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Stop use of Pain Ray Technology on Prisoners in California

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We need to halt the implementation of Active Denial System (ADS) on captive prisoners in California. The Active Denial System (ADS) produces a beam of electromagnetic millimeter waves which heats the skin of the target and produces intense pain. The ADS (sometimes called the Assault Intervention Device) uses millimeter waves to heat the top layer of skin, this causes an intense burning sensation that forces the person being targeted to move away immediately. Thus it is called the Pain Ray.

This device is going to be deployed at the Pitchess Detention Center’s North County Correctional Facility under the rationale that this is a non-lethal suppression tool which would be used to quell riots, stop inmate fights and allow law enforcement to act quicker,  thus potentially reducing injuries and curbing violence.  The ADS system is being evaluated by a 6 month study by the National Institute of Justice to consider the widespread use of this electromagnetic devise in prisons in the USA.  Those for advocate for the use of ADS assert that it is a way to apply force in a justified, measured, proportional way.  But there are real human rights issues that this new weapon technology presents. The ACLU considers the use of this weapon of force to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment, basic human rights norms, and international law.

The radiation is absorbed in the upper 0.4 mm of skin. The beam stays approximately 2 m wide out to many hundreds of meters and thus can be used at quite a distance from the target person. With a power of 100 kilowatts, the beam can heat the skin of target subjects to pain-producing temperature levels within seconds.  


In order to produce pain while preventing burn injury, the power and duration of emission for one trigger event is controlled by a software program. At the highest power setting, second- and third-degree burns with complete dermal necrosis will occur after less than 2 seconds. Even with a lower setting of power or duration there is the possibility for the operator to re-trigger immediately.


Overdose and misuse are of course possible. As with all police weapons proper discretion is dependent on the operator. There is the distinct possibility of re-triggering on the same target subject which puts avoidance of burns at the discretion of the weapon operator who is at some distance from the subject and must visually observe their response behavior and respond appropriately.   Thus there exists the possibility of applying more force or harm than is absolutely necessary.

This weapon technology can be potentially used for heat torture. It can be argued that smaller systems of millimeter-wave weapons which are designed for close distances can be used to produce intolerable pain with little visible burn injury and thus their use might be undetectable to human rights inspectors. Similar to burning a suspect with a glowing cigarette, the heating procedure could be repeated at 10-20 second intervals thus maximizing the heat torture while minimizing the physical proof that it occurred.  Thus this devise would make heat torture more attractive and more practical to those who would use torture.  Thus having these devises readily available in all US prisons raises the question of how we will assure that human rights abuses do not occur.

There are also human rights issues not only of informed consent (prisoners have not volunteered to be test subjects to this experiment) but also because of the potential of injury due to operator error or inappropriate use.

In light of these human rights concerns, we request a halt to the testing of ADS within the California prison facilities.


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