Whatever you think hell is, that’s what solitary confinement is—365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It’s a system that seems designed to break a man’s will to live.
I spent 18 and a half years in prison, 12 on death row, for a crime I did not commit. Sixteen of those years were in solitary confinement. I was exonerated and released in 2010.
Because I was innocent, I never let myself feel like a death-row inmate. I tried to think of my years in solitary confinement as a kind of boarding school to prepare me to come out and be a messenger for justice today. But by no means was it easy.
The way they treated me was dehumanizing. It was like I was an animal. I had 60 square feet, with four walls that seemed to close in on me every day. I could sometimes hear guys…
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After many long yearz in solitary confinement, I’m just asking
Mentally Ill Inmate Died Of Thirst After Solitary Confinement: Autopsy
Posted: 09/25/2014 2:23 pm EDT Updated: 09/25/2014 2:59 pm EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An autopsy report says a North Carolina inmate with severe mental illness died of thirst after being held in solitary confinement.
The report released Thursday by the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office says Anthony Michael Kerr died of severe dehydration.
The 53-year-old inmate was found unresponsive in the back of a van March 12 after being driven from Alexander Correctional Institution to the mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety subsequently fired a captain and four nurses at Alexander. A nurse and a staff psychologist resigned.
In her autopsy report, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott says state prison officials declined to provide her key information about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.
Chicago Police Officer Attacks Female Bartender: http://youtu.be/49kgG0s7lVk via @YouTube
News from a Nation in Lockdown
Reports Condemn Healthcare and Solitary Confinement in Arizona State Prisons
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with California-based Prison Law Office and their co-counsel in federal class action lawsuit Parsons v. Ryan, has released a series of 26 reports alleging extensive problems with the Arizona Department of Corrections’ (ADC) healthcare program and its use of solitary confinement.
Prison Law Office director Don Specter stated the groups requested the reports from national experts in prison healthcare as part of a lawsuit against the ADC. The reports, which were released ahead of next month’s federal class action trial against the ADC, assert that medical, dental and mental healthcare in Arizona State prisons has declined to unsafe levels and that solitary confinement is excessive, with prisons placing people in isolation because prison beds elsewhere are full.
In 2012, the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona and the Prison Law Office filed a lawsuit seeking competent medical, dental and mental healthcare for prisoners and challenging the use of solitary confinement in Arizona State prisons. The suit includes 33,000 people held in 10 Arizona State prisons. The federal class-action lawsuit is set to go to trial October 21, 2014.
A September 9, 2014, press release issued by the ACLU states:
To show the dangerous inadequacies of health care and other conditions in Arizona’s state prisons, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Prison Law Office, and their co-counsel in Parsons v. Ryan filed reports yesterday with the U.S. District Court from seven experts in medicine, psychiatry, dentistry, and related fields. These experts toured the prisons on multiple occasions. They found incidents of illnesses and injuries so neglected by prison staff that they caused extreme suffering, permanent damage, and even death. The reports also detail significant harm caused by the Arizona Department of Corrections’ use of solitary confinement.
According to a recent press release by the Prison Law Office:
“[T]he chronic shortage of mental health staff, delays in providing or outright failure to provide mental health treatment, the gross inadequacies in the provision of psychiatric medications, and the other deficiencies identified in this report are statewide systemic problems, and prisoners who need mental health care have already experienced, and will experience, a serious risk of injury to their health if these problems are not addressed,” wrote Dr. Pablo Stewart, another expert hired by plaintiffs’ counsel to tour ADC’s prisons and review prisoners’ medical records… (11/8/13 report, page 10).
Dr. [Pablo] Stewart, a psychiatry professor with expertise in prison mental health care, uncovered numerous preventable suicides by prisoners, lengthy and serious delays in care, insufficient and unlicensed staff and inadequate medication protocols. One prisoner hanged himself after ADC neglected to give him his prescribed mood stabilizing drugs for more than three weeks, Dr. Stewart found (11/8/13 report, pages 21-23).
The release also touches on “significant, dangerous problems with the ADC’s use of solitary confinement,” stating that people are placed in solitary “simply because other beds are full” and that people with mental illness are often placed in isolation because the ADC does not have “treatment alternatives.”
