Our top 12 stories of 2014 – #6: When people are isolated from human contact, their mind can do some truly bizarre things, says Michael Bond. Why does this happen? …
Take the 25,000 inmates held in “super-maximum security” prisons in the US today. Without social interaction, supermax prisoners have no way to test the appropriateness of their emotions or their fantastical thinking, says Terry Kupers, a forensic psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California, who has interviewed thousands of supermax prisoners. This is one of the reasons many suffer anxiety, paranoia and obsessive thoughts. Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a leading authority on the mental health of inmates in the US, believes that some of them purposefully initiate brutal confrontations with prison staff just to reaffirm their own existence – to remember who they are. ….
A poll of 2,000 over-65s found 10% described themselves as often or always lonely
Sarah Shourd’s mind began to slip after about two months into her incarceration. She heard phantom footsteps and flashing lights, and spent most of her day crouched on all fours, listening through a gap in the door.
That summer, the 32-year-old had been hiking with two friends in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan when they were arrested by Iranian troops after straying onto the border with Iran. Accused of spying, they were kept in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran, each in their own tiny cell. She endured almost 10,000 hours with little human contact before she was freed. One of the most disturbing effects was the hallucinations. …
A graphic video (shown below) recently leaked to the public shows a team of corrections officers make liberal use of prison torture tactics on a man who was, at the time of the incident, incarcerated at Maine Correctional Center and had been held in solitary confinement for two months. A still of the explicit footage, originally obtained by the Portland Press Herald, captures Captain Shawn Welch spraying pepper spray directly into the face of the restrained man as the team of guards use brutal force to thwart any efforts at resistance.
The man, Paul Schlosser, who suffers from mental illness, was at the time taking several medications to treat his bipolar disorder and depression. Allegedly leading up to the incident, which took place in June 2012, was Schlosser’s refusal to go to the prison medical unit to be treated for a self-inflicted injury on his arm. Next, in what is referred to as a “cell extraction,” corrections officers wearing protective gear removed Schlosser from his cell, putting him into a restraint chair. At first, Schlosser was compliant, but, as reported by the Press Herald:
[W]hen one of the officers pins back Schlosser’s head, as his arms are being put into the chair’s restraints, Schlosser starts to struggle. When he spits at one of the officers, Welch sprays him with pepper spray, also called OC spray.
Schlosser becomes compliant and complains about not being able to breathe. One officer puts a spit-mask on him, trapping the pepper spray on Schlosser’s face.
Welch tells him he must cooperate to avoid similar treatment. Schlosser is in distress for 24 minutes before he is allowed to wash his face.
Welch, who sprayed the OC without warning, held the canister about 18 inches away from his target’s face, despite the fact that this particular canister type has the potential to stop multiple people dead in the tracks from over six feet away. After the story broke, Welch was terminated but, following an appeal that took into consideration his service to the Maine Department of Corrections, he was reinstated. …
By Alex Hannaford Photos by Adam Voohres 07 November 13
Solitary confinement is an American human-rights scandal, recently prompting hunger strikes across Californian jails in protest. Think you could survive being isolated in a tiny, windowless, concrete cell, 23 hours a day? GQ prepares to experience lockdown…
On 8 July 2013, 30,000 inmates throughout California’s prison system refused to eat. Many of the men were incarcerated at the state’s notorious Pelican Bay State Prison – an enormous grey fortress built on a 275-acre clearing in a pine forest near the coast, six hours north of San Francisco. Charles Manson was once locked up there, as was notorious Cripps gang member “Monster” Kody.
There, 1,500 of its 3,000 prisoners were in cells within an X-shaped cluster of white buildings known as the Secure Housing Unit. It depends what state you’re in, but secure housing, special housing, administrative segregation – all are solitary confinement by another name. In an extraordinary show of solidarity, inmates across the state joined the Pelican Bay protestors in their hunger strike to demonstrate against California’s practice of locking up its inmates for 22 out of 24 hours in isolated, windowless, concrete cells that measure about 11ft by 7ft (3.35m by 2.13m), often for years at a time. By the time August had rolled around, the California Department Of Corrections And Rehabilitation had won the legal right to force-feed around 70 of the remaining hunger strikers. By then, however, the world was watching.
