Archives for April 2014

NEWS: Roundup of National News on Solitary Confinement, April 2014

April 28, 2014
Colorado has passed legislation that bans Long-Term Solitary Confinement of incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness.  Individuals with “serious” or “major” mental illnesses will be moved into environments that, while still restricted, provide access to therapeutic treatment.  However, many advocates for the discontinuation of solitary confinement say the bill doesn’t go far enough because “serious” or “major” mental illness can be  “defined down” administratively  to exclude a large number of people who may not be diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder but who do have profound mental illness.

April 25, 2014
Several men in Administrative Detention at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois have reported that all of the windows in the High Security Unit are being covered (blocked) with a steel covering in retaliation for their hollering out to the protestors who marched outside the facility during their recent hunger strike.  And they express fear for their safety, security and wellbeing because they are being subjected to unwarranted and excessive force in front of the warden who takes no action to stop it.

April 24, 2014
The ACLU report, Worse than Second Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States, looks at the gendered impact of solitary.  It notes that: Nearly seventy-five percent of incarcerated women have been diagnosed with mental illness, a rate much higher than that of their male counterparts; the majority have reported past physical or sexual abuse; they are regularly supervised by male guards even when showering, changing clothes and using the toilet; if they complain about sexual abuse by prison staff they are often placed in solitary while their complaints are investigated, which discourages such reporting; access to prenatal care for pregnant women may be jeopardized by placement in solitary; and, transgender women in male prisons are put in solitary for “protection” but become more vulnerable to staff abuse.  The report also points to the negative effects the women’s children.  Recommendations for change focus on reducing the potential impact of solitary confinement.

The ACLU reports on a woman who was found unfit to stand trial because of dramatic mood swings and psychosis associated with her bipolar disorder.  While this meant that she should’ve been hospitalized to get the intensive mental health care she needed, she was instead placed in solitary confinement which only made her sicker. Finally, the charges against her for two minor instances of domestic violence were dropped, and she got to go home to her family.

April 24 & 25
One of the four main SHU reps at Pelican Bay State Prison reports some improvements in the condition of the men there which have resulted from their negotiations with the authorities including: three-hour visits; being allowed to possess a lot more personal property items; promised re-instatement of the loaner recreational book program; and expanded canteen items lists, including electronic accessories.  He notes that, “all prisoners’ efforts have not been in vain.”  But he and another rep also expresses serious criticism of the Security Threat Group-Step Down Program (STG-SDP), which is supposed to enable men to get out of SHU, because it is not essentially behavior based, it still relies on informant information and it potentially creates a revolving door.  They fear it will not bring any real change.  So they say they are relying on the legislature to rein in the CDCR’s “gross abuse of power.”

April 22, 2014
PBS aired its investigative report, “Solitary Nation,” which examines the use and impact of solitary confinement.

April 17, 2014
A transgender teenage girl has been placed in de facto solitary confinement in a Connecticut adult prison, despite the fact that she faces no criminal charges. The youth’s affidavit details a history of neglect and abuse, including sexual abuse, in her upbringing while under the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, which has been her legal guardian since age five. The DCF claims that the youth had established a pattern of assaulting staff members and fellow incarcerated persons at psychiatric and juvenile detention facilities.  A rarely-used statute in the state enables the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to place juveniles in adult prisons if they prove they cannot care for the youth anywhere else.

April 16, 2014
A Maine court has sent an individual with a diagnosed personality disorder back to prison from a psychiatric treatment facility  after ruling that he now has “substantial capacity to appreciate [the] wrongfulness” of his behavior.  Experts had testified that the man, who previously spent many years in solitary confinement, had improved but was still engaging in self-harm and manipulating hospital staff. The hearing made clear the state’s main mental hospital wanted to rid itself of patients with difficult “personality disorders” since  the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding because of treatment and safety deficiencies involving aggressive patients

April 11, 2014
Several individuals accused of being part of a prison gang have waged a hunger strike to protest conditions at Honolulu’s Federal Detention Center.  Their attorneys say they are protesting isolation in a segregated unit and conditions that include a lack of clean underwear, loss of family visits and maggots in food.  Several of the men have pled guilty to the gang charge in the hope of getting out of segregation and possibly being transferred to stateside facilities.–Hunger-Strike-Inmates

