In the 1970s, the Attica Prison riots drew national attention to horrible prison abuses. The takeover of Attica by inmates allowed the country to learn about cruel practices within prisons such as solitary confinement, where inmates were isolated in a small confined space for weeks or months. Prisoners in some facilities would be placed in a "sweatbox," a casket-sized hole or a box situated where the inmate would be forced to endure extreme heat for days or weeks. Some prisoners were tortured with electric cattle prods as punishment for violations of the prison's rules. Inmates at some facilities would be chained to "hitching posts," their arms fastened above their heads in a painful position where where they'd be forced to stand for hours. The practice, which wasn't declared unconstitutional until 2012, was one of many degrading and dangerous punishments imposed on incarcerated people. Terrible food and living conditions were widespread.
The death of forty-two people at the end of the Attica standoff exposed the danger of prison abuse and inhumane conditions. The increased attention also led to several Supreme Court rulings that provided basic due process protections for imprisoned people. Wary of potential violence, several states implemented reforms to eliminate the most abusive practices.
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014