UN experts Human rights activists today called for major reforms to the US prison system to combat systemic racism, noting that black women were handcuffed while giving birth while men were forced to work in conditions reminiscent of “slave plantations”.

For 12 days the team of “UN Independent Expert Mechanism for the Promotion of Justice and Racial Equality in the Preservation of Order”, met in April and May with victims, representatives of civil society, the justice system, unions and police, in Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York.

This mechanism was established after the murder, in the spring of 2020, of the African-American George Floyd, in Minneapolis, by the police who went to arrest him.

Floyd’s death sparked the protest movement against police brutality that grew that summer and in the following months.

In their report, made public today, the three experts write that they found that the practices followed in American prisons amount to “an affront to human dignity.”

The US diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment on the experts’ findings.

One practice denounced by experts is that of confining pregnant prisoners while they are giving birth.

The experts “heard, first-hand, the excruciating accounts of pregnant women who were bound during childbirth and, because of their confinement, lost their babies». When asked to elaborate, a UN spokesman said there were “many” cases, all of which involved African-American women.

The experts also gathered testimony about conditions at a Louisiana prison where they say thousands of male inmates, most of them African-American, were forced to work in the fields (even picking hay) under the supervision of white, mounted “foremen,” a situation reminiscent of 19th century plantations.

They described as “shocking” the stories from the so-called “Angola” prison, saying they referred to a “modern form of slavery”. They also expressed concern about the widespread use of solitary confinement, which appears to be imposed mainly on prisoners of African descent.

A black man told experts he had been held in solitary confinement for 11 years without a break.

Our findings show that comprehensive reform is needed” of the system, said one of the experts, Juan Mendez.

The attitudes of the police and the criminal justice system reflect that of American societyMendez commented.

Based on this report, studies have shown that African Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police compared to whites, and 4.5 times more likely to be incarcerated.

The attitudes of the police and the criminal justice system reflect that of American societyMendez commented.

The experts made 30 recommendations to the US government and the 18,000 police agencies operating in the US. They are asking, among other things, that armed police officers should not be the ones automatically sent to deal with crisis situations related to mental health, the homeless, traffic and schools.