AlterNet: Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So it Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?

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ProPublica [1]             /               By Christie Thompson [2]

Is New York Lying in Diagnoses So It Can Lock Mentally Ill Inmates in Solitary Confinement?


August 16, 2013  |

  When Amir Hall entered New York state prison for a parole violation in November 2009, he came with a long list of psychological problems. Hall arrived at the prison from a state psychiatric hospital, after he had tried to suffocate himself. Hospital staff diagnosed Hall with serious depression.

In Mid-State prison, Hall was in and out of solitary confinement for fighting with other inmates and other rule violations. After throwing Kool-Aid at an officer, he was sentenced to seven months in solitary at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.

Hall did not want to be moved. When his mother and grandmother visited him that spring, Hall warned them: If he didn’t get out of prison soon, he would not be coming home.

“There was somebody who looked defeated, like the life was beat out of him,” said his sister Shaleah Hall. “I don’t know who that person was. The person in that video was not my brother.”

Multiple [3] studies [4] have shown that isolation can damage inmates’ minds, particularly those already struggling with mental illness. In recent years, New York state has led the way in implementing policies to protect troubled inmates from the trauma of solitary confinement [5].

A 2007 federal court order [6] required New York to provide inmates with “serious” mental illness more treatment while in solitary. And a follow-up law [7] enacted in 2011 all but bans such inmates from being put there altogether.

But something odd has happened: Since protections were first added, the number of inmates diagnosed with severe mental illness has dropped. The number of inmates diagnosed with “serious” mental illness is down 33 percent since 2007, compared to a 13 percent decrease in the state’s prison population.

A larger portion of inmates flagged for mental issues are now being given more modest diagnoses, such as adjustment disorders or minor mood disorders.

The New York Office of Mental Health says the decrease reflects improvements to the screening process. Efforts to base diagnoses on firmer evidence “has resulted in somewhat fewer, but better-substantiated diagnoses” of serious mental illness, said a spokesman for the office in an emailed statement.

In Hall’s case, prison mental health staff never labeled his problems as “serious.”

Instead, they repeatedly downgraded his diagnosis. After three months in solitary — during which Hall was put on suicide watch twice — they changed his status to a level for inmates who have experienced “at least six months of psychiatric stability.”

Two weeks after his diagnosis was downgraded, and two days after he was transferred to solitary at Great Meadow, guards found Hall in his cell hanging from a bed sheet.

As part of a report issued on every inmate death, the Corrections Department’s Medical Review Board found no documented reason behind the change in Hall’s diagnosis [8].

A 2011 Poughkeepsie Journal investigation detailed a spike in inmate suicides [9] in 2010, which disproportionately took place in solitary confinement. Death reports from the state’s oversight committee obtained by the Journal [10] suggest several inmates who have committed suicide in recent years may have been under-diagnosed.

Hall’s family is suing the Corrections Department and the Office of Mental Health, among other defendants, for failing to treat his mental illness and instead locking him in solitary.

New York State’s Office of Mental Health, which is in charge of inmates’ mental health care, declined to comment on Hall’s case, citing the litigation.

Amir Hall (or Mir, as his family calls him) was originally arrested in October 2007, for the unarmed robbery of a Verizon store. He made off with $86. Released on parole, he lived with his sister Shaleah Hall and her two sons while working at a local Holiday Inn and studying to become a nurse.

“Sometimes I sit there thinking that he’s going to walk through the door and make everybody laugh,” said Shaleah, who has “In Loving Memory of Amir” tattooed in a curling ribbon on her right bicep. “He was the life of the party. If you met him, you would just love him.”

But Hall’s mood could shift in an instant, Shaleah said. He was often paranoid, worried that people judged him for being gay. He would snap, then apologize repeatedly for it afterward.

“You had to walk on eggshells sometimes, because you never knew if he was going to be happy or sad that day,” Shaleah said. “It was like this ever since we were kids.”

One of those outbursts landed Hall back in prison for violating parole, after he got into a fight with Shaleah’s friend.

Knowing her brother’s history of mental illness, Shaleah said solitary confinement must have “drove him crazy.”

“I feel like they treated him like an animal,” she said. “They just locked him away and forgot about him.”

The lawsuit over Hall’s death claims mental health and prison staff ignored recommendations that he receive more treatment, and that staff members failed to properly assess his mental health when he arrived at Great Meadow.

In a response [11] to the state oversight committee’s assessment of Hall’s case, the Office of Mental Health said they were retraining staff on screening for suicide risk. The Corrections Department said they were working to improve communication when inmates are transferred to new facilities.

Sarah Kerr, a staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, noted Hall’s case during a Senate hearing on solitary confinement [12]. “The repeated punitive responses to [Hall] as he psychiatrically deteriorated in solitary confinement exemplify the importance of vigilance and monitoring, and the need for diversion from harmful solitary confinement,” she wrote.

Kerr points out that significant improvements have been made for inmates diagnosed above the “serious” mental illness line. The new mental health units provide at least four hours of out-of-cell treatment a day, and speed up an inmate’s return to the general population.

“I don’t think those improvements should be taken lightly,” said Kerr. “In terms of mental health policy, we’re way ahead of the country.”

