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New York Set to Close Second to Last 'Shock' Prison

New York will close one of its last two "shock" prisons next month, the Marshall Project reports. The original rationale for the prisons centered on humiliation of inmates, relative isolation from the outside world, and strenuous exercise so that prisoners could be broken down and built up in the ethos of military boot camps As new inmates arrived, their hair would be buzzed, often while guards taunted them. Each day would begin in the early morning with an outdoor morning workout and run, regardless of weather conditions. No TVs, magazines, packages from home, or books, besides certain self-help titles, were allowed. Failure to comply with any rule could lead to demeaning, extreme punishment. In recent years, inmates were not forced to participate in the "shock" programs, but they would often be persuaded to do so because the terms served there were much shorter than in normal prisons. In some cases, inmates could face as long as five years in a normal prison compared to only six months in a shock prison. Inmates could "fail out" of the program, and so they were incentivized to comply with its strict and strange demands.

The theorists behind "shock" insisted that it would decrease recidivism and save states money by getting prisoners out of jail faster. In some cases, shock was seen as an ideal program for drug addiction rehabilitation. Most former inmates say they left the programs feeling abused, and many of the states have done away with such facilities. Public sentiment began to turn against programs modeled after boot camps after reports of deaths in programs for troubled teens in the 1990s and 2000s. Research since the inception of the programs in the 1980s supports the conclusion that shock prisons do not work any better than normal prisons. Still, New York prison officials maintain that abuse was not to be expected as part of the prison's program and that if any existed it should have been reported to prison officials. At least six pending lawsuits over New York's shock prison include allegations of sexual abuse and complaints that the shock program's rejection of people with physical and mental health issues was illegal.


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