Ireland has refused to extradite alleged terrorist recruiter Ali Charaf Damache to the United States over fear that he may receive inhumane treatment if he ends up in Colorado's supermax prison. Damache has been accused of using online chat rooms to lure American women into terrorist cells operating in the U.S. and Europe.
Authorities in Ireland don't deny that Damache might be guilty of recruiting terrorists. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, three people, including Damache's wife, have already been convicted in U.S. courts for giving extremists materials to support their terrorist acts. Irish authorities even captured Damache in Dublin back in 2010 for an unrelated charge of making death threats, which he served three years in prison for.
The treatment of prisoners in the U.S., and especially at the supermax prison is so terrifying for those outside the country that the High Court of Ireland believes it amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment." They also believe it "breaches the constitutional requirement to protect persons from inhuman and degrading treatment." This clearly highlights major disagreements between the U.S. and Europe over issues related to the justice system and incarceration.
So what makes the supermax facility in Florence, Colo. so terrible that Ireland would protect an accused terrorist from potentially getting sentenced there? It includes 24-hour solitary confinement, zero family visits, and no access to media. Food is given to prisoners through a slit in the door, and inmates spend their entire time in a concrete room with little human interaction.
There's even a growing trend of defense lawyers who argue that conditions in the facility are so bad that sentencing someone to life without parole at the supermax prison would be far worse than a death sentence.
Those who support such harsh treatment argue that it's the only way to prevent dangerous prisoners from coordinating crimes with the outside world, or from smuggling contraband into the facility. But regardless of the reasoning used to justify the rough conditions, those in Europe are unwilling to play ball with a criminal justice system that they believe violates the same human rights America is preaching to other countries about.
While prisoners who are a threat to society should be placed in prisons with reasonable safeguards, the criticism the U.S. is getting for its treatment of inmates isn't uncalled for. A few days after the LA Times reported about Damache, news broke regarding Chelsea Manning's questionable treatment at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing over sensitive government documents to Wikileaks while he was in the military, which shed light on wrongdoings by the U.S. armed forces. According to one of her lawyers, Manning could face indefinite solitary confinement for allegedly sweeping food onto the ground, having a tube of expired toothpaste and possessing a copy of the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover.
Solitary confinement is meant to be used for violent and dangerous inmates who pose a threat to themselves or others, but it's clear that 5 out of 6 times, prisoners are sent there for nonviolent infractions or even for political activism.
When studying the psychological impact of solitary confinement, it's not difficult to understand how some might consider it cruel and unusual the punishment. According the PBS:
"Stuart Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, has interviewed hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of solitary inmates were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” Grassian has since concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some inmates lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions."
Even if the most tough-on-crime people in America don't care much about the well-being of inmates, they should be concerned about what the cruelty toward prisoners is doing to further deteriorate justice. If other countries are unwilling to extradite terrorists and other criminals due to the way the U.S. punishes inmates, it's inconceivable that some of the most dangerous people in the world will ever be brought to justice.
It's also important to keep in mind that the vast majority of people imprisoned in the U.S. are non-violent drug offenders. Do they deserve to spend time in a physically and mentally crippling environment for a drug habit? These are tough questions that need to be asked when considering reforming a justice system that locks away more people than any other country in the world.