But when it comes to solitary confinement, “New York is among the worst states,” said Taylor Pendergrass of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the state [13] over its use of isolation. “Even if you’re totally sane and you go into solitary, it’s incredibly hard to deal with the psychological toll of that,” he said.

Solitary confinement is used in jails and prisons across the country, though there’s no reliable data to compare its prevalence among states. Experts say New York stands out for sentencing inmates to solitary for infractions as minor as having too many postage stamps or a messy cell. A report from the NYCLU [14] found that five out of six solitary sentences in New York prisons were for “non-violent misbehavior.”

Under the state’s new law, all inmates housed in solitary — known in New York as Special Housing Units, or SHU — receive regular check-ins from mental health staff. The screenings are meant to catch inmates not originally diagnosed with a disorder who develop problems in isolation.

But Jennifer Parish, director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center, said she thinks many staff members still view inmates’ symptoms as attempts to avoid punishment. “If you don’t believe that being in solitary can have detrimental effects to a person’s mental health, you’re going to see someone who just says, ‘I want to get out of here,'” she said.

Beck has seen the same skepticism in conversations with some prison staff. “There’s a bias in the system that looks at the incarcerated population as anti-social, malingerers, manipulators,” Beck said. “I hear that all the time.”

When inmates ask to see mental health staff, “we have found far too often that it appears security staff really resent people asking for these interventions,” Beck said. “We have in a few facilities what I think are credible stories of individuals being beaten up when they want to go to the crisis center.”

As Sarah Kerr sees it, “if mental health staff are overly concerned that people are feigning illness, that they’re conning their way out of special housing … that will lead to tragedies.”

The Corrections Department says any unusual behavior by inmates or attempts to hurt themselves are reported to mental health staff. A spokesman for the Office of Mental Health said “inmates reporting psychiatric symptoms are taken seriously and assessed carefully.”

Donna Currao said prison staff ignored her and her husband, Tommy Currao, when he attempted suicide at least 10 times over the course of 10 months in solitary confinement. According to his wife, Currao had been sent to solitary after testing positive for heroin.

Currao’s first suicide attempt in solitary was in July 2012, when he tried to overdose on heroin. That October, guards found him attempting to hang himself in his cell. While on suicide watch after he tried again to overdose, Currao broke open his hearing aid and used the metal inside to cut his wrists. (He received a bill of $500 for “destruction of state property,” Donna said.)

Both the Corrections Department and the Office of Mental Health declined to comment on Currao’s case.

According to the Corrections Department, an inmate can be returned to solitary confinement after being on suicide watch if they’re cleared by the Office of Mental Health. In 2011, 14 percent of the 8,242 inmates released from New York’s mental health crisis units were sent to solitary confinement.

After just three weeks in isolation, Donna noticed a dramatic change in her husband. He “was withdrawn, all he would do is apologize,” Donna said. He was no longer laughing with her, playing cards or chatting with other inmates. She watched him drop from 240 pounds to 160.

Currao stopped writing the almost daily letters he’d sent for 13 years. When Donna persuaded him to start again, as a way to escape, he talked of an overwhelming sadness.

Donna says she repeatedly called the prison. She faxed them copies of Currao’s suicidal letters. But he remained in isolation.

“I don’t know if they don’t want to spend the money, or think it’s a joke,” she said. “They still thought he wanted out of solitary. He wanted out of the picture is what he wanted.”

A survey [15] by the state’s independent oversight committee found many family members who said prison officials didn’t listen to concerns about inmates’ psychological wellbeing. None of the mental health files reviewed by the oversight committee contained information from family members about a prisoner’s psychiatric history.

The Office of Mental Health says it’s working on creating new procedures to “insure that the call is responded to promptly and in a manner that addresses the family member’s concern as best as possible.”

Prisoner rights advocates are also working on a new legislative proposal to ensure that mentally ill inmates get the treatment they need. A coalition of groups [16] is drafting a new bill, which would expand protections from solitary for inmates with mental illness, and put a limit on solitary confinement sentences for any prisoner, whether or not they’re diagnosed with a disorder.

“Even though there’s a law that says you can’t do this for people with serious mental illness, it hasn’t stopped [Corrections] from using solitary,” said Parish. “I think they just replaced it with lower-level tickets instead of some of the most serious ones.”

In May, Donna’s persistence in trying to get her husband treatment finally saw results. Currao met with a psychologist, and was diagnosed with “serious” anti-social personality disorder and dysthymic disorder. He was moved out of solitary confinement and into one of the 170 Residential Mental Health Treatment beds created under the recent law.

Currao “seems to be 1,000 times better” since entering treatment, Donna said. He talks about wanting to become a counselor when he’s released.

But Donna wonders why it took so many suicide attempts and nearly a year of pressure to get her husband a proper diagnosis and the treatment he was legally owed. “They are not enforcing this law,” she said. “Why do we have to fight so hard to get them evaluated?”

Hall’s family is left with the same questions as they search for answers about his death. “How many more people have to die?” Shaleah asked. “They need help. Locking them away is hurting them more.”


With 80.000 Prisoners in Solitary Confinement, the U.S. Holds More People inSegregation Than Other Countries Have In Their Entire Prison Systems

Root Of Evilblog-stopsoltry-iachr-500x280-v01Solitary Confinement Misused In Pennsylvania Prison: Feds

Check out this great video I am watching over at VIDEO

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal civil rights investigation has concluded that a state prison in western Pennsylvania kept inmates with serious mental illness in solitary confinement for months or even years at a time.

