Charles Dickens on US prison isolation and current assessment on US Special Administrative Measures for prisoners in America are shockingly similar. Act now to prevent the extradition of Julian Assange to the US.

Article by Angie

In 1842 Charles Dickens made his great tour of the United States; at his request this included a visit to prisons.

Subsequently in his travelogue, ‘American Notes for General Circulation’, he wrote about witnessing the use of solitary confinement:

‘Over the head and face of every prisoner who comes into this melancholy house, a black hood is drawn; and in this dark shroud, an emblem of the curtain dropped between him and the living world, he is led to the cell from which he never again comes forth, until his whole term of imprisonment has expired……… I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body;….He is a man buried alive;….there is a depth of terrible endurance in which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creature…. I denounce it as a secret punishment’

In 2017 the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School (“Lowenstein Clinic”) and the Center for Constitutional Rights published the report of its research into special administrative measures in US prisons.  It is entitled, ‘The Darkest Corner, Special Administrative Measures and the Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’

It found that, where defendants were placed under special administrative measures while awaiting trial,

  • ‘cells ….measure less than eight by ten feet …[prisoners are held] for twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day.….have little natural light and no possibility for outdoor recreation …..They are typically allowed only ten hours in total outside of their cell per week….either in a small indoor room, or in a cage hardly bigger than their cell…..
  • …during visits, prisoners may be shackled and chained at their wrists, ankles, and to the ground; conversation takes place through a thick glass barrier preventing any physical contact.
  • the complete absence of stimuli experienced in solitary confinement causes structural changes to the brain…..solitary confinement also causes severe psychological damage. Symptoms of that damage include anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, and hallucinations…..
  • This practice erodes defendantspresumption of innocence and serves as a tool to coerce them into cooperating with the government and pleading guilty..
  • Many prisoners remain under these conditions indefinitely, for years or in some cases even decades.
  • SAMs inflict the most severe form of isolation found in United States federal prisons…..
  • ‘not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which non-voluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days . . . failed to result in negative psychological effects’.
  • Scientific consensus that such conditions cause permanent harm led the former United Nations (N.”) Special Rapporteur on Torture to declare that any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

The disturbing observations and conclusions reached by Dickens in 1842 on the harrowing impact of solitary confinement on prisoners in the United States are as relevant now as they were when Dickens wrote them.  Judges make no mistake, these are the conditions awaiting Julian Assange.

We call upon you, the general public to take immediate action to prevent Julian from being extradited to the US. 

What can you do:

1. Write to Julian Assange to show your solidarity and lift his spirits

2. Write to your member of parliament expressing your opposition to his extradition to the US.

3. If you are a member of an organisation, association or club pass a motion of support for the WikiLeaks publisher, See a model motion here:

4. Donate to his defence fund

5. Join the Committee to Defend Julian Assange at or by sending us an e-mail to and organise or participate at actions and events in support of Julian Assange.

Information and resources:

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