Solitary confinement has become the United States’ next great human-rights scandal. Inmates can be put in solitary for a number of reasons, including violating prison rules, if they’re deemed an escape risk, because they’re a danger to other inmates, or for their own protection. And it’s not just California that excels at the practice. According to Solitary Watch, an independent body that collects information about solitary confinement, at least 44 states within the US federal system now have “supermax prisons”, most of which almost entirely comprise solitary confinement cells. Although Solitary Watch says it’s difficult to determine just how many people are currently held in solitary in the US due to a lack of reliable state-by-state information, a 2005 census of state and federal prisoners conducted by the Bureau Of Justice Statistics – considered the most accurate – found more than 81,622 inmates were held in “restricted housing”.
As far as Britain is concerned, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Ministry Of Justice told GQ the government didn’t have details of the number of people in solitary, but a report for Solitary Watch said even though Britain had the highest per-capita incarceration rate in Europe (153 out every 100,000 people), it “pales in comparison to the US”. By some estimates, about 500 people are housed in solitary in the UK at any one time, but even then it’s not for extensive periods. The Solitary Watch report noted that “overcrowding, brutal use of segregation and general mismanagement sparked extreme violence in British prisons throughout the Seventies and Eighties … [and] by 1998 solitary confinement was reduced in favour of Close Supervision Centres … designed to combine isolation with engagement … education programmes, libraries and daily exercise.” Compared to the US, then, our own prison system seems somehow progressive.
The 2013 California prison protests – which ended on 5 September – and the media coverage they attracted shone a light on an otherwise covert, unregulated corner of the US justice system: that placing prisoners in solitary is often an arbitrary arrangement, conducted at the discretion, some would say whim, of the individual prison warden. According to James Ridgeway, co-director and editor-in-chief of Solitary Watch, there’s rarely, if any, judicial oversight on imposing solitary confinement. “Placing an inmate in solitary is not determined in court – it’s determined by wardens and a self-serving committee of guards,” he says. “Unfortunately the American public has an appetite for retribution and that’s not going to change overnight.”
The unpalatable truth is that solitary confinement is tantamount to torture. Studies have proved that the practice of isolating prisoners for extensive periods of time can precipitate a descent into madness. Devoid of human contact for so long, often with just a handful of books and possibly a radio for company, many inmates in isolation scream out in the night; some lie naked in their recreation yards, urinating on themselves; smearing excrement over their bodies; indulging in often gruesome bouts of self-mutilation with razor blades or shanks fashioned from items in their cell.
In June 2012, Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator for Illinois, chaired the first ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. “America has led the way with human rights around the world,” Durbin said in his introductory remarks. “But what do our prisons say about our American values?”
The US has five per cent of the world’s population, but a shocking 25 per cent of the world’s prison population. That’s 2.3 million inmates. And the US leads the world in incarcerating some of those prisoners in isolated boxes, often for decades. As David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project told me, the US is a “global outlier” in that respect, and no other democratic country comes close.
During the senate hearing, Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University Of California, Santa Cruz, told the room that solitary confinement could lead to psychosis, mutilation, and suicide. As one of the country’s leading experts on inmate mental health, Haney wrote in a paper he published on the psychological impact of prison that it was in the mid-Seventies that the US moved from a society that saw incarceration as a means of facilitating “productive re-entry into the free world” to one that “used imprisonment merely to inflict pain on wrongdoers”. Studies have found those in solitary confinement develop psychopathologies at higher rates (28 per cent to 15 per cent) than those in the general population and are much more likely to engage in self-mutilation. Solitary Watch says suicide, too, is a consistent trend among inmates in isolation.
Wherever American penal law is applied, of course, solitary confinement – the practice, plus the scandal – travels. In February this year, 100 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, embarked on a hunger strike for several months, protesting their continued incarceration without trial. They were force-fed by the US Military. I visited Guantánamo in July 2010 and was shown how detainees are fed Ensure, a powdered nutritional supplement, using a tube inserted into their nostril and down their oesophagus. I was also shown the tiny solitary cells, with beds formed from concrete. Approximately 70 per cent of the men detained there are still in solitary confinement. One described his cell as his “tomb”.
Juan Méndez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, has called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in exceptional circumstances, and even then for 15 days at most. He also called for an outright ban in the case of juveniles and the mentally ill. The United States has yet to take Méndez up on his suggestion.
In February, a group of American corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and public defenders spent a week visiting prisons in Germany and the Netherlands. Those countries incarcerate people at about one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone.
A new report based on the group’s research suggests that European sentencing and penal practices may provide useful guidance in the growing effort to reform an American prison system buckling under its own weight.
