A common term for the highest security form of a prison. These prisons have only been built in recent years and are quite popular in political circles for their public appeal as quick fix solutions to crime. The inmates usually have no direct human contact. They spend nearly all of their time in the cell, which contains a bed, a toilet/sink, and sometimes a video camera. There are no windows. Many times the cells are monitored and the singular florescent light remains on 24 hours a day.

Supermaxes are highly condemned by human rights groups. They very nearly meet the international definition of torture set by the UN (some say they exceed it). Although they are intended for only the most troubling and mentally ill of inmates, many times they are used for other purposes (such as the punishing of inmates who are politically active). There are very frequent reports of self-mutilation and suicide among inmates. The justification for this treatment is that it can be advertised as a criminal's "worst nightmare" and thus prevent crime. Many times they are installed in areas which already have a dramatically lowering crime rate to be used as extra storage space.

Super maximum security prisons, usually abbreviated to super-maxes, are a particularly troubling developing trend in the American penal system. They are whole prisons run on the system of permanent solitary confinement. Inmates usually spend 23 hours a day locked alone in their cells, and are allowed one hour of recreation time, shackled and handcuffed, and always under guard.

Both the federal and state governments operate super-maxes; their stated purpose is for confining prisoners who cause trouble in prison, or who, because they are gang leaders or for similar reasons, cannot be confined with the general population. However, in many states, which are anxious to fill them to justify the costs of construction (as much as $140,000 per bed), inmates can be transferred to super-maxes for as little as being involved in a scuffle with another inmate.

Human rights groups are often not allowed inside super-maxes, for what are described as security reasons, but there are persistent allegations of serious abuses in many super-maxes. Most inmates claim serious racism on the part of prison guards, constant and unnecessary use of the cattle prods many guards use to keep prisoners in line, and arbitrary use of "four-point restraints", where prisoners considered a danger to themselves or others are strapped down to beds by all four of their limbs. Many activists claim the United States is violating both the international treaties on basic human rights and its own constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment by operating these facilities.

Penologists and psychologists also question the basic methods of the super-maxes. Obviously, rehabilitation is out of the question when prisoners spend their entire lives under lockdown instead of say, learning a trade; the state's answer is generally that prisoners who end up in super-maxes have placed themselves beyond rehabilitation anyway. There are questions about the psychological effects of placing somebody in a locked concrete room for 23 hours a day, with no library rights or access to the outside world. What happens in the mind of such a person, and what happens when they're released into the general population?

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