April 10, 2014
A fed­er­al judge in Sac­ra­mento, CA called the state’s use of large amounts of pep­per spray to sub­due men­tally ill incarcerated persons a “hor­rif­ic” vi­ol­a­tion of con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­tec­tions against cruel and un­usu­al pun­ish­ment.  He also or­dered re­vis­ion of policies gov­erning how men­tally individuals in the state’s pris­ons are dis­cip­lined, in­clud­ing: requiring prior approval from a doctor or clinician before a mentally ill person may be put into segregated housing; and, barring their being returned to solitary confinement if their psychiatric conditions require higher levels of care.,0,7361545.story#ixzz2zRU3spGq

April 9, 2014
A Pakistani national, who was held by US forces in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison for nine years despite being innocent of charges, says his captors held him in solitary confinement and regularly subjected him to beatings, sleep deprivation, and a sustained campaign of mental disintegration.  The Justice Project Pakistan has taken the Pakistani government to court to push for the remaining detainees’ liberation ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2014.

In a letter to former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who is serving a 30 month sentence in prison and spent a brief period in solitary confinement, the Executive Director of NRCAT, points out the arbitrariness and injustices of the torture of solitary confinement and asks him to raise his voice in support of its victims.

A bill drafted last summer in the wake of California’s SHU hunger strikes has passed through the Public Safety Committee by a 4-2 vote. If it becomes law, AB 1652 will sharply limit the number of offenses that can qualify someone for isolation, create a five-year maximum for time spent in the SHU, and end the practice of “gang validation.”
April 9- 25 2014
According to immigrant justice activists, Tacoma detention center is continuing to retaliate against detainees that participated in a recent hunger strike by placing them in isolation.  And on April 14, at least six of the hunger strikers were part of a mass deportation.  The remaining hunger strikers were finally released into general population on April 25.

April 9, 2014
Seven employees at a Taylorsville prison in North Carolina have lost their jobs in an ongoing investigation into the death of a mentally ill man who had been held in solitary confinement.  Some resigned, others were fired.

A circuit court has rejected the appeal of a man in long-term administrative segregation since January 2011 in Wyoming.  The judgment states that the man has no protected liberty interest, because he is not being deprived of life, liberty or property as stipulated the 14th amendment, adding that “[T]he Constitution itself does not give rise to a liberty interest in avoiding transfer to more adverse conditions of confinement.” But, after acknowledging that State policies or regulations may create a liberty interest in avoiding particular conditions of confinement when they impose atypical and significant hardship, the judges find that the conditions on his unit were “not pleasant… [but] … not extreme”, and thus did not constitute a breach of due process.

April 8, 2014
A new report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association notes that 44 states and the District of Columbia have at least one jail that houses more people with mental illnesses than the largest state psychiatric hospital does. Failure of the mental health system has resulted in the incarceration of about 356,268 people with mental illness because they have nowhere else to go.

The attorney for the Maine Department of Corrections said that there would be “real consequences” if the Maine Supreme Court does not overturn a lower court ruling that would restrict when the department places an incarcerated person in segregation.  This statement came as part of an appeal filed by the state in the case of a man who has been indicted for aggravated attempted murder in connection with the beating death of another man also in prison.  After that indictment the man was held in solitary confinement for two years.  The lower court had ruled that an indictment, which is based on “probable cause” was insufficient and that a higher standard such as preponderance of the evidence is needed when placing an incarcerated person in segregation.

April 7, 2014
Lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last former British resident imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a federal judge on Monday to order his release because he has post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia and a number of other serious psychological problems. The psychiatrist, who examined the man, recounted his claims of beatings and other forms of torture including isolated confinement and force feeding when he was on hunger strike

April 5, 2014
The warden of the New York City jail where a homeless, mentally ill veteran “baked to death” in an overheated cell in February, has been demoted and transferred to another unit that doesn’t house mentally ill persons.  Other disciplinary actions involved the engineer responsible for the heating system and one of the guards. The DOC says it is taking steps to address the breakdown of inadequate procedures, staff performance, and maintenance, to ensure that tragedies such as this never happen again.  But family members consider the disciplinary actions unsatisfying.  And advocates for the mentally ill have said this death represents the failure of the city’s justice system to adequately respond to this population.

A California court denied  a motion of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) to terminate a 1995 decision that CDCR was in violation of the Eighth Amendment rights of incarcerated individuals with serious mental illness because it failed to meet the obligation to provide class members with access to adequate mental health care. They were ordered to remedy the gross systemic failures with the aid of a court appointed Special Master who would then monitor the plan’s implementation. In asking for the case termination, and for the Court’s judgment to be vacated, prison officials contended that they have remedied the six core constitutional deficiencies.  The court disagreed.