According to the Arizona Public Media:
The reports, “Come to the unanimous conclusion that the Arizona healthcare system is…an abysmal failure,” [Specter] said.
Arizona’s correctional system puts prisoners at serious risk of sickness and death because of a lack of access to adequate healthcare, he added.
Specter said the use of solitary confinement is also a large problem in state prisons.
The reports pointed out that mentally ill prisoners are often put into isolation units, where limited human contact can cause their mental condition to significantly worsen.
Of the ACLU’s 26 expert reports, eight focus on the ADC’s use of solitary confinement.
One expert commissioned by the ACLU, Mr. Eldon Vail, is a “former corrections administrator with nearly thirty-five years experience working in and administering adult institutions” whose experience “included responsibility for… the mentally ill population and their custody, housing, and treatment.” Vail spent five days inspecting three Arizona State prisons, during which time he interviewed over 100 people held in solitary confinement. According to his expert opinion:
In the name of safety and security, the ADC engages in multiple practices that are counterproductive to its states aims and harmful to the prisoners in its custody. Overreliance on isolation as a primary means of control results in a harmful environment for all inmates, and especially those with mental illness. Moreover, the actual operations of those units—extreme levels of isolation and idleness, frequent use of pepper spray, and unstable, infrequent, and incoherent “programming”—results in a correctional environment that exacerbates the already grave risks presented by ADC’s over-use of isolation. A predictable and stable custody environment that would help mentally ill prisoners feel safe is essential to prepare inmates to be ready to engage in treatment. That environment does not currently exist within ADC.
Another expert called on by the ACLU to provide his opinion of the ADC’s use of solitary confinement was Dr. Craig Haney, Ph.D, J.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The following are excerpts from Haney’s report:
My inspections of the ADC isolation units, my substantial cell front and on-on-one confidential interviews, and the extensive documents that I have reviewed pertaining to the policies, procedures, and conditions that are in operation in ADC’s isolation units confirm that they do indeed impose “solitary confinement” on Arizona prisoners. These are precisely the kinds of isolated and isolating conditions that have been identified and described in the scientific literature as producing adverse effects. Indeed, in my experience, they represent an extremely harsh version of the kind of isolation that has been studied by researchers and condemned my human rights and professional organizations. . .
Based on my experience studying these kinds of environments and their psychological effects for nearly four decades. . . I can offer the strongly held opinion that the range of egregious conditions, practices, and policies and practices that I have described . . . can be remedied through system-wide relief that is ordered by the courts.
The ACLU commissioned yet another expert, Dr. Brie Williams, a licensed and practicing physician in the state of California who is board certified in Internal Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and Geriatrics, to prepare an expert report on conditions of confinement in isolation units at three ADC prisons. Williams interviewed prisoners, inspected housing units and other areas to which prisoners have access and reviewed medical files. The following have been excerpted from Williams’ report:
Prisoners of older age, with chronic medical conditions, and/or with physical disabilities are at high risk of immediate and future harm from isolated confinement as practiced in ADC. In addition, some of these prisoners are receiving dangerously inadequate medical care. . .
Loneliness, both actual and perceived social isolation, is an important risk factor for the development and/or worsening of many serious medical conditions. . . [S]tudies show that social isolation has a significant adverse effect on physical and mental health, immune responses, functional ability, and important health behaviors capable of hastening the onset and course of medical illness. . .
Williams goes on to cite other health problems that can be brought on by or exacerbated by isolated confinement as practiced by the ADC, including memory impairment, osteoarthritis, hypertension, and hearing impairment, insomnia and type 2 diabetes mellitus. After detailing her visits at the prisons, Williams concludes:
For all of the reasons set forth in this report, it is my opinion that isolated confinement as practiced in ADC poses a substantial risk of serious harm, including increased morbidity and mortality, to prisoners of older age, with chronic medical conditions and/or physical disabilities.
Corrections officials have disputed the reports, which were made public earlier this month after the ACLU won a federal court hearing to have them unsealed. The Arizona Daily Star reports:
State prison officials declined to comment in detail on the case and the recent release of the ACLU reports because the matter remains in the courts. But a spokesman did provide a brief statement disputing the ACLU’s claims.
“While the plaintiffs have sought to try their case in the media, the ADC will present its evidence and arguments in Court, where it will offer its own expert opinions that paint an accurate and realistic picture of inmate health care and conditions of confinement,” ADC spokesman Doug Nick said.
