Supermax: Looks Like High School, Promotes Psychosis


The most secure federal prison in the U.S. has “the polished tile corridors of a modern regional high school and the empty stillness of summer break,” says the Washington Post. The marquee inmates — including Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker;” shoe bomber Richard Reid; unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, FBI agent turned traitor Robert Hanssen; and Terry Nichols, convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing — wait out their days in cellblocks the warden led reporters past quickly on the first media tour since the Florence “supermax” opened 13 years ago. The supermax’s 475 inmates account for just one-fourth of 1 percent of the 200,000 inmates in the federal prison system, but they are confined to single cells for at least 23 hours a day in sterile isolation and permanent lockdown.

Critics argue that, with their enforced isolation, supermax prisons, “like the sensory deprivation environments that were studied in the ’60s, tend to induce psychosis,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, Ca., who has examined scores of prisoners in state supermaxes. Those inmates “are, on average, the most severely psychotic people I have seen in my entire 25 years of psychiatric practice,” Kupers said.


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