Prisoners in U.S. Suffer Discrimination
Based on Race, Gender & Sexual Orientation
Human Rights Activists Say Prisoners’ Rights Violated in U.S.
PHILADELPHIA, PA [DECEMBER 12] — The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and a coalition of more than 80 prison activists and human rights organizations have issued a report detailing the systemic racism and other forms of discrimination routinely experienced by people of color, women, and sexual minorities in U.S. prisons.
The report, issued to commemorate International Human Rights Day, is part of a larger effort spearheaded by the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN), which coordinated the work of more than 250 human rights and social justice organizations in preparing a shadow report rebutting the U.S. State Department’s (DOS) periodic report on compliance with United Nations Committee on the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), to which the U.S. is a signatory.
The State Department’s report, which claims great strides in identifying, correcting, and remedying racism and racial discrimination, was quietly submitted to the U.N. last spring and posted without publicity on the Department’s website. It has been characterized by USHRN as a “complete whitewash.”
Among its many conspicuous gaps, the official U.S. report failed to address the fact that Blacks and Hispanics together account for about only one quarter of the general population but make up more than 60 percent of the jail and prison population. According to the latest statistics from the US Department of Justice, as of June 30, 2006, there were 905,600 African Americans and 459,300 Latino/Latinas in prisons and jails.
The AFSC portion of the report notes that Black men comprise 41 percent of all men in custody, and Black and Latina women comprise 34 percent and 16 percent of incarcerated women, respectively. Native Americans, who experience the highest rate of incarceration of any ethnic group in the U.S., received no mention in the State Department report.
Although the State Department report discusses several mechanisms by which it can investigate and prosecute “torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners,” it only explicitly mentions one instance directly related to racial discrimination in which it provided technical assistance to a corrections department that was segregating prisoners based on race.
In the prison report, AFSC points out that given the tremendous over-representation of people of color within prisons and jails, it is vital that a report on racial discrimination look critically at the means by which those who experience racial discrimination in prisons can receive redress. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult for even the most egregious abuses to be remedied by the courts.
“When people of color constitute just 25 percent of the U.S. population but represent more than 60 percent of people in prison, the government can’t credibly claim that the prison system is operating without racial discrimination,” said Naima Black, National STOPMAX Campaign Coordinator at AFSC.
American Friends Service Committee co-chaired and wrote sections of the report on prisons as part of a broader Criminal Justice Working Group. The report examines a multitude of commonplace violations of Articles 1, 2 and 5 of the Convention in U.S. prisons and jails, including direct testimony from prisoners, and offers specific recommendations.
The report details numerous racial injustices and disparities with regard to: solitary confinement and supermax prisons; access to education; access to appropriate medical and mental health care; rape and sexual assault; preservation of family unity for people of color in prison; Native American prisoners; freedom to practice religion; effects of incarceration practices on the census and re-districting; and the treatment of prisoners in post-Katrina Louisiana.
“This collaborative shadow report provides critical information including data and personal testimonies from which the committee can draw their specific questions,” said Black.
The U.N. committee that monitors compliance with ICERD will meet in February 2008 in Geneva to review reports from around the world, including this report from the United States, and will question the U.S. government on its compliance with the treaty.
To view a copy of the prison report, please visit http://www.stopmax.org/.
To view the full report: http://www.ushrnetwork.org/files/ushrn/images/2008_shadow_report/Shadow_Report_2008_web.pdf.
To view a copy of a summary of the shadow report submitted by the U.S. Human Rights Network, please visit http://lacccenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/shadowrptsummary2008.doc.
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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.