Video Shows Maine Prisoner with Mental Illness Brutally Subdued by Guards
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. …
Read more here:
New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails
An important new report and accompanying press release issued by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) finds that solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons and jails is both “overused” and understated.
The report further states that the use of isolation, as practiced by the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), violates the human rights of those subjected to it by isolating people suffering from serious mental illness and permitting the use of prolonged segregation. Findings of the study are based on a year-long investigation into the use of solitary confinement in the state’s correctional facilities. According to the release:
Solitary confinement means detaining a prisoner in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in small cells, where the person is banned from most out-of-cell activities and social interaction. The investigation found that both state prisons and county jails hold hundreds people in solitary at any one time around the state. The average length of stay of solitary in the prisons is almost 3 years. In the jails, it can last for months, or even years at a time.
“Inside the Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico’s Prisons and Jails” states that New Mexico houses approximately 16 percent of its total prison population in some form of solitary confinement, also noting the substantial increase in the cost associated with holding a prisoner in solitary as opposed to that for a prisoner held in the general population. “While it costs more money to detain prisoners in isolation than in the general population, it does not improve public safety or reduce prison violence.” The report also elaborates on the detrimental effects inflicted on people subjected to the practice:
[I]mposing extreme isolation on prisoners, without allowing for social interaction, education and opportunities for rehabilitation, can have dire consequences. Countless studies have shown that otherwise mentally stable people can experience severely adverse effects from even short periods of enforced isolation. Symptoms can include social withdrawal, panic attacks, irrational anger, loss of impulse control, paranoia, severe depression, and hallucinations. The effect on children and those already suffering from mental illnesses can be particularly devastating.
Mentioned throughout the study was the challenge associated with obtaining clear information on New Mexico’s use of solitary confinement, a problem largely attributable to reporting by NMCD that “lacks adequate transparency at both the state and local level.” The release states:
“The amount of information we were able to gather is dwarfed by the amount of information we still lack,” said Steven Robert Allen, Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. “New Mexico desperately needs to implement uniform transparency requirements to fully reveal how and why solitary confinement is being used in our prisons and jails.”
Not surprisingly, the report further elaborates on the paucity of data available on the state’s use of segregation:
This research project illuminated just how difficult it is to acquire clear data on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico. For example, it was impossible to determine with any degree of certainty either the percentage or raw numbers of prisoners held in solitary confinement in New Mexico jails because this data simply is not compiled in an accessible, uniform manner.
Solitary Watch reports on the obstacles encountered by journalists in reporting on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons here and here. Based on their findings, the NMCLP and ACLU-NM identify key areas in need of urgent reform, proposing that the NMCD implement the following measures (each of which are expanded upon in detail in the report):
• Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement • Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days • Mandate that all prisoners be provided with mental, physical and social stimulation • Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill • Ban the use of solitary confinement on children
NMCLP and the ACLU make a point to commend NMCD for its willingness to cooperate with their investigation, and for efforts at reform already underway:
NMCD is now looking at new ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement in its facilities. In June 2012, NMCD invited the Vera Institute of Justice (www.vera.org) to conduct a comprehensive assessment on its use of solitary confinement at state detention facilities. This process will hopefully lead to a sensible reduction in the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons with corresponding taxpayer savings and an increase in prison and public safety.
“We got in the habit of making it to easy to lock down prisoners,” says Jerry Roark, NMCD Director of Adult Prisons. “Right now, we have way to many non-predatory prisoners in segregation. We need to change that, and we’re working on it.”
Living in a box
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.
