- WASHINGTON (AFP) - The latest high-tech device designed to keep the US prison
population in line is no better than "torture", according to
opponents who want the controversial stun belts banned.
- Convicts wearing the belts can be hit
by a 50,000-volt charge unleashed from a safe distance of up to 900 metres
(yards) by a prison guard equipped with a remote control gun.
- The charge runs through the victim for
eight seconds, typically sending him sprawling to the ground in agony.
- Prisoners wear the belts when they are
being transferred or being taken to and from court.
- Human rights group Amnesty USA says 30
US states as well as the federal government are using stun belts on their
- Amnesty on Tuesday called for a ban on
the use of the belts, which the organization's executive director William
Schulz described as "a particularly heinous form of high-tech brutality".
- "Event if it is state-of-the-art,
it is torture nonetheless," he argued, saying that the belts had been
unjustifiably used in several cases.
- According to Amnesty, the United States
is the only country to permit widespread use of the belts. Indeed the belts
are found in only one other country, South Africa, where they are used
in one prison in Pretoria.
- Proponents of the stun belts overlook
the charges of brutality and torture and maintain that the belts offer
a far better alternative to the traditional ways of keeping prisoners in
line -- beatings or shootings.
- "It's an alternative method to control
somebody, somebody escaping or attempting to commit an assault," said
Dennis Kaufman, president of Stun Tech, the company that makes the belts.
- "It is a lot safer to deal with
that technology than to have to run and hit him over the head or shoot
- The belts can also be a powerful disincentive
to prisoners who know that one false move will bring a swift and high-voltage
blast of agony.
- Inmates who wear the belts "are
less apt to cause a problem", said Kaufman.
- In a report condemning the device, Amnesty
says the belts have been worn 50,000 times in the past five years in 130
US state and local jurisdictions.
- Handcuffed and with his feet in chains,
German Karl LaGrand, a convicted murderer, wore one in February in a vain
plea for his life before the Arizona pardons board.
- In June 1997, Clark Krueger, 17, wore
one when he was doing forced labour outside Fox Lake prison in Wisconsin
as a punishment for smoking, Amnesty said.
- In June last year, AIDS sufferer Ronnie
Hawkins wore one when he appeared in court in Long Beach, California, accused
of stealing pain killers. He was knocked to the ground by 50,000 volts
when the judge decided he was talking too much.
- The belt was launched on the market by
Cleveland, Ohio-based Stun Tech in 1991. Since then Kaufman says the firm
have sold some 1,800 at 700 dollars each.
- Kaufman says he was aware of only 27
cases where the belts have been activated, "with no problem at all".
- US federal prisons have bought several
dozen and spokesman Dan Dunne says they have never had to be activated.
- However, Amnesty says the risk of abuse
is serious, and asserts that the belts have been activated in some cases
as a punishment, or without reason at all.
- "Stun belts invite abuse because
they leave few, if any visible, marks," said William Schulz, Amnesty
USA's executive director, describing the use of the devices as "emotional