The State Correctional Institution at Cresson violated the constitutional rights of inmates with mental illness and intellectual disabilities by keeping them in their cells 22 to 23 hours a day, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday. It said the prison used solitary confinement as a means of warehousing mentally ill inmates because of serious deficiencies in its mental health program.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections plans to close Cresson, but the Justice Department said the misuse of solitary confinement could extend to prisons statewide. The department is expanding its probe to include all state prisons.

The administration of first-term GOP Gov. Tom Corbett said it will review the findings and continue to cooperate with the Justice Department probe.

Corbett’s Corrections secretary, John Wetzel, identified mental health as an area needing improvement early in the governor’s tenure, and has been working on improvements, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said Friday night.

Cresson’s misuse of solitary caused mental strain, depression, psychosis, self-mutilation and suicide, the investigation found. Cresson also denied the prisoners basic necessities and used excessive force, the federal agency said.

“We found that Cresson often permitted its prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities to simply languish, decompensate, and harm themselves in solitary confinement for months or years on end under harsh conditions in violation of the Constitution,” Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement.

The Justice Department said Wetzel and his staff are cooperating fully with the probe and have been receptive to the agency’s concerns.

McNaughton said the staff has been trained in crisis intervention for mentally ill offenders, and that a new policy will place seriously mentally ill inmates in treatment when they first enter the system, among other improvements.

“Systemic improvements do not and cannot occur overnight, but we have a better system today than we did a year ago, and we are confident we will have a better system next year than we do today,” McNaughton said via email.




See on – up2-21 thank You!

When you are on top of the world, everyone wants to be your friend, and everyone wants to ride
the train until you make an error in judgment, or make a mistake, then you find out who your
real friends are. Something that has always stirred my insides, is how quickly people will
rush to judgment of others, without knowing all the facts, or hearing all sides of an argument.

When I look at a blog, or news website, I like to look at the comments being made by individuals,
in regards to a certain subject that piques my interest. I quit looking at many blogs, simply
because much of the information given is worse than a gossip column, and many comments made by
people in regards to blogs, and some news articles are poorly worded, incoherant tirades, that
have no meaning,or bearing. Everytime I look online at some article about some kid, who has been
thrown in jail over some act, I am appalled at the sheer negativity, of a large portion of those
comments being made. Don’t get me wrong, there will be a few positive one’s being made, but most
of them will be bad, and what is troublesome, is many individuals making the comments don’t know
jack about it, and are just making an off-the-cuff remark, without considering anything. Since
I have had the pleasure of reading Damian Echols book “Life after Death” I fully agree with him
in regards to what he has to say about hate mail, and or negative online comments. I quote from
the book “Hate mail comes from people who haven’t actually stopped to learn the facts of my case
and never get past the initial knee-jerk reaction. Most people who spew hatred aren’t very intelligent
or motivated. They tend to be lazy. They never take the time to research a case.” I myself have been
subject to first hand to some of these gossip column tirads, and so have all kids in the court system,
including James Prindle and Blade Reed.

James Prindle received a 22 year prison sentence, for a crime he didn’t commit. Blade Reed received a 30
year sentence, for his crime, was only 14 when sentenced as an adult, and was never in any trouble

To these individuals who spew hatred,or don’t know heads or tails of what they are commenting on, I
say this. You have to experience something for yourself, or you’ll never comprehend it.

If they did, there would be many more second chances, and compassion. Unless your child, best friend,
or someone very close to you experiences it, you will never know what it is like. Your feelings
will never be the same.

Thank You

solitary watch: “SICK & in SOLITARY”

Sick and in Solitary” on Rikers Island

February 6, 2013 By SOLITARY WATCHrikersA comprehensive new article on the treatment of prisoners with mental illness in the New York City jail system appears on The New York World, a site run by the Columbia Journalism School. The piece, by Maura R. O’Connor, opens with the story of Jason Echeverria, a pre-trial detainee who was being held in a special solitary confinement unit on Rikers Island for people with psychiatric problems.

Last summer, a 25-year-old robbery suspect at Rikers Island took a ball of concentrated soap meant to clean his jail cell and swallowed it. Jason Echeverria had been held for two months inside the Department of Correction’s Mental Health Assessment Unit for Infracted Inmates, where the confined typically spend 23 hours a day on lockdown. By swallowing the soap, Echeverria hoped to spring himself from his confinement; instead, for 20 minutes a corrections supervisor ignored his condition as he became violently sick and eventually died from the poisoning. The city’s medical examiner has found that the lack of immediate medical treatment constituted a homicide.

While Echeverria was being held in punitive segregation, New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro was assuring the city’s Board of Correction, which monitors her agency, that a long-awaited blueprint for dealing with the growing ranks of mentally ill at Rikers was nearing completion.

The study, undertaken by the well-respected Council on State Governments in conjunction with a special task force convened by the Mayor’s Office, set out to remedy one of the most disturbing trends facing the city’s jail system. Even as New York City’s jail population reaches historic lows, the number of mentally ill people in jails has ballooned, turning Rikers Island into a virtual psychiatric ward run by the Department of Correction. Today a record one in three residents at Rikers has some form of mental illness — more than 4,000 at a given time and a population up 26 percent since 2005.

