At any given moment, about 15,000 men and women are living in solitary confinement in the federal prison system, housed in tiny cells not much larger than a king-sized bed.
"It is hard to describe in words what such a small space begins to look like, feel like and smell like when someone is required to live virtually their entire life in it," says Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
But Tuesday, Haney, who has studied life inside prisons for three decades, had an opportunity to paint that picture.
Advocates for prisoners rights say too many inmates spend years in solitary confinement — in violation of the constitutional bar against cruel and unusual punishment. Today, they persuaded the U.S. Senate to hold the first hearing on the issue, as state and federal prison systems fend off new lawsuits over the practice.
The federal government could soon give the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell to begin drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Shell has spent $4 billion since 2007 to prepare for this work, and is hoping to tap into vast new deposits of oil.
But the plan to drill exploratory wells is controversial — opposed by environmental groups and some indigenous people as well.
Lt. Robert DuBois (center) handcuffs Tamms Correctional Center inmate Damien Terry (left) before he is taken from his holding cell in 2009. State budget constraints are forcing the facility — Illinois' only supermaximum security prison — to either close or be converted to a lower-security prison.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrapped up a five-day, six-state tour in Michigan on Tuesday.
Each of the states he visited was won by President Obama in the 2008 election. Each is also shaping up as a potential battleground this year.
In Michigan, the state where Romney was born, he avoided big cities and stayed in places friendly to the GOP. As he traveled east to west across central Michigan by bus, there were some pockets of protesters, but mostly at a distance.
A nearly 70-foot dock that was torn loose from a fishing port in northern Japan by last year's tsunami washed ashore on Agate Beach in Oregon. Marine scientists have found potentially invasive species among the 100 tons of marine life that traveled aboard the dock.
Credit Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation / AP
Beaches on the West Coast are getting a regular dose of debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. The first few items were curiosities — a boat here, a soccer ball there — but as the litter accumulates, officials such as Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire have acknowledged the scale of the problem.
"We are in for a steady dribble of tsunami debris over the next few years, so any response by us must be well-planned — and it will be," she said.
Beyond the obvious problem of litter, officials are on the lookout for hidden dangers.
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico ranks last in the country in high school completion rates. Major employers in the state complain that it's difficult to find qualified job applicants. And now, some are taking the emphasis off the high school diploma in favor of a standardized test. It's a test that may make it easier to find the right people for the job.
Sayre Quevedo of Youth Radio visited a city office that's preparing to use the new system.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. The University of Virginia is reeling over the sudden firing of its president. Last week, the school's state-appointed governing board surprised the university community with that announcement. The ousted president, Teresa Sullivan, was in the job for less than two years.
Faculty and students have rallied behind Sullivan, calling the firing a coup by the board. From member station WVTF, Sandy Hausman reports.
For years now, the largest group of new immigrants to the country has been Hispanic. But a new study finds that, as of a couple years ago, more Asians than Hispanics were entering the U.S., legally and illegally combined.
The study comes from the Pew Research Center, and we're joined now by Paul Taylor who's executive vice president there. He edited the report. Hi.