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On torture: Reports and testimonies on the use of torture in U.S. prisons

Buried alive prisoner artwork
Photo: AFSC

AFSC works to end the practice of solitary confinement and other forms of torture and abuse in prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States. Over the years we've published several studies providing data and first-hand testimonies on the use of torture in U.S. prisons.

We've compiled these reports into a collection below to help researchers and activists access and share them more readily. 

Ojore Lutalo talks about 22 years in solitary confinement
Testimonies of torture in New Jersey prisons

This 2015 report documents physical, chemical, and no-touch torture, among other human rights abuses, in New Jersey prisons, based on letters sent by thousands of prisoners to AFSC's Newark office. 

23 Hours in the Box
23 Hours in the Box

An investigation of the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s immigration detention centers finds an unnecessarily harsh and unfair system that violates state and international standards. The report “23 Hours in the Box, Solitary confinement in New Jersey Immigration Detention” is released by New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees*, a coalition of community-based groups that support immigration and detention reform, and NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. 

Prison fence lined with barbed wire and a watch tower
UN shadow report: Prisoner testimonies of torture in U.S. prisons and jails

Submitted to the U.N. Committee Against Torture in 2014, "Survivors Speak" is a collection of testimonies of prisoners subjected to cruel treatment or who have witnessed abuses committed against others while held in U.S. custody.

fence outside a Michigan prison
Race and the politics of isolation in U.S. Prisons

Written by AFSC's Bonnie Kerness and Jamie Bissonette Lewey for the Atlantic Journal of Communication, this 2014 article traces the development of isolation in the U.S. and its strategic use against poor and oppressed people of color and individuals who are seen as political threats.

Buried alive prisoner artwork
Still buried alive: Arizona prisoner testimonies on isolation in maximum security

This 2014 report, a critical follow-up to "Buried Alive" (2007) and "Lifetime Lockdown" (2012), was released on the same day that the Arizona Department of Corrections opened 500 newly constructed maximum-security prison beds in Buckeye, Arizona.

The hidden history of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s control units

Published in 2013, this article was written by Bonnie Kerness, coordinator of AFSC's Prison Watch Project in Newark, New Jersey, for Solitary Watch.

Cover of "Lifetime Lockdown" report
Lifetime lockdown: How isolation conditions impact prisoner reentry

This report represents the first effort to directly link conditions in Arizona’s supermax prisons with the state’s high recidivism rate.

survivor's manual cover page , outline of a man crouched with head down
Survivors manual: How to survive in solitary confinement

Through letters, poetry, and practical advice on surviving the miseries of solitary confinement, this book offers tips on mental, physical, and spiritual survival. Written by and for people living in control units, it was originally published in 1998. This fifth edition was released in 2012.

Torture in U.S. prisons

This 2011 report presents prisoners’ testimonies of torture and abuse alongside related international human rights agreements.

inalienable rights cover page
Inalienable rights: Applying human rights standards to the U.S. justice system

U.N. treaties, conventions, and declarations provide basic guidelines for the treatment of prisoners. However, AFSC continually receives testimonies from people in U.S. prisons that demonstrate those guidelines are routinely ignored by the criminal justice system. This 2009 report is meant to help illuminate—and eliminate—this double standard.

Buried alive prisoner artwork
Buried alive: Long-term isolation in California youth and adult prisons
Published in May 2008 by AFSC's Laura Magnani, this report details the California Department of...
Buried alive prisoner artwork
Buried alive: Solitary confinement in Arizona’s prisons and jails

A 2007 report by AFSC staff Matthew Lowen and Caroline Isaacs on the use of long-term solitary confinement in various correctional facilities in Arizona. 


Cover of "The Prison Inside the Prison" report
The prison inside the prison

Isolation and lockdown (confining prisoners to their cells for 23 to 24 hours a day) have traditionally been used as temporary measures, to punish individual prisoners or control the prison environment. Written in 2003, "The prison inside the prison" looks at the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Human Rights report cover
Human rights abuses in U.S. prisons, 2005

AFSC’s Bonnie Kerness shares testimonies from people who have experienced human rights abuses in US prisons. The document touches on youth, women in prison, solitary confinement, and mental illness. It ends with a discussion of strategies for promoting international human rights discourse and ending abuse in the US prison system. 

Our children's house cover
Our children's house: Interviews with youth on their experiences with juvenile detention (2002)

AFSC's New Directions Youth Project in Newark, NJ was comprised of a curriculum-based program for young people who had a first time brush with the law. “Our Children’s House” emerged from testimonies that they shared about their experiences in youth detention.

Cover for "Fortress Economy" document
The fortress economy: the economic role of the U.S. prison system, 1990

This booklet, first published by AFSC in 1990, situates the development of the prison system in the context of the social, economic, and political context in which it operates. Examining who goes to prison and who profits from it, The Fortress Economy sheds light on how mass incarceration developed and what we can do to stop it.

The Lessons of Marion

In 1985, AFSC issued this report in response to the nationally publicized lockdown of the federal penitentiary near Marion, Ill., following the murder of two corrections officers by prisoners. 

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