The Department of Correction reports that the mentally ill at Rikers Island are involved in at least half of all jail incidents, including assaults on corrections officers. Its response has been to crack down hard on infractions and increase the number of punitive segregation beds. Since she became commissioner in 2009, Schriro has overseen the largest increases in punitive segregation units in the department’s history, spurring a rate of solitary confinement among the jail population that is projected to reach five times the national average this year. Punitive segregation for the mentally ill is also increasing. Rikers now has hundreds of designated cells, including the one where Echevarria died. In 1990, the jail had just a dozen.

Conditions are so severe that even the medical director at Rikers for Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has felt compelled to speak out. During a Board of Correction meeting last year, Dr. Homer Venters called the segregation units “parking lots for people with mental illness” and described the Rikers mental health segregation unit as “a complete failure in meeting the needs of patients and the needs of DOC.”

“Rikers Island is one of the top three mental health facilities in the country,” said Bonnie Sultan, a sociologist and criminal justice expert who has monitored treatment of mentally ill inmates in New York City jails. While the Department of Correction has experimented with a pilot program that offers cognitive-behavioral therapy for inmates, and assigns mental health clinicians for the punitive segregation unit, most of what it can offer is punishment. “What we’re seeing,” said Sultan, “is the system is further debilitating these people.”

The article, which should be read in full, goes on to detail some efforts to improve the torturous treatment of prisoners with mental illness–as well as the many “broken promises” on the part of the City of New York and its Department of Corrections.

Review of Solitary Confinement Practices

U.S. Bureau of Prisons to review solitary confinement

Written by admin

Mon Feb 4, 2013 9:54pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a comprehensive review of the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, including the fiscal and public safety consequences of the controversial practice, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said on Monday.

A spokesman from the bureau confirmed that the National Institute of Corrections plans to retain an independent auditor “in the weeks ahead” to examine the use of solitary confinement, which is also known as restrictive housing.

“We are confident that the audit will yield valuable information to improve our operations, and we thank Senator Durbin for his continued interest in this very important topic,” spokesman Chris Burke said in a statement.

Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells without windows for up to 23 hours a day. Durbin’s office said the practice can have a severe psychological impact on inmates and that more than half of all suicides committed in prisons occur in solitary confinement.

In Durbin’s state of Illinois, 56 percent of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.

“The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world, and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore,” said Durbin, who chaired a Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement last year.

“We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation.”

The federal prison system is the largest in the country and includes some 215,000 inmates.

News of the review was welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union – a strong critic of the nation’s use of solitary confinement.

“We hope and expect that the review announced today will lead the Bureau to significantly curtail its use of this draconian, inhumane and expensive practice,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a statement.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)


Federal Bureau of Prisons to Undergo Review of Solitary Confinement Practices

February 5, 2013 By

Cell at ADX federal supermax

On Monday, the office of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin put out the following press release, announcing that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had agreed to submit to a review of its solitary confinement practices.

In 2010, a spokesperson for the BOP said that federal prisons held approximately 11,150 prisoners in some form of segregated “special housing.” This figure includes the 400 men held in ultra-isolation at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, which is currently the target of federal lawsuits claiming conditions there lead to mental illness and suicide, and violate the Constitution.

The planned review follows on the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, held last June by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Durbin. It is described as a “comprehensive and independent assessment,” though it will be carried out by the National Institute of Corrections, which is an agency of the BOP.

Solitary Watch will report further on this story in the coming days, including the BOP’s assertion that it has already “reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent.”


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement today announcing that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a comprehensive and independent assessment of its use of solitary confinement in the nation’s federal prisons. This first-ever review of federal segregation policies comes after Durbin chaired a hearing last year on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. Last week, Durbin and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels discussed the assessment, which will be conducted through the National Institute of Corrections.

“The announcement by the Bureau of Prisons that it will conduct its first-ever review of its use of solitary confinement is an important development,” Durbin said. “The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore. I am confident the Bureau of Prisons will permit a thorough and independent review and look forward to seeing the results when they are made public. We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation.”

In his hearing last year, Durbin emphasized the importance of reforming the way we treat the incarcerated and the use of solitary confinement in prisons and detention centers around the country. Following that hearing, Durbin has twice met with Bureau of Prisons Director Samuels to push for additional reforms and encourage a sufficiently robust assessment of the Bureau’s segregation practices.

Since Durbin’s hearing, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reportedly reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent. In addition, it has closed two of its Special Management Units, a form of segregated housing, due to the reduction in the segregated population.

The National Institute of Corrections, through which the assessment will be conducted, assisted states like Mississippi and Colorado in reforming their solitary practices. After assessing its practices, Mississippi reduced its segregated population by more than 75 percent, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction in prison violence.

During the last several decades, the United States has witnessed an explosion in the use of solitary confinement for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States. This is – by far – the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world.

Solitary confinement – also called supermax housing, segregation and isolation – is designed to separate inmates from each other and isolate them for a variety of reasons. Originally used to segregate the most violent prisoners in the nation’s supermax prisons, the practice is being used more frequently, including for the supposed protection of vulnerable groups like immigrants, children and LGBT inmates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing. In Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.

Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells without windows, with little to no access to the outside world or adequate programs and treatment. Inmates are confined to these cells for up to 23 hours a day.  Such extreme isolation can have serious psychological effects on inmates and can lead to mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide. According to several state and national studies, at least half of all prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.

In addition to the impact solitary confinement has on inmates, there are also public safety and fiscal concerns with the practice. The bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons found that the use of solitary confinement often increased acts of violence in prions. Further, it is extremely costly to house a prisoner in solitary confinement. In Tamms, Illinois’ only supermax prison, it cost more than $60,000 a year to house a prisoner in solitary confinement while it was operational, compared to an average of $22,000 for inmates in other prisons.

Video from Durbin’s June hearing on solitary confinement can be found at /  


FADP Update: Pauls Howell Execution scheduled for Febr. 26th: PETITION!!!

The execution of Olympe de Gouges
The execution of Olympe de Gouges (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FADP Update

Paul Howell execution scheduled for Tuesday, February 26th at 6pm ET.
Execution moratorium petition needs your help.
Huffington Post on FL effort to speed up executions.
NAACP’s Ben Jealous on abolition.
Shine the light,
Gov. Rick Scott has ordered Paul Howell be executed on Tuesday, Feb. 26th at 6pm ET. Please contact the governor’s office and ask him to suspend executions to investigate Florida’s Death Penalty program that now has 24 Death Row exonerations – far more than any other state. Just last month Seth Penalver was freed after almost 18 years.
Governor Rick Scott – Phone 850-488-7146.
Please sign and share the Florida execution moratorium petition.
Incredibly, instead of suspending executions to find out how so many wrongfully convicted people could be sentenced to death, Florida legislators are looking at ways to “speed up” executions. This would virtually guarantee the execution of innocent people. The average time the 24 exonerees spent on Death Row prior to exoneration is 7.5 years and some were there almost 20 years. Read the Huffington Post story here.
This 1 minute video of NAACP President, Benjamin Jealous, speaking about the Maryland effort to repeal the Death Penalty is well worth watching. The inspiring points he makes are even more so for Florida.
Please contact your Florida legislators and ask them to support Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda’s HB 4005 that would end Florida’s use of the Death Penalty.
2013 is shaping up to be an absolutely critical year for our movement. Efforts are afoot in Tallahassee to “speed up” executions. There will be intense challenges and new opportunities. We will be working VERY hard on both offense and defense and MUST be positioned with the means to beat back these challenges and seize opportunities. FADP is an all-volunteer coalition. We need your help for the basic necessities of an effective campaign. Please help.
“If not us, who?  If not now, when?” – John F. Kennedy.
Shine the light,
Sent by:
Mark Elliott
Executive Director
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty,
P.O. Box 82943
Tampa, FL 33682
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is a coalition of organizations and individuals united to abolish the Death Penalty in Florida.
FADP works to build a strong, diverse, statewide grassroots movement which:
* Opposes executions
* Supports reforms aimed at reducing the application of the Death Penalty until it is abolished
* Protects the humanity of all persons impacted by the Death Penalty
* Educates Floridians about the Death Penalty
* Provides concrete action steps for individuals and groups

‘Companionship or Death’: Jewish Engagement With the Injustice of Solitary Confinement

Cousin Uri and Savta Etka
Cousin Uri and Savta Etka (Photo credit: Whistling in the Dark)


‘Companionship or Death’: Jewish Engagement With the Injustice of Solitary Confinement

Talmud (Ta’anit 23a), “Either companionship or death.”

Op-Ed, Opinion | January 22, 2013 by

Advocates set up a mock solitary confinement cell during the first ever congressional hearing on the subject of solitary confinement [CC: Dolores Panales]

If community is a foundation of Jewish life, what does Judaism have to say about solitary confinement, the forcible separation of a person from the community? A few months ago I began an internship with Solitary Watch, an investigative news organization dedicated to reporting on solitary confinement. Once I got started, I became interested in learning more about the work the American Jewish community organizes around this issue.

It turns out there is a lot of work being done, though it started quite recently. Beginning in 2012, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (recently renamed from Rabbis for Human Rights-North America), a coalition of 1,800 rabbis, and Uri L’Tzedek, a prominent liberal Modern Orthodox social justice organization, have both made the issue of solitary confinement a prominent part of their advocacy efforts.

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment where individuals are subjected to approximately 22-24 hours per day of isolated lockdown in tiny cells. Many Americans mistakenly believe that solitary confinement is used sparingly, only for the most dangerous or threatening prisoners. However, according the American Civil Liberties Union, there are more than 80,000 men, women and children currently in some sort of solitary confinement in United States prisons. Many have a mental illness or cognitive disability, and the majority has been placed there for nonviolent violations of prison rules.

The costs of solitary confinement are much higher than housing inmates in the general prison population. Mississippi recently reduced the number of prisoners it holds in solitary from 1,000 to about 150, and closed down their high-security Supermax unit. According to the ACLU, the reforms are saving Mississippi’s taxpayers approximately $8 million per year.