The American and European systems differ in almost every imaginable way, beginning with their underlying rationale for incarceration. Under German law, the primary goal of prison is “to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.” Public safety is ensured not simply by separating offenders from society, but by successfully reintegrating them.
To this end, inmates are given a remarkable level of control over their lives and their personal privacy. Some wear their own clothes and prepare their own meals. They interact with staff trained not only in prison security, but in educational theory and conflict management.
Germany and the Netherlands rely heavily on alternatives to prison — including fines, probation and other community-service programs — and they impose much shorter sentences when there is no alternative to incarceration. While the average state prison term in the United States is about three years, more than 90 percent of Dutch sentences and 75 percent of German sentences are 12 months or less.
Upon release, European inmates do not face the punitive consequences that American ex-prisoners do — from voting bans to restrictions on employment, housing and public assistance, all of which increase the likelihood of re-offending.
Direct comparisons between countries are hard to make, and some European practices would not be workable with violent prisoners. The report, issued by the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit group based in California, and the Vera Institute of Justice, recognizes this reality but emphasizes that many of the principles are applicable especially to lower-level, nonviolent offenders.
Several state prison systems are heading in this direction. Georgia has increased its investment in specialized drug and mental-health courts. Colorado, Maine and Mississippi are among those reforming solitary-confinement practices. As states continue to rethink outdated assumptions, they would be wise to pay close attention to European counterparts.
Allowing prisoners to express themselves is a successful tool in reducing recidivism–significant proof of the power of the arts, in every field of life. What viable argument exists against arts-in-corrections programs when participants get the chance to reflect on their actions and identities? One participant said, “I made a major transition. I got to express my emotions …. I made a real connection with the men here …. It’s made me a better man.”
Now there is more to love about one of the nation’s largest employers, Target Corporation: they have banned the question of criminal history on preliminary job applications. This allows individuals to prove their qualifications without stigma of their criminal history blinding a potential employer from fairly assessing their skills.
State Spending on Prison Health Care is Exploding. Here’s Why.
In recent decades, mandatory minimums have led hundreds of thousands to be sentenced to multiple decades in prison. Our confinement facilities rampantly abuse solitary confinement to further punish the incarcerated, and the needs of America’s prisoners are neglected day in and day out. What do these practices end in? A rapidly rising amount of state expenditures going towards prison healthcare.
Many people think that if they were behind bars, at the very least they’d be able to stay mentally stimulated by catching up on their reading. At the very least. Unfortunately, this is not the case at Illinois’ Woodford County Jail, where books have been banned from entering the facility for the last 6 weeks. An outraged public is taking to their smartphone and iPads, showing their protest with a hashtag: #right2read.
Sacramento, California – Gov. Jerry Brown will allow parole of a woman sentenced at age 16 to life in prison for killing a man who forced her into prostitution, his office said.
Sara Kruzan, 35, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing George Howard in a Riverside, Calif., hotel room. Kruzan has said he sexually assaulted her when she was 11 and forced her into prostitution when she was 13.
She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in jail without the chance of parole, but a new law that went into effect in January has changed her sentence, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday
Sen. Leland Yee, D-Calif., started championing her case as an example juvenile offenders he thinks should have softer punishments.
Kruzan is the “perfect example of adults who failed her, of society failing her. You had a predator who stalked her, raped her, forced her into prostitution, and there was no one around,” Yee told the newspaper.
The law allows new sentencing hearings for juveniles sentenced to life in prison with no parole. In September, Brown signed a second bill requiring parole boards to review the cases of juveniles tried as adults who have served 15 years or more of their sentences, the Times said.
Under the new laws, more than 1,000 prisoners currently in the California prison system are eligible for parole hearings.
The top torture investigator in the United Nationswants access to California prisons to determine whether prisoners’ rights are being respected. The official wants to specifically look into the practice of solitary confinement, which sparked a hunger strike over the summer in California jails.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times editorial board, Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said that there should be “more justification” for placing inmates in isolation units. Mendez also said that “we should put the burden on the state that this is the proper way to do things, and we should all be a lot more skeptical.”
10,000 inmates are in solitary confinement in California. Advocates for prisoner rights’ say that many inmates are placed in isolation on flimsy evidence of belonging to a gang….
Directions: Click on this link to email Gov. Jerry Brown: http://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php Check the, “Have a comment” box for purpose of communication Choose the Subject: Parole – Governor’s Review Check the box at bottom of page, if you would like a reply. Of course you do! (share your replies) Check the “PRO” box…meaning you SUPPORT Sara.