Assange may end up at Colorado Supermax jail

Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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In this Wednesday May 1, 2019 file photo buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London. AP PHOTO

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would have to be “almost dying” to get out of arguably the most notorious prison in the United States if convicted of espionage charges and sent there, a court at London’s Old Bailey heard Tuesday.

Assange, who is fighting an extradition request from the U.S., would likely be sent to the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, if convicted, according to Maureen Baird, a former warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.

U.S. prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Assange on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse over WikiLeaks’ publication of secret American military documents a decade ago. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.

Assange’s defense team says he is entitled to First Amendment protections for the publication of leaked documents that exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have also said he is suffering from wide-ranging mental health issues, including suicidal tendencies, that could be exacerbated if he ends up in inhospitable prison conditions in the U.S.

Baird said Assange would likely face the most onerous prison conditions that the U.S. can impose, conditions that she has seen lead to an array of mental health issues, including anxiety and paranoia.

“From my experience, of close to three decades of working in federal prisons, I would agree that long term isolation can have serious negative effects on an inmate’s mental health,” she said.

She said Assange would likely be held under special administrative measures, or SAMs, if extradited to the U.S., both in pre-trial detention and after any conviction, because of national security concerns within the U.S. government.

Under these measures, which are at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General and have been used on convicted terrorists, inmates spend almost the whole day confined in their cells with no contact with other prisoners and little contact with the outside world. She said there was little, if no, flexibility for wardens to ease the restrictions.

“There is no grey area, it’s all black and white,” she said.

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