That economic perspective on solitary confinement is important, but there is a moral perspective to consider as well – and that is where the religious community can add a unique voice to the national conversation.

“We’re looking to provide some moral weight to the solitary confinement conversation by applying Jewish values,” said Shlomo Bolts, a prison consultant from Uri L’Tzedek.

“Sympathy for prisoners is not the most common sentiment amongst the American public. People do not want to be seen as weak or soft on crime,” said Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “In the Torah however, it clearly says that if someone asks for forgiveness three times and you don’t forgive them, then the onus is on you. In Judaism we believe in repentance and that punishments don’t go on forever.”

While Uri L’Tzedek and T’ruah approach the issue of solitary confinement from a distinctly Jewish perspective, the scope of both groups’ work on the issue extends well beyond the Jewish community.

“We don’t want to make this a Jewish issue. We want to make it an American issue. As Americans we’re allowing for it to happen, we’re paying for it with our tax dollars,” said Kahn-Troster.

“We want to apply the Jewish values we learn to help all people,” said Bolts.

The two groups are part of a growing movement against solitary confinement. A feeling that the status quo is simply untenable is circulating in religious communities and among the politically engaged in general; change, while it may not be imminent, feels inevitable.

“This is an exciting time. We really do see ourselves as being a force to help pass legislation to abolish or reduce solitary confinement,” said Bolts.

In June, Senator Dick Durban (D-IL) led a congressional hearing on solitary confinement, the first in American history. The hearing focused on the human rights issues associated with isolation, the economic implications of solitary confinement and the psychological impact on inmates during and after their imprisonment.

Both T’ruah and Uri L’Tzedek contributed written testimony to the hearings. They also participated in the National Day of Fasting, an interfaith effort to raise awareness of the significance of the congressional hearing.

“Fasting serves as a way to repent and bear witness. For me to be at the congressional hearing, sitting with a group of religious leaders fasting was a very powerful experience,” said Rabbi Kahn-Troster.

Fasting also serves as an act of solidarity with prisoners in solitary confinement, for whom hunger strikes are often the only available form of protest.

“I think about the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay [a California Supermax facility]. They get poor food, and then they refuse to eat it in order to draw attention to their situation. When I fasted it really hit home what these people must be going through,” said Rabbi Kahn-Troster.

T’ruah and Uri L’Tzedek are also working with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Founded in 2006 and comprised of more than 300 religious organizations, the campaign organizes protests against different forms of torture employed by the U.S., including those used at sites like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Turning her organization’s focus toward solitary confinement now “seems like a natural outgrowth of our torture work,” said Rabbi Kahn-Troster.

Uri L’Tzedek and T’ruah now face the task of motivating American Jews to get more involved with the issue. Despite a history of involvement in a wide variety of social justice causes, the American Jewish community has generally avoided issues of prison reform.

“There is this misconception that Jews are somehow not incarcerated, yet Jews go to prison for the same reasons as everyone else,” said Chaplain Gary Friedman, chairman of Jewish Prisoner Services International, an organization that provides advocacy and spiritual services to Jewish prisoners and their families. Friedman estimates there are approximately 12,000-15,000 Jews in American prisons today, including some in solitary confinement.

Uri L’Tzedek’s approach to raising awareness is a mix of traditional advocacy combined with social science research led by the Tag Institute, a British-based think tank drive



Solidarity With Marie In North Carolina

January 28, 2013


From Croatan Earth First!

A banner posted to the fence at the disputed CVS building that was squatted/occupied last year as a campaign of resisting corporate development; at the corner of Weaver St. and Greensboro St in Carrboro, NC on  Sunday January 27th.
This banner was posted the day after a local eco-prisoner letter writing night in celebration of Marie Mason’s birthday.

From her support page:

“January 26, 2012, is Marie Mason’s 51st birthday, which she is celebrating locked in a special control unit in the federal prison in Carswell, Texas. Marie is three years into her almost twenty-two year sentence.

Following a December call-out, events for Marie’s birthday have been held in countries around the world. They include Wellington, New Zealand; Haifa, Israel; Nijmegen, Netherlands; Vancouver, Canada; and Oakland, Baltimore, Chapel Hill, Bloomington, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, and Troy, New York in the United States. Supporters have sent birthday cards, held yoga classes, had afternoon tea, shown movies, and had cake to celebrate with her and let her know that she is neither alone nor forgotten.

If you were not able to attend one of these events, please send her a card and brighten her day. She loves to get mail from supporters, although she is limited in how many people she can write back. Please include a return address on the envelope, do not affix anything such as glitter or glue to your letters or cards, and be aware that letters which are not entirely in English may be significantly delayed in reaching her.

Marie Mason #04672-061
FMC Carswell
Federal Medical Center                                            MEDICAL CENTER
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

for more info on supporting Marie go to

life & death II


Mental Health Awareness Ribbon
Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suicide in Solitary: The Life and Death of Armando Cruz (Part 2)

Jan 18th, 2013 @ 09:00 am › Sal Rodriguez
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On December 26th, 2008, Armando Cruz was admitted to Mercy Hospital of Folsom following an attempted self-castration. He had “wrapped strips of sheets/shirts around base of scrotum and has been tightening them over the past three days because ‘I am on a mission,’” according to a Clinical Report by a physician who examined him.

