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Supermax facilities consists of 7 feet by 14 feet cells, equipped with a sink, toilet, desk, stool and a thin mattress, fully equipped for their 23 hours a day of isolation (Kluger 2007). Such deprivation of rights and humanity could in simple words only represent pure torture and what some inmates would deem as the 'worst of the worst' (Mears & Reisig 2006). Supermax facilities however were mainly designed for the worst of inmates who pose danger to other inmates or staffs if put into the normal prisons. With such bad living conditions and not even a small bit of freedom, the supermax prisons could only be regarded as the harshest form of punishment and retribution to those who have committed the worst of crimes. In recent years however, it has been found that supermax are not maximising its use of punishing those that are the extreme, the real destructive ones are smart enough to not have their bad deeds found out but instead instigate the mentally unstable ones to create riots and eventually put into supermax (Harrington 1997). In which, eventually would only worsen their situations. Supermax, despite its retributive purpose, is however not justified as punishment as its effects on prisoners will only worsen their conditions instead of rehabilitating them. This essay will now discuss the primary purpose of the supermax and how it acts as a retributive purpose of punishment, followed by why supermax should not be a justification for punishment due to its negative effects on prisoners such as worsening of violent tendencies, developing of psychological disorders, losing of touch with the outside world, in which, instead of helping the inmates, would only cause more problems to the society. Lastly, reasons as to why, despite of the awareness of negative effects on prisoners, supermax facilities continues to exist.
It is contended by Rhodes (2007) that those that are the worst of inmates are rightfully subjected to isolation and punishment as a retribution for their crimes. In which to say, supermax prisons can be justified as a form of retributive purpose. Its primary purpose however is to increase prison order and security (Mears and Reisig 2006). Supermax prisons, uses advanced technology such as cameras and intercoms to keep a close, regulated watch and communicate with inmates so as to ensure safety of staffs and other inmates (Haney 2003). This is done so as, supermax is mainly used for extreme, uncontrollable inmates, and therefore such measures are necessary to keep guards and other inmates safe from such violent tendencies (Anderson 1999; Good 2003). Furthermore, another purpose of the supermax facilities is also to aid in improving inmates' behaviour, decrease riots and rates of escape, and act as deterrence for the worst, eventually protecting the society (Anderson 1999; Harrington 1997; Mears 2008). Other than that, supermax prisons are also regarded as an arena of specialized expertise that can help problematic inmates (Rhodes 2007). Eventually such treatment helps in improving of inmates' behaviours and conditions. Moreover, as found by Kluger (2007), for such inmates with extreme violent tendencies, maximum security prisons will not be enough but instead only supermax will do. Therefore to say, indeed, with its restrictions and isolation for prisoners, supermax does serve as a retributive purpose for those that are the extreme cases.
However, although indeed, to some extent when first started, supermax does serve as a strong retributive purpose to inmates and a purpose of increasing prison order, in recent years however, it was found by Mears (2008) that another theory of supermax suggests that supermax prison, through its bizarre system, have if anything, increased disorder in prisons and society after their release. This may be due to the fact that although in the short term supermax prisons may indeed reduce the rates of riots or violence, in the long term however, this form of punishment may not necessarily work (Mears 2008), and instead produce a backfiring effect such as increase of disorder. Therefore to say, could supermax be a justification for punishments of inmates, in which, instead of improving their behaviour, further pushes them to desperations. Furthermore, as contended by Mears (2008), for a policy to be considered effective, it requires its functions to be carried out in its intended way. In supermax facilities however, the amount of people placed into supermax are so small that the deterrent effect likely is as little (Mears and Reisig 2006). Furthermore, the supermax prison can be said to have not carried out its intended purpose as, firstly, not necessarily the worst of the worst are placed in supermax(Mears 2008). Secondly, those that incite others to commit misconduct cannot be placed in supermax but instead they themselves have to commit such misconduct for placement of supermax to occur (Mears 2008). If such situations continue to occur, supermax could be said to not have carried out its intended purpose of retribution to the worst of inmates and increasing of prison order and security. Moreover, studies has also further shown that not only does the supermax not improve behaviour of inmates, it instead increases violence through its system that drives inmates mad, thus further worsening the situations (Bidna 1975; Mears 2008). As also found by Harrington (1997), most inmates acting out in prisons are mainly due to their mental disorders that are left untreated, thus leading to their violent acts for attention. Anderson (1999) has also further contended that although legislators are believed to be extra strict on crimes, such as supermax imprisonment, they however do not make available resources to humanize prisons. These arguments thus further proves that although supermax can be regarded as a retributive purpose they however cannot be regarded as justifications for punishments as, not only do they create more disorder, they too have unwanted effects on inmates' mentality that would only worsen their behaviours.
