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Human Rights

Safety from intentional physical harm is a basic human right that even prisoners are deemed to have, but in many prisons across the United States, prisoner safety is routinely violated. In numerous documented cases, guards have beaten prisoners, treated them with electric shocks, immersed them in boiling water, raped them, used other techniques bordering on torture, and have even arranged fights between prisoners for their own entertainment. While these abuses are often presented as individual cases of abuse by exceptional guards ("a few bad apples"), taken together they indicate a pattern of abuse that is inherent in prison institutions. Furthermore, the denial of legal services to inmates, the regularity of cover-ups, and the failure to prosecute crimes committed by prison guards indicate that at the highest levels, prisons as institutions are incapable of protecting the rights of their prisoners.

Health care is another fundamental human right, but prisoners all over the country are regularly denied basic medical care. While in prison, it is the responsibility of federal, state, and local governments to provide health care for prisoners. Many times, individual decisions by guards, doctors, and nurses obstruct prisoners' access to decent health care. Many prisoners contract diseases, fail to receive treatment (especially for HIV/AIDS), or die of preventable causes while in jail. Hepatitis C has reached epidemic proportions in many American prisons, but suffering prisoners are routinely allowed to leave prison in a highly contagious condition, or to die of the disease through obstruction and neglect. Upper management’s routine failure to oversee health care delivery to prisoners indicates a systematic form of abuse, rather than simply abuses by overworked and underpaid prison doctors and nurses. Prison health-care privatization by for-profit prison HMOs causes even more neglectful and abusive conditions.

Lastly, new Super-Maximum Security Prisons (also known as "Super-Max," Secure Housing Units, or SHUs) constitute mental health abuse by their very design. These facilities are designed for extended solitary confinement with minimal human interaction. In them, prisoners are constantly observed by video surveillance in windowless concrete cells that are never fully darkened. Prisoners are allowed out of these cells for 1 1/2 hours per day into small, solid-walled spaces without vegetation or relief, open only to the sky. Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and California Prison Focus have documented the enormous psychological stress and serious mental disorders these conditions create, but SHU prisoners are provided no mental health treatment. Instead, prisoners transferred to SHUs-- whether during sentencing or by prison officials' administrative decisions-- are generally released from this form of solitary confinement only if they die. In brief, SHUs constitute cruel and unusual punishment and are effectively a regulatory, non-judicial form of capital punishment. They are also one of the fastest growing areas of prison construction.

The AIA code of Ethics states, "members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors." ADPSR does not think that an architect can claim to uphold human rights while working for institutions that reliably and repeatedly violate the human rights of prisoners, or while producing designs that will inherently be used to inflict intense psychological suffering.