Prison as a Torturous Institution

Res Philosophica 97 (2):297-324 (2020)
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Prison as a Torturous Institution Philosophers working on torture have largely failed to address the widespread use of torture in the U.S. prison system. Drawing on a victim-focused definition of torture, I argue that the U.S. prison system is a torturous institution in which direct torture occurs (the use of solitary confinement) and in which torture is allowed to occur through the toleration of sexual assault of inmates and the conditions of mass incarceration. The use and toleration of torture expresses and reinforces the moral exclusion of those subjected to it, particularly African Americans. Importantly, this moral exclusion and the experience of torture may be created and reinforced through institutional practices independently of the intentions of individuals acting within those institutions. By prioritizing torture victims’ experiences and severing the link between torture and intention, my account forces a recognition that, far from being inconsistent with U.S. values, torture is deeply embedded within U.S. institutions.
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Archival date: 2021-02-17
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