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Americans Face Guantanamo-Like Torture Everyday in a Super-Max Prison Near You

To little public outcry, tens of thousands of citizens are being held in horrific conditions in super-harsh, super-maximum security, solitary-confinement prisons.

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Supermaxes, however, grew through several recessions. In the current economic slump, the Colorado state budget has been under great strain, but the state just opened a 300-bed supermax. Although prisoner outcomes make clear that the high-priced supermaxes are counterproductive, it appears unlikely that much will be done immediately about this archipelago of agony. Prison guards in some states have strong unions, which will fight supermax closures that would put their members out of work. Prison bureaucracies are large and self-protective. The supermaxes also are the products of relatively recent investment, so it would be difficult for legislators to back out on them now.

In any case supermax torture wasn’t instituted because of a utilitarian calculation about dollars and cents. “The object of torture is torture,” George Orwell wrote. As long ago as 1975, years before the first supermax, Garry Wills wrote that Americans had become complicit in “the psychic incineration of our fellow citizens.” His evaluation today would be even more devastating.

Lance Tapley is an investigative reporter based in Maine. This article is adapted from The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse , forthcoming from New York University Press, and based on five years of reporting for the Portland Phoenix.