Torture in US prisons

Last month I listened to an interview on American Public Media’s The Story with Brian Nelson, a convicted murderer who had spent 12 years in solitary confinement in a prison in Illinois. I could think of no better word to describe such a punishment than torture. Listen to that interview here.

Similarly, one of my former theology professors at Saint Anselm College, R. Ward Holder, has co-authored a piece about the theological troubles of solitary confinement and efforts in the Presbyterian Church to put an end to the practice:


Second, the church is realizing both that solitary confinement can be used as an instrument of torture, and that American political leaders and prison officials are complicit in this torture. While America is home to only five percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners and the vast majority of prisoners in long-term solitary confinement. Both our common humanity and our obedience to God cry out against this affront, and demand our Christian witness.

The resolution calls for three actions: 1) for state and federal governments to limit the use and harm of solitary confinement and address the mental health needs of prisoners; 2) for the president to sign and the Senate to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture; and 3) for Presbyterians to participate in anti-torture efforts.

Read the full statement here.

Do you think solitary confinement in torture? Is interaction with other human beings a basic human right? If so, does that right extend to prisoners?

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Beth Cioffoletti
5 years 10 months ago
Solitary confinement is just the tip of a very big iceberg. The whole structure of the prison system in the USA is dark, corrupt, unjust, cruel and inhumane.  It is throwing away human beings, the vast majority of whom are very redeemable.  It is racism at its lowest level.  It is slavery gone underground, tearing apart families and using human bodies for the monetary enhancement of others.

Prisoners are the lepers of our time.
Jim McCrea
5 years 10 months ago
I think that the only thing that will keep Jerry Sandusky alive is at least 24 hours per day of solitary confinement. Otherwise, a life expectancy of 6 months at best.

He should be given the choice - a long, lonely life, or a short one with a violent end.
cris vicquery
5 years 10 months ago
David those are real questions for the Catholic Church and Catholic people. This sadly has never worked for American people that talk only about abortion.
Matthew Pettigrew
5 years 10 months ago
Mr. Smith:  What's to talk about? Unless, of course, you think "no" is the correct answer to any of those questions.
Michael Barberi
5 years 10 months ago
It is interesting that torture was condoned by Pope Innocent VI when he issued the papal bull Ad extirpanda in 1252, which explicitly authorized (and defined the appropriate circumstances for) the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics.

Today, torture is forbidden and intrinsically evil.

However, at what point is torture, meaning inflicting severe pain or anguish, as a means of punishment or coercion, morally permissible? For example:

1. Is the infliction of punishment, pschological as well as physical pain, in the discipline of rearing children morally permissible? To date, the Church has not addressed this issue.

2. Is an embargo against a country (suspected of terrorism or building an atomic weapon), that inflicts pain and suffering on the citizens of such a country a form of torture, and morally permissible? 

Talis Mancer
5 years 10 months ago
How far can you go in missing the forest for the trees. The US prison system centres around punishment rather than reformation of prisoners. Until this mentality changes, torture will sneak in no matter how hard you work to stop it.

This mentality continues to be driven by the Catholic religion that espouses a cosmic system of crime & punishment as created by the most moral entity of all. How can we advance our human moral understanding while religions drive us backwards? I have no idea.


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