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Prisoner abuse is the mistreatment of persons while they are under arrest or incarcerated. Prisoner abuse can include physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, torture, or other acts such as refusal of essential medication, and it can be perpetuated by either fellow inmates or prison faculty.[1]

Physical abuse

Physical abuse of prisoners includes illicit beating and hitting of prisoners, unlawful corporal punishment, stress positions, and excessive or prolonged physical restraining.

US Military Police officer restraining and sedating prisoner, while a soldier holds him down

According to the New York Times, along with physical abuse, prisoners are being thrown into jail for mental illnesses that they obtain and not being treated for them. This causes their issues to get worse and in some cases never get better. Also, relating to physical abuse the mentally ill can be thrown into restrained areas for a long amount of time because of their mental condition, this means that these mentally ill people do not have the resources to get better in the jail.

This is also caused by overpopulation in jails. Penal Reform International claims, that overcrowding in the main source of poor jail conditions globally. This caused overcrowding and understaffing: one of the reasons why there can sometimes be 2–3 people in the same jail cell for a long period of time. This causes a lack of privacy and because the jails are so overcrowded some minor cases are cut from the justice system altogether.

According to the Marshall Plan, there are also many gangs that are formed in different prisons which cause chaos and force the jail to go through many lockdowns which are a vulnerable time for the prison guards especially when they are understaffed. It also says that the prisoners and the prison guards have to be safe, which caused the guards to be defensive and sometimes abusive.

Psychological abuse

Psychological abuse of prisoners can include verbal abuse, sleep deprivation, white noise, pointless/absurd or humiliating instructions, recurrent exhaustive inspections and shakedowns, arbitrary strip searches, and denuding actions.

According to Reflexions, prison can alter people's bodily dimensions, their emotional wellbeing, and possibly change their perception for an extended amount of time. It also claims that not only does the prison environment make mental disorders worse, but it also may cause them. The type of prison environment can be cruel and if the prisoner does not have the mental, emotional, and physical willpower they will struggle very greatly.

White noise

The endless playing of random static (similar to that of unused TV frequencies) with no pattern; this can cause extreme discomfort and disorientation.

Verbal abuse

Prisoners may be subject to taunting, heckling, profanity, and malicious lies by prison authorities. Guards and other authorities may use verbal abuse as a means of frightening or demoralizing prisoners to make them more compliant, or simply out of sadism.

Enablement of sexual violence

Prisoners are sometimes intentionally housed with inmates known to have raped other prisoners, or protection from known rapists may be purposely withheld from the prisoners. These practices create a very high incidence of rape in US prisons, which was the topic of the 2001 report No Escape from Human Rights Watch.[2][3]

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is known to occur in facilities for both genders, however it is especially predominant with female prisoners. Common acts can include arbitrary and extensive strip searches as well as other forms of forced denudation beyond general necessity, excessive vaginal or rectal contraband searches or other internal checks including the oral cavity of a prisoner. In extreme cases even forced insertion of objects into the inmate's vagina or rectum and also forced sexual intercourse is known to occur mostly on female detainees.

Strip searches

The experience of forced strip searches can be experienced as a traumatic event similarly to that of rape especially by female prisoners, especially when combined with habitual body cavity searches. The prevalence of CCTV in modern correctional facilities and the generally indiscreet nature of strip searches, often with a number of prison guards observing, usually adds to the experienced humiliation. Strip searches are often arbitrarily used under various pretences, when the actual ambition is to assert control and predominance as well as to intimidate the subjected prison inmates.[4]


Torture of prisoners includes any act, whether physical or psychological, which is deliberately done to inflict sensations of pain upon a person under the actor's custody or physical control. This form of prisoner abuse is usually exerted to extract information, but also as means of intimidation, attrition or punishment.

Enhanced interrogation

"Enhanced interrogation" is a euphemism for U.S. torture methods implemented in the War on Terror purportedly needed to extract information from detainees. Examples include use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, starvation, thirst, and sexual humiliation.[5]

Right to health

According to international laws, a State is liable to ensure prisoners' right to receive health care. Prison authorities are fully responsible to provide proper medical treatment to the detainees and ensure their well-being.[6]

COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overcrowded Jaw prison of Bahrain witnessed a major COVID-19 outbreak. Several prisoners were confirmed to be infected with the virus, while the authorities failed to facilitate them with proper preventive medical supplies, including face masks or hand sanitizers, and conducting regular screening tests. The authorities fell short of ensuring prisoners' rights to health and following the rules of treating prisoners. One of the main concerns had been the extensive population of the prison, which made social distancing impossible.[7] On 9 June 2021, an inmate of Jaw prison, Husain Barakat, died due to COVID-19 complications.[8] Even after the pandemic, Bahrain's Jaw prison remained controversial, where prisoners' rights of health continued to be violated. In June 2022, Amnesty International reported that Bahraini authorities failed to respond to the inmates suffering with tuberculosis. Prison authorities constantly disregarded the prisoners with symptoms and did not allow them to get tested for the airborne disease. Some of the prisoners were called back to the prison after they were confirmed of being infected in the hospital. One of the prisoners, Ahmed Jaber, was not sent to the hospital until he was semi-paralysed after being sick for 11 months.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Prisoner Abuse Law & Legal Definition. USLegal. Retrieved from
  2. ^ "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons".
  3. ^ Goodmark, Leigh; Flores, Juanita; Goldscheid, Julie; Ritchie, Andrea; SpearIt (2015-07-09). "Plenary 2 -- Redefining Gender Violence -- Transcripts from Converge! Reimagining the Movement to End Gender Violence". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2628984. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ "Standing Up Against Sexual Assault By the State". American Civil Liberties Union. 12 April 2012. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  5. ^ Laughland, Oliver (2015-05-20). "How the CIA tortured its detainees". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  6. ^ "Prisoners: The Right to Medical Treatment – International Law Provisions-Report". Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  7. ^ "Bahraini authorities flouting prisoners' rights to health amid rise in COVID-19 cases at Jaw prison". Amnesty International. 9 April 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  8. ^ "Bahrain: Death of prisoner a warning for Covid-19 failings in Jaw Prison". Amnesty International. 14 June 2021. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  9. ^ "Bahrain: Prison Officials' Inadequate Response To Tuberculosis Cases In Jaw Prison Puts Prisoners' Health At Serious Risk". Amnesty International. 9 June 2022. Retrieved 9 June 2022.

Further reading