Cruz would go on to say that he did it “to prove he was tougher then the voices.”

Housed alone in the PSU, he would participate in few groups.  However, no disciplinary issues are noted in his documentation. On February 5, 2009, his custody was reduced from Max to Close Custody. His SHU term was suspended and he was allowed to participate in EOP Programming, which included more social interaction.

He would remain disciplinary free throughout much of 2009.

He was transferred back to Salinas Valley State Prison, being placed back in the Department of Mental Health, on September 29, 2009.  The goal was to make him competent to stand trial for the January 18, 2008 incident in which he bit an officer. Within a month, on October 16, he would be cited for possession of dangerous contraband.

Two months later, he would participate in his first, and only, parole board hearing. The parole board noted that “Cruz has not been released from Discretionary Program Status (DPS) due to his erratic behavior and therefore, has not participated in any group activities.” The board also indicated that Cruz had spent some time before the board emphasizing that he wished to stay away from the El Cajon Dukes, a gang he had claimed he was a member of since his arrest, a claim his mother disputes.

On February 2, 2010, the board would deny parole for seven years, telling him he needed to stay disciplinary free and that he had not yet taken full responsibility for his actions.

Cruz would remain at Close Custody security until December 2010.

His mother believes that quietly, Cruz was agonizing over his February parole denial. “He thought that he would serve 8 years and come home,” she says.

He would have a cellmate for most of 2010, and remained relatively discipline free. In May 2010, he was transferred to Vacaville, at the California Medical Facility.

On July 27, 2010, a Department of Mental Health/Vacaville Psychiatric Program Discharge Summary indicated that he remained incompetent to stand trial. Quoting a court ordered psychological evaluation, the Discharge Summary reads “it was noted he has made some improvement since his last evaluation in that he is now aware of the charges against him whereas previously he was not…he is still experiencing psychotic and manic symptoms which interfere with his ability to be an effective participant in his own defense.”

Further, the report indicates that the nature of Cruz’s diagnosis of schizophrenia “often leads the patient to misinterpret reality and engage in behavior which may be dangerous to him or others. It is therefore recommended that the patient be transferred to a facility that can continue to provide further mental healthcare within a safe environment.”

The Discharge Summary cites a visit by family—his mother and his sister.  He was reportedly “overjoyed on account of that” and indicated his desire to be “placed at a facility which could be closer to his family.” This would be the last contact visit. The last time that Cruz was able to hug and kiss his family.

At this time, Cruz was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, bipolar type. He also was noted to have hypothyroidism.

He would be discharged back to Salinas Valley State Prison, and then was sent back to CSP, Sacramento in the EOP program.  The assault charge against him would be dropped in favor of administrative measures.

On September 27, he was admitted to the Mental Health Crisis Unit due to having bruising on his neck.  According to a Mental Health Interdisciplinary Progress Note, “He reports (vaguely) a psychotic episode in which he was feeling tremendous pain in his neck and put his hands around his neck to stop the pain, causing bruising.”

In October, he was again admitted to the Mental Health Crisis Unit for “self-abuse by choking himself out.” It was noted that he has “chronic thoughts of impending doom and an internal feeling of senselessness…which he explains as a perception that everything in the world is dull and boring.”

While there, two psychologists evaluated him by request of the Mental Health Crisis Bed Interdisciplinary Treatment Team. Cruz was noted to have a fourth grade reading ability and indicated that a neurological examination might be necessary to determine if Cruz’s frequent self-asphyxiation has caused any brain injury. His attention was found to be in the “Profound Impairment” range. His memory, language, and executive functioning were also noted to be impaired.

On November 26, while out on a yard, he “committed the act of Battery on a Peace Officer Resulting in a Use of Force. Armando slapped at Correctional Officer R. Miranda’s face while he was crossing the main yard,” reads an Institutional Classification document. He was placed in the Administrative Segregation Unit and assigned to the Walk Alone yard. One month later, this determination was that Cruz would receive 180 days in the ASU. He would be allowed to have a cellmate, which he would have from December until April 2011.

The Final Year

By January, Cruz was taking several medications. Divalproex (anti-convulsant), lithium (mania), benzatropine (to counter antipsychotic medication effects), promazine (antipsychotic), propranolol (beta blocker), and risperdal (antipsychotic).

In January 27 he told a mental health worker “I’ve been slacking off with the groups some. I go to some. I went to only one group this week…I haven’t seen the Dr. about the Risperdal. I still get the same amount. She was supposed to stop it. I don’t care. I have all kinds of moods today.” He also reported a reduction in hallucinations.

In March, he was allowed a visit from his mother. Behind glass, they saw each other for the last time. Phone privileges were taken away and for his final months, his only contact with his family would be through letters.

On March 26, he was observed “anxiously tossing his bedding around and acting irrationally.” When guards inspected his cell, he was found to have “a piece of metal approximately 5 inches in length attached to a toothbrush with plastic wrap.” Cruz admitted, “It was mine, I was hearing voices.”  For this, he would be placed in Administrative Segregation. He would spend his final six months in solitary confinement.

On April 4, Senior Psychologist M.L. Hoffman, in writing about the weapon incident, remarked that “his behavior and thinking at the time of the incident were likely sufficiently disorganized that he does not accurately recall nature or quality of his actions.”

