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In the outskirts [of Philadelphia], stands a great prison, called the Eastern Penitentiary...The system here is rigid, strict, and [consists of] hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong. I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers.

These were the words of Charles Dickens upon touring and experiencing the conditions of the first prison to implement solitary confinement – the Eastern Penitentiary, Philadelphia – in 1829. ‘[I] never saw such a picture of forlorn affliction and distress of mind. My heart bled for him.’ Dickens’ comments on the humanity of such a system predate modern conceptions of human rights and torture, and yet such conditions have continued well into the age of enlightened human rights. They remain a point for furious contention within many Western countries today; Australia included. What is Solitary Confinement? Imagine living in a space smaller than most bathrooms. Imagine being confined to that space for up to twenty-three hours a day with no human contact. Imagine living all that time without natural light or fresh air against your skin, and without any activities for work or education; nothing to stimulate your mind. Nothing to keep you from going insane.


Many such units exist across the United States, with an estimated 80,000 inmates across the country currently in solitary confinement. Some, such as South Port in New York and the federal prison ADX in Colorado, consist purely of Supermax facilities. Conditions within these prisons are notoriously harsh, and have been the fight of human rights groups for several decades. Some inmates are incarcerated for years or even decades within this system. These prisons exist across Australia too. Goulburn Correctional Centre in NSW has a notorious Supermax unit. Another well known unit is in Casuarina Prison in Western Australia. Human Rights Both in Australia and the US the conditions of solitary confinement have raised debate within human rights circles. Many groups and experts have argued that the suffering caused to inmates constitutes torture, cruel or inhumane treatment under international law, and is therefore a violation of inmates’ basic human rights. It is a contentious issue, particularly in


These are the conditions that prisoners in solitary confinement often face and these are the conditions which many human rights protestors and organistions continue to oppose. Some, including the United Nations, even argue that they constitute torture.

Facilities known as Control Units, Special Handling Units or ‘Supermax’ prisons have become common within our prison system. These prisons within prisons house those commonly referred to as the worst of the worst; typically those prisoners who cannot live even in the mainstream prison system.

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Edition 3  

The 3rd edition of AM-UNITY magazine is out now! Just click on the magazine cover on the left to view our latest edition - in it we explore...

Edition 3  

The 3rd edition of AM-UNITY magazine is out now! Just click on the magazine cover on the left to view our latest edition - in it we explore...