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What is Hooding?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Hooding is a practice where guards or law enforcement personnel place a hood over the head of a prisoner to restrict vision and cause disorientation. According to the United Nations, this practice is a form of torture, and is not legally permissible. It may accompany interrogations, prisoner movements, and prisoner abuses like beatings. This combined with its status as a torture technique makes it a controversial practice, and many nations bar its use.

While hooded, the prisoner experiences sensory deprivation. It is impossible to see, and the sense of smell and hearing may be impaired by the thick hood. People handling the prisoner may spin him around and use other tactics to make the prisoner feel off balance. Prisoners cannot find doors and windows, do not know who is present in the room, and cannot interact with other prisoners who may be present. Tight hoods can also restrict breathing, and may endanger the prisoner in some settings.

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Hooding has a long history in execution, where prisoners were traditionally hooded before the executioner carried out the sentence. As a torture technique, it emerged in the later part of the 20th century. Hooding has a number of advantages for interrogators. In addition to keeping the prisoner confused and agitated, it also makes it impossible to report on who was present at the time. This can allow interrogators to use illegal practices in confidence so that even if prisoners do manage to report them, they will not be able to identify the perpetrators.

Interrogators may beat a prisoner while she wears the hood. Being unable to see and having limited hearing leaves the prisoner at a disadvantage, as she may not know where the next blow is coming from or where it may fall. Interrogators may use this method to instill fear and nervousness in prisoners, leading them to associate the hood with unpleasant experiences. Hooding can be used as a threat to get a prisoner to talk.

There are settings where at least partially covering the head of a prisoner may be necessary for safety. Partial hooding can conceal a prisoner's identity from other people, which may be an issue when a prisoner is providing information and could be subject to retribution. Law enforcement may also want to partially hood prisoners to limit distractions while moving them around a facility to limit distractions. The prisoner will be able to see out, but other people will not be able to identify him and call out or interfere.

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