PLEASE, read whole article here: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-11/07/solitary-confinement-american-human-rights
Please, visit my other Blogs: http://www.childreninprison.wordpress.com
My Blog InCaseofinnocence.wordpress.com
My Blog Women in Jail
- EVIL CHILDREN? SOLITARY CONFINEMENT = NO PLACE FOR CHILDREN! please, sign my PETITION (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- UN Top Turture Investigator Wants Access to American Prisons (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- EXCITING NEWS: Lessons From European Prisons! (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- “Taking Action Against Solitary: NYCLO Lawsuit” by Keri B. (childreninprison.wordpress.com)
- SolitaryWatch: “Dying Angola 3 Prisoner Wins Full Habeas Relief After 41 Years; Federal Judge Orders His Immediate Release – and more informations! (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Percentage of NM prisoners in solitary confinement higher than national average (KOB.com)
- When Prisons Retaliate: Calif. Inmates Still Paying Price for Demanding Rights | Common Dreams (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- End solitary confinement (dailycal.org)
- This Is America? Men Tortured in Solitary for Having the Wrong Tattoo or Political Books (alternet.org)
- An Animated Look at California’s Solitary Confinement (colorlines.com)
Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City’s Jails, As Officials Weigh Its Future
Two recent reports provide a scathing picture of the how solitary confinement is employed as a routine disciplinary measure on Rikers Island and in other city jails. The reports are particularly critical of the use of extreme isolation and deprivation on individuals with psychological disabilities, including mentally ill teenagers.
The two reports were prepared for the Board of Correction (BOC), which functions as the oversight agency for the New York City jail system, ensuring that all city correctional facilities comply with minimum regulations of care. In recent months, under pressure from local activists, the BOC has been reconsidering the liberal use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails, and conducting fact-finding on the subject.
The first of two reports commissioned by the BOC was released in September 2013. Dr. James Gilligan and Dr. Bandy Lee authored the report, addressing the use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails. This past June, Dr. Gilligan and Dr. Lee were asked to assess whether the city’s jails were in compliance with the current Mental Health Minimum Standards set forth by the Board of Correction.
On Rikers Island, which houses more than 10,000 of the 13,000 women, men and children in the city’s jails, 1 in every 10 people is in isolated confinement at any time. Many are placed there for nonviolent offenses at the discretion of corrections officers. This distinguishes New York as a city with one of the highest rates of prison isolation in the country–about double the national average.
The report’s findings are a resounding criticism of the current use of punitive segregation, and point both to violations of the Mental Health Minimum Standards as well as to practices within the jail system that are harmful to those who suffer from mental illness. The report’s authors point to snapshot data in which the number of people with mental illness in solitary confinement is almost double the number of those with mental illness in the jail population generally. The authors conclude that mentally ill people in the jail system are being disproportionately placed in solitary confinement.
The report also claims that the nation’s prisons and jails have become “de facto mental hospitals,” pointing to the fact that roughly 95% of people with mental illness who are currently institutionalized are in correctional facilities, while only 5% are in mental hospitals.
The Mental Health Minimum Standards mandate that mental healthcare be provided in a setting that is conducive to care and treatment. The report contends that prolonged use of solitary confinement for mentally ill people violates these Standards, because it has been used punitively, to create a stressful environment and to remove social contact, rather than to provide therapeutic services.
Moreover, the report holds that the Standards should be amended to emphasize that those with mental illness should not be held in segregation. As the report states, “The goal of mental health treatment (and also of correctional practice) should be to do everything possible to foster, enhance and encourage the inmates’ ability to…behave in constructive and non-violent ways after they have returned to the community from jail.”
The city responded to the report with a point-by-point rejection of its findings, claiming that the principal conclusions drawn by Drs. Gilligan and Lee were based on an erroneous legal interpretation of the Mental Health Minimum Standards and that the report’s conclusions and further recommendations were unsupported by sufficient evidence. This response was put forth by a multiple agencies, including the Office of the Mayor, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Drs. Gilligan and Lee responded in turn, claiming that a strictly legal interpretation ignored the changing conditions of the current prison system as well as a misunderstanding of human psychology and behavior. In order to reach a true understanding of the harm caused by punitive segregation, the authors say, we need to take into account the psychological effects of isolation, as well as the recent influx of people with mental illness into our prisons and jails.
One week after Drs. Gilligan and Lee published their report, the BOC voted unanimously to begin rulemaking to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York City.
These events follow a meeting held in June, in which the Board of Correction voted against limiting solitary confinement in the city’s jails, rejecting a petition put forth by the grassroots group known as the Jails Action Committee (JAC). The petition, if it had been accepted, would have limited solitary confinement as a last resort punishment for violent behavior only, and banned it entirely for children, young adults, and those with mental and physical disabilities.
