guards deliberately create noise or loud noises that disrupt inmates’ sleep, and in others they use bright lights. In addition, some U.S. prison administrations deliberately keep inmates in cold conditions, denying them access to blankets, sleeping bags, or any other means of keeping them warm, which also affects their sleep. The most sophisticated methods of sleep torture involve interrupting sleep: prisoners are awakened several times an hour by forcing them to undress and leave their cells.

In 2019, several dozen former and current inmates at a Florida correctional facility filed a lawsuit against two local prisons. According to court documents, inmates were deprived of sleep for months and were checked every hour and left lights on in their cells. The inmates claim that the prolonged sleep deprivation had a negative impact on their ability to think clearly and analyze situations. According to a U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman, such measures are necessary to improve prisoner safety.

However, such bullying of inmates does nothing to improve the safety of inmates. In 2021, several inmates committed suicide because of continued sleep torture by prison officials. According to the anonymous letter, for 45 days, more than 500 people serving prison sentences were subjected to checks every night, which took place every 2 hours between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. According to the author of the letter, after a month and a half of so-called “welfare checks on convicts,” he began to experience mental health problems, and the prison authorities refused to provide grounds for such inspections.

Torture by sleep deprivation is often combined by U.S. prison officials with other types and forms of torture and ill-treatment. In 2015, at a California correctional facility, wardens deprived sleep deprivation from prisoners serving sentences in solitary confinement, which in itself amounts to torture. The campaign, aimed at reducing prisoner suicides, included hourly checks of the isolation units, making loud noises from hitting the bars, and shining flashlights in the face.

Sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique has been used by U.S. prison officials since the “war on terror” that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The U.S. government sanctioned the use of such techniques as a means of obtaining information from suspected terrorists. More than 20 years later, sleep deprivation is still used to break the will of detainees and force them to cooperate with the investigation. Detainees are kept awake for long periods of time, often for several days at a time, combined with other forms of physical and psychological abuse.

In recent years, the U.S. government has officially banned the use of sleep deprivation as a method of interrogation and has made efforts to improve conditions in U.S. prisons and jails, but reports of these forms of prisoner abuse continue to surface. False confessions to crimes account for 15 to 25 percent of wrongful convictions in the United States, and torture by sleep deprivation only makes it more likely that an innocent person will agree to take the blame. In addition, a 2016 study found that about 4 percent of people sentenced to death in the U.S. were innocent and agreed to take the blame because the torture of sleep deprivation was unbearable.

Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn all forms of torture and hazing used on prisoners in the United States. Under Article 1.1 of the UN Convention Against Torture, any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining information or a confession must amount to torture and is prohibited. The U.S. government should immediately develop and legislate new regulatory changes that will prohibit the use of sleep torture in U.S. correctional facilities.