Accusations arise over prisoner treatment

By Carol Ekstrom

A human rights support group has denounced a maximum security prison in Illinois for violating the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

The U.S. prison in downstate Marion has been the only facility in the United States to be condemned by Amnesty International.

NIU sociology professor Kay Forest said that the American people need to know what is going on in U.S. prisons.

“The U.S. public doesn’t realize that the methods used at the Marion prison are cruel and unnecessary,” she said.

“The entire prison has been transformed into control units, which are designed to exercise complete physical and psychological control over the prisoners.”

Cecile Meyer, co-coordinator for the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice, said the prisoners are locked in their continuously lighted cells for an average of 22 to 23 hours a day.

“Their food is shoved in to them, and they receive no human contact whatsoever,” she said. “They are deprived of every sensory perception imaginable.”

Meyer said some countries are judged by the way its prisoners are treated.

“If the United States were judged by this measure, we would get a very low rating,” she said.

Meyer said the isolating features of the Marion penitentiary have become the model for similar control units in many other state prison systems.

“Control units are increasing across the country, despite the blatant disregard to prisoners’ human dignity,” Meyer said.

Meyer said the facility also houses some political prisoners who are jailed solely because their beliefs are contrary to the political beliefs of the United States.

“This is supposed to be a prison for violent people, but the political dissidents and activists there are being brutally treated just because of their beliefs,” she said.

Marion prison has operated under lock-down status since 1983, keeping prisoners from standard vocational and recreational programs.

A presentation opposing control unit prisons will be given by members of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML) Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Holmes Student Center Illinois Room.

Chicago Public Defender Mariel Nanasi will speak on the conditions at the Marion prison.

The presentation is being sponsored by the DeKalb Interfaith Network and the Wesley Foundation.