BOC member Dr. Robert Cohen, a Manhattan physician and expert on prison health and mental health care, vocally supported JAC’s petition. At this June meeting, he called the use of solitary “dangerous,” especially for people with mental illness and adolescents, who are confined in punitive segregation at particularly high rates. “During the past three years,” he pointed out, ”the percentage of prisoners languishing in solitary confinement has increased dramatically, without benefit in terms of decreased violence or increased safety on Rikers Island,” either for corrections officers or the prisoners themselves.
Dr. Cohen’s statement rings especially true after the release of the most recent BOC report in October, one month after the first report was published. Providing new information about the suffering of mentally ill youth placed in solitary confinement, the report describes the experiences of three adolescent boys at Rikers Island, each held in punitive segregation for more than 200 days, each suffering from mental illness. Youth and adolescents are among the most vulnerable populations in New York’s jail system; the report makes clear, however, that segregating mentally ill youth as a form of punishment is both negligent and dangerous. The city has yet to respond to this latest criticism of solitary confinement.
The consequences of time spent in solitary confinement are lengthy and harmful, Cohen and other experts say; they include negative effects on mental health, including severe depression, anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and panic attacks. Furthermore, studies have shown that common patterns of depression, anxiety, anger, and suicidal thoughts often leave individuals more prone to unstable and violent behavior, which can in turn lead to higher rates of recidivism.
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (kansascity.com)
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (star-telegram.com)
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (stltoday.com)
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (heraldonline.com)
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (azstarnet.com)
- Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (kfwbam.com)
- AP: Review faults NYC on solitary for mentally ill (newsday.com)
- Report: Mentally Ill Rikers Inmates Kept In Solitary At Alarming Rate (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Mentally Ill Inmates Punished With Solitary Confinement Rather Than Getting Proper Treatment (medicaldaily.com)
- Reports Condemn Solitary Confinement in New York City’s Jails, As Officials Weigh Its Future (solitarywatch.com)
The [Justice] Short List 11-1-13
[Highlights from the week’s juvenile justice and justice related articles, videos and more that are worth your time.]
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.”
Target Bans the Box
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.
- UN Rapporteur Condemns Prison Overcrowding (rferl.org)
- Nebraska will receive help on prison overcrowding from national group (nebraskaradionetwork.com)
- Torture: The Use of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Conrad Murray Michael Jackson’s doctor Released from Prison Due to California Prison Overcrowding (spsoalocal318.wordpress.com)
- California wins slight postponement in prison overcrowding case (blogs.sacbee.com)
- State to partner with think tank to address prison overcrowding, spending (omaha.com)
- Tim Robbins: Can Theater Help Solve California’s Prison Overcrowding Crisis? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Supreme Court rejects California prison overcrowding appeal (sacbee.com)
- U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear California prison overcrowding case (mercurynews.com)
- Prison overcrowding could amount to torture: UN (abc.net.au)
Solitary confinement’s invisible scars
I spent more than five years of my sentence in ‘the box’, for trivial violations. It’s time we saw this casual abuse for what it is: torture
As kids, many of us imagine having superpowers. An avid comic book reader, I often imagined being invisible. I never thought I would actually experience it, but I did.
It wasn’t in a parallel universe – although it often felt that way – but right here in the Empire State, my home. While serving time in New York‘s prisons, I spent 2,054 days in solitary and other forms of isolated confinement, out of sight and invisible to other human beings – and eventually, even to myself.
After only a short time in solitary, I felt all of my senses begin to diminish. There was nothing to see but gray walls. In New York’s so-called special housing units, or SHUs, most cells have solid steel doors, and many do not have windows. You cannot even tape up pictures or photographs; they must be kept in an envelope. To fight the blankness, I counted bricks and measured the walls. I stared obsessively at the bolts on the door to my cell.
There was nothing to hear except empty, echoing voices from other parts of the prison. I was so lonely that I hallucinated words coming out of the wind. They sounded like whispers. Sometimes, I smelled the paint on the wall, but more often, I just smelled myself, revolted by my own scent.
There was no touch. My food was pushed through a slot. Doors were activated by buzzers, even the one that led to a literal cage directly outside of my cell for one hour per day of “recreation”.
