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Lennard reports: "Human Rights Watch Thursday published its annual World Report, in which it lays out a pointed critique of the U.S. prison system."

The US has the largest prison population in the world. (photo: unknown)
The US has the largest prison population in the world. (photo: unknown)

Human Rights Watch Decries US Prison System

By Natasha Lennard, Salon

31 January 13


The NGO's World Report criticizes mass incarceration and U.S. record of torture and extrajudicial killing

uman Rights Watch Thursday published its annual World Report, in which it lays out a pointed critique of the U.S. prison system. The enormous prison population - the largest in the world at 1.6million - "partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law," notes the report.

The 2013 World Report, a 665-page tome which assesses human rights progress in the past year in 90 countries, highlights particular issues undergirding the U.S.'s blighted carceral system. It notes that "practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities." Via HRW:

Research in 2012 found that the massive over-incarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.

HRW cite statistics often used to show racial disparities in the U.S. prison system. For example, while whites, African Americans and Latinos have comparable rates of drug use, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses, including possession, at three times the rate of white men.

"The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country's huge prison population," said Maria McFarland, deputy U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. "Unfortunately, it is society's most vulnerable - racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly - who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system."

Although noting some progress in 2012 (both D.C. and Connecticut joined the ranks of 16 states to have abolished the death penalty), HRW also stressed continuing injustices in U.S. immigration policies, labor issues and treatment of minorities, women, the disabled and HIV positive individuals. The report was particularly critical when reviewing the U.S.'s counterterrorism policies. The NGO noted in a statement:

Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system. Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.

The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called "war on terror," and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA's rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report's declassification so it can be released to the public.

The World Report explicitly mentions Obama's signing of the NDAA in 2011 (an act he repeated this year), noting, "The act codified the existing executive practice of detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, and required that certain terrorism suspects be initially detained by the military if captured inside the U.S.."

Next week, the lawsuit against Obama over the NDAA's definite detention provision will be back in federal court as plaintiffs including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky seek an injunction prohibiting indefinite detention of civilians without charge or trial.

Comments from HRW's McFarland point out what's at stake for the president here: "The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices," McFarland said. "A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of U.S. law." your social media marketing partner


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+10 # Edwina 2013-02-01 10:19
The Nobel Peace Prize committee was sadly mistaken if it thought it could encourage Pres. Obama to take a different direction from Pres. Bush. This country is hardly recognizable from the one we hoped to build on the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s - 1970s.
-1 # EPGAH3 2013-02-01 11:09
By giving him that award, they encouraged what he WAS doing, not what they WANTED him to do. As much as I want to, I can't fault them, Obama is an EXPERT semanticist. He has done everything he said, from "transforming" our country to "changing" our war on terrorists.
People interpreted those the way they wanted. If I told you I was going to change your life forever, then took out a cartoon-sized hammer and broke both your kneecaps, I would have done exactly what I said, and what I MEANT, but not what you THOUGHT I meant!
+4 # reiverpacific 2013-02-01 11:38
It's at it's worst in the South, where the death penalty is savored and a "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality prevails but bootleggers and drug smugglers find safe haven in many poor rural areas and the cops are on the take.
BTW, has anybody hears if Obama has granted clemency to any prisoners in his new term (I'm thinking especially about Leonard Peltier)? Haven't heard anything about this even in the alternative press. Guess I'll go to the Leonard Peltier support committee web site.
Funny, back in the 80's a Russian Architect came to work in the USA for a big A/E firm that designed prisons (I did a couple huge "correctional" complexes, one medium and one maximum security, as on-site project manager) and her cryptic comment was that US prisons are like country clubs compared to Russian -but that was brand new buildings.
Mind you, even she admitted that there are far more prisoners incarcerated here for relatively trivial charges, especially blacks.
It's commonly recognized that prisons are "Universities of Crime" in which those inside for relatively trivial offenses emerge as hardened criminals with a vast knowledge of how to buck the system.
-4 # EPGAH3 2013-02-01 17:10
She's right that American prisons are like country clubs compared to pretty much any other country. There's actually a reality-show of that!

Think about it, there's actually a guy in North Carolina who ROBBED A BANK for "free" (for HIM) healthcare. Poor HONEST people are living on the streets, while scum of the Earth get "3 hots&a cot" plus a solid roof over their heads PLUS free exercise rooms (Including free-weights that are used to hit guards--BRILLIA NT design decision!), and many are now demanding FREE Internet! That's almost a reward for crime!

Then there's perversions of justice like this:
Summary: Thug murders its wife, gets a sex-change ON THE TAXPAYER DIME!

The Death Penalty may be "hated" but it's the best way to get these "people" (And I use that term loosely) OFF the taxpayers' back and into Hell where they belong. If you're an Atheist, substitute "Meet Darwin" for "Hell".
+3 # Susan1989 2013-02-01 21:14
So why is not one Wall Street CEO in jail?
+4 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-02-01 21:51
No way could I say no, when asked to come on board the plaintiffs' legal team in Hedges, et. al. v. Obama, et. al.. For a number of years I've been aware of rule of law being in the toilet. But, with Pres. Obama's very quietly signing on New Year's Eve 2012, the National Defense Authorization Act - NDAA (after he stated he was going to veto it), not only was rule of law in the toilet, the toilet got flushed.

In a few days, on Wed., Feb. 6, it's back to court we go, in New York's Fed. Dist. Court, on Pearl St. in NYC, for oral arguments. Judge Forrest's strong decision in May of 2012 in favor of our plaintiff's (plaintiffs in the case being our true heroes and heroines, excellent, truth telling journalists, whistleblowers, justice and peace activists) has been appealed by defendants, Obama, et. al.. And, no big surprise, our 'nada por nada' Congress failed to correct the NDAA's so frightening allowing of military arrest of civilians, no charges, no due process (trial), and, by so failing, kept us stuck in the sewer of indefinite detention.

Any and all RSN reader(s) who is/are able, please see us in court this coming Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 10:00 a.m. (short proceeding in court, with a press conference following, most likely before noon).

Incredible amounts of work we've gotta do to RESTORE RIGHTS and UNDO THE COUP !
0 # Michael_K 2013-02-02 13:24
Shortly before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, BBC 4 aired a lengthy and suerbly investigated documentary on US prisons and the systematic torture-as-puni shment that prevails, up to and including life threatening chemical burns.

Needless to say, the American elected officials, sputtering their hypocritical protests that Abu Ghraib 'is not what America is about!' were met with a lot of cynical chuckling and more than a few deeply felt curses.

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