UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

United States of America (CAT 19-12-2014)

Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of the United States of America* 1. The Committee against Torture considered the combined third to fifth periodic reports of the United States of America (CAT/C/USA/3-5) at its 1264th and 1267th meetings (CAT/C/SR.1264 and 1267), held on 12 and 13 November 2014, and adopted at its 1276th and 1277th meetings (CAT/C/SR.1276 and 1277), held on 20 November 2014, the following concluding observations.

Concluding observations

Protection of prisoners against violence, including sexual assault

  1. The Committee is seriously concerned at the widespread prevalence of sexual violence, including rape, in prisons, jails and other places of detention, by staff and other inmates. It also notes with concern the disproportionally high rate of sexual violence faced by children in adult facilities, as well as the even higher rate of sexual victimization reported by inmates with a history of mental health problems and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. While welcoming the adoption, in 2012, of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the Committee is concerned by reports that their implementation at the state level continues to be a substantial challenge. In that context, the Committee notes with concern that six states have not certified that they are in full compliance with the standards under the Act, and several agencies operating federal confinement facilities are still in the process of issuing their own regulations for the implementation of the Act.

The Committee remains concerned at the negative effects of the Prison Litigation Reform Act on the ability of prisoners to seek protection of their rights. While noting the amendments to the Act in 2013 (inter alia, adding “the commission of a sexual act” as an alternative to physical injury in order to establish eligibility for compensation for emotional distress), the Committee considers that the State party has continued to place greater emphasis on the goal of curbing prisoner lawsuits at the expense of inmates’ rights. Thus, the Committee regrets that section 1997 e (e) provides for either “physical injury” or “the commission of a sexual act” as prerequisites to obtaining compensatory damages for mental or emotional injury. It is concerned further about section 1997 e (a) of the Act, which requires prisoners to exhaust all internal complaint procedures before bringing an action in federal court, which implies that they have to meet applicable deadlines for filing the initial grievance and making administrative appeals.

Finally, the Committee notes that 19 states have enacted laws restricting the shackling of pregnant inmates and that such legislation has been under consideration in a number of other states. The Committee is nevertheless concerned at reports that, in certain cases, incarcerated women are still shackled or otherwise restrained throughout pregnancy and during labour, delivery and post-partum recovery (arts. 2, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).

The Committee recommends that the State party increase its efforts to prevent and combat violence in prisons and places of detention, including sexual violence by law enforcement and penitentiary personnel and other inmates. In particular, the State party should:

(a) Ensure that the standards pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act or similar standards are adopted and implemented by all states, and that all federal agencies and departments operating confinement facilities propose and publish regulations that apply the standards of the Act in all detention facilities under their jurisdiction;

(b)Promote effective and independent mechanisms for receiving and handling complaints of prison violence, including sexual violence;

(c) Ensure that all reports of prison violence, including sexual violence, are investigated promptly and impartially, and that the alleged perpetrators are prosecuted;

(d) Ensure the use of same-sex guards in contexts where the detainee is vulnerable to attack, in scenarios that involve close personal contact or the privacy of the detainee;

(e) Provide specialized training to prison staff on prevention of sexual violence;

(g) Develop strategies for reducing violence among inmates. Monitor and document incidents of violence in prisons with a view to revealing the root causes and designing appropriate prevention strategies;

(h) Authorize monitoring activities by non-governmental organizations;

(i) Amend sections 1997 e (a) and (e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act;

(j) Revise the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women, bearing in mind that the prison regime should be flexible enough to respond to the needs of pregnant women, nursing mothers and women with children.

Excessive use of force and police brutality

  1. The Committee is concerned about the numerous reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, in particular against persons belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, immigrants and LGBTI individuals. It is also concerned about racial profiling by police and immigration offices and the growing militarization of policing activities. The Committee is particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people, who are allegedly consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police Department officers. It also expresses deep concern at the frequent and recurrent shootings or fatal pursuits by the police of unarmed black individuals. In that regard, the Committee notes the alleged difficulties of holding police officers and their employers accountable for abuses. While noting the information provided by the State party’s delegation that over the past five years, 20 investigations had been opened into allegations of systematic police department violations, and over 330 police officers had been criminally prosecuted, the Committee regrets that there is a lack of statistical data on allegations of police brutality, as well as a lack of information on the results of the investigations undertaken in respect of those allegations. With regard to the acts of torture committed by former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge and others under his command, between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes the information provided by the State party that a federal rights investigation did not gather sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional violations had occurred, However, the Committee remains concerned that, despite the fact that Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no police officer has been convicted for the acts of torture due to the statute of limitations. While noting that several victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, the vast majority of those tortured — most of them African Americans —, have not received any compensation for the extensive injuries suffered (arts. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).

The State party should:

(a) Ensure that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators;

(b) Prosecute persons suspected of torture or ill-treatment and, if found guilty, ensure that they are punished according to the gravity of their acts;

(c) Provide effective remedies and rehabilitation to the victims;

(d) Provide redress for Chicago Police Department torture survivors by supporting the passage of the ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.

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