At some point in April, he began to talk about an imaginary friend named Michelle in his cell. “I see and hear things. I feel all alone in my cell. I created my own kid…We say we’re going to chop your arm off. If you told me I would be immortal, I don’t want to be in a coffin. I want to go home. I want to go to the hospital and kick it. I think it is like a dragon. A thought is just a thought for me.”

On April 18, he reported sleeping between two and six hours a night. “I would rather have a celli. I like to be alone but I liked to have a celli at times. I’m talking about a parallel universe…I have weird dreams. My dreams are very emotional. Demons tell me what. I listen because I want to tell them to shut up,” he is reported to have said.

“I’m kicking back with Michelle,” he told a mental health worker on April 28. A suicide risk document written that day notes that he “appears to be decompensate with symptoms of mania, imaginary child, elevated mood, threatening to spit on staff, loud music from his cell, banging on the cell door and yelling at all hours and strange laughter at odd times.”

On April 29, a clinician asked to see his neck to check for bruises. He “became abruptly engaged and began yelling at this clinician. He said, ‘You’re really stupid and dumb. Get the fuck out of here bitch!’ He attempted to spit on this clinician and several custody officers that arrived ten minutes later….he continued yelling loudly ‘You fucking smelly ass bitch! If you treat people like that, you’re going to get fucked up!”

For this he would continue to remain in solitary, as well as lost  of any appliances, phone privileges, personal property, and access to the prison canteen to buy things.

He would be placed in a suicide watch unit from April 29 until May 10. He would be checked every fifteen minutes. According to these records, he would spend most of his time pacing his cell, laying down, and standing still.

On May 9, he became irate after an officer came to pick up his empty breakfast tray. “Speech became rapid, loud and pressured, rambling, very hostile and Armando did not want to take his medications, swearing non-stop and he remained on spit net status. Was placed in holding cell for time to calm down,” reads a mental health document.

Cruz would be ordered back to the Psychiatric Services Unit on June 7, 2011. He was single celled and assigned to the Walk Alone Yard.

On July 7, a Psychiatrist Progress Note indicated that he was taking Risperdal, lithium, Inderal (for blood pressure/tremors), and Prozac (depression). According to the note, “he was cagey about discussing [auditory and visual hallucinations. Feels people plot against him.”

An interdisciplinary note the same day indicates that Cruz was participating in his assigned groups, and particularly liked one that had to do with anger management.

Cruz would continue participating in groups and was not cited for disciplinary problems in his final months of life. As such, there is no clear record of his final two months.

His mother reports having received letters from Armando. Contained were references to his imaginary family that he believed lived with him in his cell? In the months leading up to his death, he wrote “I wish I could see you guys, I miss you so much” and frequently told his family that he loved them.

“He knew for a long time that he was going to take his life,” his mother says. “After the parole rejection, he lost hope. He thought he was going to come home.”

Armando Cruz’s September 20, 2011 suicide was the culmination of a decade in California’s corrections facilities.

Over thirty other California inmates committed suicide the same year as Armando. At least two others that Solitary Watch has reported on died amidst mental health crises. Johnny Owen Vick, who had spent time in segregation units and had a history of mental health issues, committed suicide on September 16, 2011. On October 24, 2011, Alex Machado committed suicide following a year of increasingly psychotic mental health problems while held in the isolation units of Pelican Bay State Prison.

According to Amnesty International, between 2006 and 2010, there was an average of 34 suicides in the California prison system a year, with 42% occurring in solitary confinement units.

As far back as 1890, the US Supreme Court Samuel Miller in re Medley wrote of solitary confinement: “A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

In 2001, federal judge William Wayne Justice, writing as part of the case Ruiz v Johnson, found that “[Solitary confinement] units are virtual incubators of psychoses–seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities.”

The evidence of the serious harm that prolonged solitary confinement has been heavily documented over a century. This has been especially true of inmates who have been institutionally determined to be “mentally ill” and a “danger to self.” Despite this, Armando Cruz, like 80,000 others in prisons across the country, was subjected to isolation for months at a time. Cruz, who entered the prison system with a long record of severe mental health problems and a history of self-harm, was placed in isolation typically for actions committed during clear mental health crisis episodes. In isolation, Cruz ruminated, choked himself, and hallucinated a family. It was in this bleak environment that he died.

His mother demands answers. “He loved and valued his family, his church, his life. It was the system that killed him. Why did the system fail my only son?”

“Until the day I die, I will tell my son’s story to see to it that there are changes to this broken system, so that no other family should ever have to suffer the great loss my family and I has endured and suffered. To see that no other man or women is treated as poorly as my brave heart Armando suffered. No one paid attention to my son’s cries. To see that once and for all, the system does away with Solitary Confinement, and hears the cries of all the mentally ill. And to see that the [needs of the] severely mentally ill are addressed through continuity of care…to be given a chance to rehabilitate and have closer placements to their immediate family because in my son’s case he did better when he was able to see us more often. Love heals everything.”

Individuals who would like to get in touch with Yolanda Cruz are encouraged to send an email to this author of this article The author would like to acknowledge Dolores Canales, of California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, for bringing this case to Solitary Watch’s attention.