By Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director, U.S. Prisons Policy & Program, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
This week, NPR and The Marshall Project published a series of stories uncovering the harrowing use of torture at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania, where incarcerated people are routinely forced to face double-celled solitary confinement in a 6×10 ft cell for nearly 24 hours a day with a cell mate they fear, or are shackled in restraints for refusing their cell assignment. Since 2009, at least four incarcerated people at Lewisburg have been killed by their cellmates.
The series includes deeply disturbing video footage in which Royce Brown, while incarcerated at Lewisburg, was shackled in four-point restraints, each of his limbs cuffed to the corner of a concrete slab. Sebastian Richardson was held in restraints for 28 days with swelling hands, a soiled paper uniform, cut ankles, and freezing in a cell with the window left open to the cold winter air.
This torture is unacceptable.
Join us in calling on the Attorney General to ensure an independent investigation of the federal Bureau of Prisons practices at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary, including the use of double-celled solitary confinement, restraints, and lack of mental health treatment.
Torture survivors and human rights experts remind us that the use of these and other devices of torture are not unique to Lewisburg. Having received thousands of calls and letters from people in prison and their families who describe isolation, brutality, extreme temperatures, filth, and racism, Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee’s Prison Watch Project writes, “When what happened at Abu Ghraib shocked the world, more than 2 and a half million prisoners, their families, advocates, lawyers and activists understood that this was business as usual.”
It is critical that we make it clear to our national leaders that “business as usual” and devices of torture are unacceptable.
P.S. For more on the Lewisburg federal penitentiary, see the District of Columbia Corrections Information Council's recent "Inspection Report: USP Lewisburg". For the collaborative reporting on the Lewisburg federal penitentiary, see The Marshall Project’s "28 Days in Chains" and NPR’s All Things Considered two-part series with text and audio - part 1 and part 2.