More than once, the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan told me: “This nation will not be civilized until it ends the death penalty.”
But how civilized are we now, when, according to extended research by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):
“Tens of thousands of individuals across the country are detained inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. The cells have a toilet and a shower, and a slot in the door large enough for a guard to slip a food tray through.
“Prisoners in solitary confinement are frequently deprived of telephone calls and contact visits. ‘Recreation’ involves being taken, often in handcuffs and shackles, to another solitary cell where prisoners can pace alone for an hour before being returned to their cell” (“Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons,” ccrjustice.org).
Says Luis Esquivel, a prisoner plaintiff in a CCR lawsuit: “I feel dead. It’s been 13 years since I have shaken someone’s hand, and I feel I’ll forget the feel of human contact.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which I have been referring to in my column for years, continues: “Researchers have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement causes a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns.