To assist in a human rights based review of proposed or currently operating supermax facilities, Human Rights Watch has developed a list of core recommendations. These recommendations do not address basic standards that should be adhered to in all prisons regardless of their security level, but focus on selected issues especially relevant to supermax confinement.
1) The use of super-maximum security facilities should be strictly limited.
* Prisoners should not be confined in extremely restrictive conditions of isolation and extensive control except when their behavior has shown them to be so chronically violent or dangerous and to pose such a demonstrable, extremely serious threat to prison safety and security that prison officials have no other choice. Mere membership in a gang, absent actual dangerous or predatory behavior, should not be the basis for supermax confinement
* All confinement in supermax units should be for the shortest period of time possible in light of legitimate security and safety considerations. The length of time in supermax confinement should be not extended because of minor rules violations.
* Inmates should be able to reduce their time in supermax confinement through good behavior and the accomplishment of identified program goals.
* Inmates should have a meaningful opportunity to contest assignment to, or continuation of, supermax confinement, and they should have a meaningful opportunity to appeal. All inmates should be given in writing a detailed, individualized explanation of the specific reasons for their original and continued supermax confinement. Senior central office corrections officials should periodically review the justification for supermax confinement for each inmate. Any inmate kept in supermax confinement for a prolonged period should be able to obtain a review of the justification for such placement from an impartial, independent authority.
2) Physical conditions should be healthy and humane.
* Cells should have windows that permit natural light to enter, heating and cooling systems that maintain reasonable in-cell temperatures, and adequate air circulation.
* Inmates should be confined individually in cells; double-celling should not be permitted.
* Cells should be constructed to permit inmates sufficient unencumbered space for exercise, should at a minimum contain a writing surface and furnishing for seating, a sleeping surface, a mattress, storage for personal property, and should be designed to permit operation of televisions and radios.
* All inmates should have access to outdoor recreation areas that expose them to sunlight and fresh air and permit views of the natural world as well as to indoor recreation areas for use during inclement weather. Recreation areas should contain sports equipment and be large enough to permit energetic physical activity.
* Facilities should include common areas that can hold small groups of inmates engaged in congregate activity and spaces in which inmates can have confidential meetings, e.g., with mental health professionals.
* Inmates should be able to control the light in their cells.
* Inmates should be able to contact officers through intercom or emergency buzzers.
3) Mentally ill prisoners should be excluded from supermax confinement.
* Inmates should not be placed or retained in supermax confinement if they are mentally ill or have preexisting mental conditions that make them vulnerable to deterioration in supermax conditions.
* The mental health of all inmates in supermax facilities should be closely monitored. All inmates should have the opportunity to have confidential meetings with mental health staff out of ear-shot of other staff or inmates.
* All inmates should have access to a full range of mental health treatment, including individual psychotherapy; group, recreational, and vocational therapy; and medication.
4) Rules and programs for inmates should acknowledge their humanity.
* Policies about inmate activities, personal property, privileges, and programs should be no more restrictive than necessary for legitimate security considerations, should permit and encourage prisoners to maintain constructive lives and should acknowledge their inherent dignity and value as human beings. Unduly harsh conditions and extreme restrictions should not be imposed for purely punitive purposes nor as a general deterrent to misconduct by inmates in the general prison population.
* Inmates should be able to earn increased privileges and amenities through positive accomplishments as well as by avoiding rules infractions.
* Inmates should be permitted out of their cells every day for exercise or other activities. They should have the opportunity every day for at least an hour of extended direct interaction and conversation with other inmates or staff. In the case of custodial staff, this requirement for social interaction is not satisfied by whatever verbal exchanges occur during the delivery of meals or during escort procedures.
* The longer an inmate is kept in isolation, the greater the obligation for compensatory conditions, e.g. increased opportunities for programs and activities, increased time interactioning with staff.
* Inmates should be given access to and encouraged to participate in programs and activities that permit the development of constructive skills and capabilities.
* Congregate religious worship and confidential meetings with religious personnel should be permitted.
* Frequent contact with families through telephone calls and visits should be permitted. Absent particularized security requirements in individual cases, inmates should be able to visit with families with handcuffs removed.
* Inmates should have access at all times to recreational, educational, and other reading material.
* Inmates should be provided effective transition programming before being released into the general prison population or to society at large.
5) Staff abuses should not be tolerated.
* Staff should be carefully selected and trained to manage difficult inmates with dignity and respect.
* Physical or verbal abuse or other forms of inappropriate staff treatment of inmates should be forbidden and that prohibition should be enforced strictly.
* Policies governing the use of force, the training and supervision of correctional staff, and staff disciplinary mechanisms should be designed to prevent the unnecessary or excessive use of force or other inappropriate treatment of inmates and to identify and hold accountable those who mistreat inmates or fail to maintain high professional standards.
6) Independent and public oversight should be promoted.
* An independent review board, legislative ombudsman, inspector general reporting to the attorney general, or other impartial authority independent of a department of corrections should be given responsibility to monitor supermax conditions, including by undertaking unannounced inspection visits, publicly reporting findings, and making recommendations as needed.
* Independent private groups should be able to investigate and evaluate compliance of supermax policies and practices.
* Access to supermax facilities, and to the inmates confined in them, by the press, religious organizations, and other private groups should be facilitated and encouraged.