Even time had no meaning in the SHU. The lights were kept on for 24 hours. I often found myself wondering if an event I was recollecting had happened that morning or days before. I talked to myself. I began to get scared that the guards would come in and kill me and leave me hanging in the cell. Who would know if something happened to me? Just as I was invisible, so was the space I inhabited.
The very essence of life, I came to learn during those seemingly endless days, is human contact, and the affirmation of existence that comes with it. Losing that contact, you lose your sense of identity. You become nothing.
Everyone knows that prison is supposed to take away your freedom. But solitary doesn’t just confine your body; it kills your soul.
Yet neither a judge nor a jury of my peers handed down this sentence to me. Each of the tormented 23 hours per day that I spent in a bathroom-sized room, without any contact with the outside world, was determined by prison staff.
Anyone lacking familiarity with our state prison system would probably guess I must have been a pretty scary, out-of-control prisoner. But I never committed one act of violence during my entire sentence. Instead, a series of “tickets”, or disciplinary write-ups for prison rule violations, were punished with a total of more than five years in “the box”.
In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy. During my nine years in prison, I received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last. When I tried to use artwork to stay sane, I was ticketed for having too many pencils. Another time, I had too many postage stamps.
One day, I ate an entire apple – including the core – because I was starving for lack of nutrition. I received a ticket for eating the core, since apple seeds contain arsenic, as spelled out in the prison handbook. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray. I received a ticket for “refusing to eat”.
For the five years I spent in the box, I received insulin shots for my diabetes by extending my arm through the food slot in the cell’s door. (“Therapy” for prisoners with mental illness is often conducted this way, as well.) One day, the person who gave me the shot yanked roughly on my arm through the small opening and I instinctively pulled back. This earned me another ticket for “refusing medical attention”, adding additional time to my solitary sentence.
My case is far from unusual. A 2012 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that five out of six of the 13,000 SHU sentences handed out each year are for nonviolent misbehavior, rather than violent acts. This brutal approach to discipline means that New York isolates its prisoners at rates well above the national average.
On any given day, some 4,300 men, women, and children are in isolated confinement in the state, many for months or years. Those with more serious prison offenses have been held in solitary for 20 years or more.
Using this form of punishment is particularly absurd for minor rule infractions. But in truth, no one should be subjected to the kind of extreme isolation that is practiced in New York’s prisons today. I have no doubt that what is going on in prisons all over our state is torture. Many national and international human rights groups – including UN special rapporteur on torture Juan E Méndez – concur. Yet it continues, unseen and largely ignored by the public.
The scars that isolated confinement leaves behind may be invisible, too, but they are no less painful or permanent than physical scars. Even now that I am out of prison, I suffer major psychological consequences from those years in isolation.
I know that I have irreparable memory damage. I can hardly sleep. I have a short temper. I do not like people to touch me. I cannot listen to music or watch television or sports. I am only beginning to recover my ability to talk on the phone. I no longer feel connected to people.
Even though I am a free man now, I often feel as though I remain invisible, going through the motions of life. Feeling tormented by a punishment that has ended is a strange and unnerving anguish. But there are thousands like me, and until New Yorkers choose to bear witness to the soul-destroying torture taking place in their own backyards, our suffering, too, will remain invisible.
PLEASE; SIGN MY PETITION FOR TO PREVENT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR CHILDREN…. EVIL CHILDREN? You´ll find it here under Related Articles, too:
- Solitary confinement’s invisible scars | Five Omar Mualimm-ak (theguardian.com)
- Solitary confinement’s invisible scars – USA (wikileaks-forum.com)
- UN Top Turture Investigator Wants Access to American Prisons (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)
- Voices from Solitary: Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars (solitarywatch.com)
- I Spent 5 Years in Solitary For Non-Violent, Absurd Infractions Like Having Too Many Postage Stamps (alternet.org)
- Taking Action Against Solitary: NYCLU Lawsuit (keriblakinger.wordpress.com)
- “Last night another girl hung herself”: Women in solitary (colouredjustice.wordpress.com)
- Citing Solitary Confinement Concerns, UN Demands Access To California Prisons (mintpressnews.com)
- Lawmaker will seek to abolish solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners (coloradoindependent.com)
- EVIL CHILDREN? SOLITARY CONFINEMENT = NO PLACE FOR CHILDREN! please, sign my PETITION (inprisonedwomen.wordpress.com)