April 4 & 5, 2014
The ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Tacoma, WA seeking a temporary restraining order to prohibit ICE from retaliating against the detained immigrant hunger strikers by placing them in solitary confinement. The ACLU notes that the people on strike are engaged in First Amendment-protected activities.  The strike had been initiated to express concerns with national immigration policy, especially the mass deportations, and to raise awareness about the conditions of their confinement.  After the lawsuit was filed, the strikers in solitary confinement were released back into the general population.–Dkt%202–Mot%20for%20TRO.pdf

April 1, 2014
The British Home Secretary is again pressing the British High Court to agree to the extradition of Haroon Aswat, a British al – Qaeda suspect, to the United States.  Last year, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the extradition, ruling that he should be protected against the possibility of being placed in long-term isolation because of his mental illness.   The British government says that the US Department of Justice had indicated it was “highly unlikely” that Aswat would be held at the ADX “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, and in any event the US was a country with sophisticated medical resources and capable of taking care of his mental health needs.

March 31, 2014
Noting that bills in the General Assembly in Maryland that would have required the state to conduct an independent investigation of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ use of isolated confinement died in committee before they reached the House and Senate floors, the Baltimore Sun urged lawmakers to take the issue up again next year and pass such legislation.   They argue that there is a need for public scrutiny of potential violations of international norms and human rights abuses.  Such scrutiny has been evaded thus far by the prison policies that talk of “segregation” or “protective custody,” never mentioning “solitary confinement.”,0,202425.story#ixzz2ymyFKWqA

March 25, 2014
When a 6.9 earthquake struck Eureka,CA, not far from the Pelican Bay Prison, all of the caged doors were immediately double locked. One of the men incarcerated there describes feelign the earthquake, then all fearing the concrete slabs around him might collapse. He notes that the action of the prison authorities sent a clear message: “Your safety is not hardly our priority.

NEWS: New York City’s New Corrections Chief, Known for Solitary Confinement Reforms, Faces Steep Challenges on Rikers Island

By Aviva Stahl. Reprinted from Solitary Watch.

PonteBrattonDeblasio-300x180In March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed reformer Joseph Ponte as the Commissioner of the Department of Correction. In his last post, overseeing Maine’s Department of Corrections, Ponte gained particular renown for reducing the use of solitary confinement by over 60 percent. In fact, the changes he helped bring about in Maine will be a central element of a new Frontline documentary, entitled Solitary Nation, due to air tonight on PBS.

Given the rapid increase in the use of solitary confinement on Rikers Island in recent years – and the vocal community opposition to the practice — DeBlasio’s decision seems a timely one. But his appointment has been met with controversy, sparking outrage amongst the City’s correctional officers’ union. And a more detailed look at Ponte’s tenure in Maine reveals that even the most open-minded of institutional insiders have their limits when it comes to real change.

Joseph Ponte first began working in prisons as a guard at the age of 22. In the 45 years since, Ponte has served in institutions across the country, including Walpole State Prison near Boston and the Shelby County Jail in Memphis.  He was even previously employed by the Correctional Corporations of America (CCA), a company that has gained notoriety for turning a profit by locking people up.

Although Ponte has been credited with turning around several institutions, he is best known for the reforms he instituted in Maine. As was recently reported by The New York Times, “Within months of arriving [in Maine], Mr. Ponte cut the population in solitary confinement at Maine State Prison from about 100 to fewer than 50 and the average stay there from 90 days to two weeks.”  He mandated that inmates not be placed in isolation for more than 72 hours without his personal approval and even abolished disciplinary segregation – requiring corrections staff to use “informal sanctions” like taking away recreation rather than throwing noncompliant individuals in “the hole.”

While at the helm of Maine’s Department of Corrections, Ponte also drastically reduced the state’s use of “cell extractions.” “Disobedient” men in isolation had previously been dragged out of their cell with pepper spray, beaten and tied down for hours, as captured on film in a 2005 expose.Ponte almost completely abolished the practice of placing adolescents in solitary.  He also garnered praise for allowing prisoner advocates and the media into Maine’s prisons, and enabling them to speak to incarcerated individuals without corrections officers present.

Ponte’s reputation for sharply reducing the use of solitary confinement has provided hope to the prison activists and advocates who have been working to change conditions on Rikers Island. Megan Crowe-Rothstein is a member of the Jails Action Coalition (JAC), a group campaigning to promote human rights inside New York City’s jails.  She told Solitary Watch, “The appointment of Commissioner Ponte is exciting because it shows that our city government understands the need to address the widespread use of this brutal practice [solitary confinement] in our jails.”