Another reason why supermax should not be justified as a form of punishments is due to its deprivation of rights of prisoners, thus leading to an isolation effect on prisoners. As commented by one of the inmates, supermax is regarded as a denial of liberty something that all inmates are aware of with its maximum confinement prisons (Korn 2004). This could be due to that fact that prisoners in confinement have always been heavily isolated from the outside world (Anderson 1999; Haney 2003), with its tight security and minimum interaction with others (Haney 2003; Harrington 1997). In addition, the treatment of prisoners in the supermax facilities have also been charged as cruel, unusual and a violation of the Eighth Amendment rights (Good 2003). As said by other inmates, supermax is regarded to be built 'to break a man's spirit' (Bales & Mears 2009) and that every part of the prison is tainted with pain and sufferings and that no men or women has left the place without tears in the past 200 years that supermax existed (Minogue 2009). As further stated by Anderson (1999) the use of supermax prisons for problem inmates will not only deprive them of freedom but may also eventually subject them to a detrimental to their physical and psychological health. In which, such extreme isolation for prisoners are stripping of their personhood in the name of sustaining security and control (Rhodes 2007) and therefore should not be a justification for punishment due to their negative effects on prisoners.
Furthermore, with its maximum security, supermax prisons have also been found to have an unintended negative consequence on prisoners. As found by Mears (2008), in most cases, instead of treating and helping inmates, supermax prisons adversely cause them to develop mental illnesses such as perceptual disturbances, difficulties with thinking and severe anxiety, in which would instead cause more disorder when placed back into general prisons or released into society. Also found by Haney (2003), the problems that loss of social contact or isolation could lead to are psychological distress, problematic behaviours and negative attitudes, in which could also extend till their release. With such psychological instability, it is almost a no wonder that reported cases of suicidal and self torture are on the rise in isolated housings such as supermax (Haney 2003). A study by O'Keefe (2008), by randomly selecting 100 prisoners from the Pelican Bay Prison for assessment, found an elevated rate of psychological trauma as compared to the national's probability sample, thus proving greater psychopathological features of prisoners as compared to the society's population. In which, further proves of the negative future effects on prisoners of supermax facilities. In addition, as said by psychiatrist, Stuart Grassian, '[w]e're taking a bunch of criminals who are already unstable and driving them crazy' (Kluger 2007). Also, by the 1830s, it was already evident that extreme solitary would only lead to further emotional disintegration in prisoners, thus worsening their already bad conditions (Kluger 2007). In which, clearly shows that supermax should not be justified as punishment as its effects on prisoners after incarceration could be far worse than they were before incarceration.
Another argument of why supermax should not be a justification for punishments is due to the fact that inmates' negative effect from supermax could still continue to exist as they are released to the general society. As argued by one inmate, '[t]hey want to lock us up and treat us like animals, but when we get out we'll still act like animals' (Korn 2004). Moreover, as these previously isolated prisoners are returned to normal society, they might have become more dysfunctional and are more famously regarded as 'social pathologies', in which might also lead to an increase of their rate of recidivism (Haney 2003; Mears 2008). Accounts by prison staffs have also found that those that have been in supermax for long, eventually finds its hard to interact with others (Rhodes 2007), and therefore would struggle when thrown back to the real world. On top of that, some inmates might also have lost their sense of identity and the ability to organize their own lives or might even feel uncomfortable to even small amounts of freedom (Haney 2003). In which, would eventually lead to their active sought for supermax imprisonments for the greater protection it offered (Mears 2008), and are thus at a higher risk of recidivism (Harrington 1997). Therefore to say, could supermax then be regarded as a retributive purpose if prisoners, even after release would sought back its facilities for the better protection it offered and eventually a higher risk of offending and recidivism.
However, despite the fact that supermax is known to be ineffective and should therefore not be a justification for punishments due to its negative effect on prisoners, it still continues to exist. This could due to the fact that supermax is what the public expects from that of the politicians. In addition, there is also the believe that those that have caused others harm should not be allowed to just walk freely amongst 'us' but instead lead very hard lives, regardless of whether or not it makes perfect sense (Kluger 2007). In which, could be regarded as a more emotional issue and reasoning to the continuous existence of supermax facilities. Moreover, there was also an issue of a perceived need for supermax prisons and the fact that supermax is a form of political expediency for the politicians (Mears 2008). Supermax was also said to be a necessity to protect the public, staff and other inmates in the general prison (O'Keefe 2008) from violent tendencies of the worst inmates. Furthermore, despite the knowledge of negativity of supermax on inmates, supermax ruling was also still necessary as judges had no constitutional basis to rule against such prison or even modify any of its forms (Haney 2003). Also, as commented by Rhodes (2007), '[m]ore intangibly, the presence of a supermax adds 'value' to a local system by signifying that something is being done about violent criminals who require specialized expertise and facilities'. In which, simply means that regardless of the negative effects of supermax on prisoners, supermax is a necessity to any society, as an assurance that those that have done them wrong are not allowed to walk away freely but are receiving their retribution.
In conclusion, this essay has highlighted the points as to why although supermax does serve as a retributive purpose with its maximum security and isolation. It however does not justify as a form of punishment due to its unintended long term effect on inmates which could lead to psychological problems and the worsening of behaviours. This negative consequence could be due to the fact that they have been isolated for a long period of time or that they have lost touch in interacting with the outside world. However, although authorities are aware of these negative effects on prisoners, it is however still necessary to keep the supermax prisons, as an assurance to public and to protect staffs and other inmates from violent tendencies of extreme inmates. Therefore to say, although indeed supermax does serve as a retributive purpose, it however, does not justify as a form of punishment due its negative effects on prisoners, in which would only cause more harms to society upon the prisoners' release.