Arizona NAACP Branch Files SuperMax Prison Construction Complaint

Editor April 14, 2013 2

Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org

Photo taken by  Christoph Gielen.

Photo taken by Christoph Gielen.

The Maricopa County Branch of the NAACP filed a complaint on Friday, April 12th with the Arizona State Board of Technical Registration requesting that the Board conduct an investigation of the architectural firm that has been awarded the proposal pursuant to State of Arizona Bid Solicitation: ADSPO13-00002006 for professional design services for design and construction administration of a 500 bed maximum security prison.

The maximum security prison, also known as a “supermax” (short for “super-maximum security”) prison, is a “control-unit” prison or section which house inmates who are  considered high security risks.  According to the National Institute of Corrections, “A supermax is a stand-alone unit or part of another facility and is designated for violent or disruptive inmates. It typically involves up to 23-hour-per-day, single-cell confinement for an indefinite period of time. Inmates in supermax housing have minimal contact with staff and other inmates.”  Here in Arizona there are currently “supermax” prisons in Florence and Tucson.

The NAACP argues that the proposal violates the Administrative Code and Rules of Professional Conduct of architects because the duty to the client (Arizona Department of Corrections) conflicts with the duty to the public and presents a serious threat to public health, safety or welfare. The proposal violates the Rules of Professional Conduct because it violates human rights, is discriminatory, shows disregard of the rights of others, endangers public safety, is not environmentally sustainable, and ignores the responsibilities of architects to others including the public and prisoners.

The prison discipline study, a mass national survey assessing formal and informal punitive practices in U.S. prisons, concluded that “solitary confinement, loss of privileges, physical beatings” and other forms of deprivation and harassment were “common disciplinary practices” that were “rendered routinely, capriciously and brutally” in maximum-security U.S. prisons. The study also noted receiving “hundreds of comments from prisoners” explaining that jailhouse lawyers who file grievances and lawsuits about abuse and poor conditions were the most frequently targeted. Black prisoners and the mentally ill were also targeted for especially harsh treatment.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) recently began describing supermax conditions as torture. Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks. For NRCAT, the term ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ is equated to torture – the point when the use of solitary confinement results in severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

American judges have recognized solitary confinement of the mentally ill as equivalent to torture in the Madrid v. Gomez case because supermax prisons produce a syndrome characterized by “agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization. … “primitive aggressive fantasies,” paranoia, and hallucinations. The U.S. has been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union and the U.N. Committee Against Torture for our use of supermaximum prisons and in particular isolation that may be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

On April 3rd Arizona ACLU and American Friends Service Committee sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer opposing the building of new supermax prison beds.  The letter begins by saying “We write on behalf of all Arizonans who oppose the state’s plans to build 500 additional maximum security prison beds, using $50 million from mortgage settlement funds. We are convinced that this is the wrong direction for Arizona.”

Maricopa County Branch NAACP stated in recent press release, “Many states are closing their supermaximum prisons because they realize how ineffective and inefficient they are. Only Arizona is moving to build more of this 1900 century technology. To do so violates the principles of the architects code of ethics and professional responsibility and should be stopped.”