As another day closes, thousands of Americans nationwide are denied the setting of the sun, denied the basic human needs of safety and non-violent physical contact. These Americans are prisoners, but not as they have ever been before. A new phenomenon is cropping up across this vast nation: privately run lockdown facilities (commonly called "Supermax prisons"). The 23-hour lockdown practice began in Marion, Illinois, when prisoners were confined following the murder of a guard.
Until then lockdowns were an extreme, temporary measure. Marion was the first to sustain a 23-hour lockdown, and when the only cries of injustice came from the prisoners themselves, other facilities were encouraged to follow suit. These "control units" began as a way, in theory, to segregate the excessively violent elements from the majority of the prison population. But they became prisons within prisons, a method of punishment with more potential for violence than the inmates themselves.
Conditions in these supermax security housing units (SHUs), have drawn the attention of several human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, The Colorado Committee Against Control Unit Torture and The Coalition for Prisoners' Rights have developed, citing racial inequalities and economic disparity as persisting conditions that allow supermax units to continue dispensing punishment at will.