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Copyright (c) 2017 New York University Review of Law &
Social Change
New York University Review of Law & Social Change

ARTICLE: Regulating Prisons of the Future: A Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement


23 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 477





When California Governor George Deukmejian several years ago dedicated what was then the state's newest prison--a massive, windowless "security housing unit" (SHU) designed to segregate and isolate over a thousand prisoners from the rest of the prison system and from one another--he boasted that the Pelican Bay facility was "a state-of-the-art prison that will serve as a model for the rest of the nation. . . ." 3 A California prison spokesman would later confirm that "we've had delegations here from other states and even other countries" studying the prison, one that kept prisoners confined to their cells almost twenty-three hours a day and minimized all forms of human contact through the use of technologically sophisticated locking and monitoring devices. 4 News commentators closely followed the legal case that decided the constitutionality of the prison because they believed the proceedings might well "determine the shape of American penology in the 21st century." 5 Even the federal district court judge whose written opinion criticized the operation of the facility noted that it was a "prison of the future" 6 and acknowledged that the prisoners' claims of cruel and unusual punishment had "generated considerable attention . . . because the Pelican Bay SHU is considered a state-of-the-art, 'modern day' SHU, and thus a potential forerunner for other similar units around the country." 7

As one of the first and most visible of these "super-maximum security" facilities, the Pelican Bay SHU in Crescent City, California was one of the ...
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