In an e-mail to Solitary Watch, Dr. Bobby Cohen said, “As a member of the Board of Correction (BOC) and as citizen of NYC I am very hopeful that Commissioner Ponte’s appointment signals a substantial change from the policies of the Bloomberg administration.” The BOC oversees the city’s correctional facilities to ensure compliance with minimum standards of care.

Not everyone is so happy with Ponte’s appointment, however, particularly not the man who heads up New York’s union for prison guards, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA).  A few weeks after Ponte’s appointment, President Norman Seabrook held a press conference to criticize the incoming commissioner.  He lambasted what he termed Ponte’s “claim to fame in Maine” – abolishing the use of solitary as punishment for disciplinary infractions.  “Punitive segregation is an effective tool that works.” He added, “We don’t need a reformer… We need law and order. We don’t need someone to come in here and tell us, ‘Well, this is how we do it in Maine.’ Well, guess what, welcome to New York City. This is not Maine.

Ponte is no stranger to fighting the unions to implement his reforms; when he was in Maine the CO union staunchly opposed his efforts. As Solitary Watch documented in an article published last year, union opposition to reducing the use of solitary confinement is actually a common trend across the nation.

Several prison activists and formerly incarcerated individuals in Maine have critiqued Ponte from a different angle. Although all praised Ponte for the changes he instituted and for his willingness to meet with them and other Maine DOC critics, they also stated that Ponte’s tenure was far from perfect, and his reforms remain incomplete.

[Read more…]

Voices: Double Celling

By Five Mualimm-ak and Shaquille Mualimm-ak.

five shaquilleThe following piece was jointly written by Five and Shaquille Mualimm-ak, who are father and son. Five Mualimm-ak is now a prison reform activist and director of the Incarcerated Nation Campaign. While incarcerated in New York State prisons, he spent five years in solitary confinement for nonviolent disciplinary infractions, and has written previously about its effects on him. Here, both father and son describe the effects that the years of separation and isolation had on their relationship. Shaquille grew up with little contact with his father, since individuals in disciplinary segregation in New York are most often denied visits and phone calls.  

The title of the piece refers to the practice, common in New York and many other states, of locking down two people in a cell together for 23 hours a day–a form of extreme isolation that many describe as worse than solitary confinement. Here it suggests the idea that isolation affects not only prisoners, but also their families–that loved ones also “do time” in solitary.  –Jean Casella

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

[Five] During my time of incarceration, I always stood tall and strong. I was sure of my innocence and was determined to battle those charges to the end. I imagined myself one day being vindicated, and when that day came I knew I would fight back against a system that had wrongfully imprisoned me, and then tortured me with years in solitary confinement.

I would one day leave that tiny cell that had grown to be my only landscape. So familiar were those walls that even closing my eyes could not erase the sight burned into my retina. Trapped there 23 hours a day, week in, week out, month after month of endless hollow chatter that I could never get out of my head , the distant conversations of muffled voices. I cannot remember when I started talking to myself but soon even that began driving me insane. I would one day not feel trapped like a caged animal–though unlike me, caged animals have rights and people who protect them from abuse and intentional harm.

I would one day see my son. I could tell from his letters that he really needed me. He was having to face the world alone and without me there to be by his side. I lost the ability to focus on the exact details of his face, and then my thoughts would drift to: Who is there for him? Who walks him to school? Who is making sure he is eating right? I hope he knows diabetes run in our family. I would reread his letters to me a thousand times, but they brought no ease to the pain of missing my child.

Even though I used the word “I” to describe my experience inside, it wasn’t until I met the child, now a man whom I call my son, that I realized I was never sentenced alone. Throughout my time I was double celled. I was locked away and out of his life, but still we were both trapped in this perpetual cycle of distance. Beyond those walls topped with razor wire, beyond the guard tower with armed men waiting to shoot down any attempts to escape this world inside of a bigger world–there was my creation, my young son, whom I couldn’t reach, and in some ways still can’t. Yet I’ve learned that he, in fact, was isolated from me and at the same time sentenced to be mentally confined with me for over 1,825 days…

1,825 days…

[Shaquille] 1,825 days I spent isolated from the man I call my father;  the man I was a spitting image of; the man who had the answers to problems I faced as a growing teen. Problems such as puberty, sex, hormonal rage, and many other things teenage boys typically go through were uncomfortable to talk to my mother about. I didn’t know how to bring those conversations up to her, and she didn’t know how to respond or what to say the seldom times I attempted it.

I needed my father at that crucial time in my life to show me how to be and act like a man. All around me at school I had friends with absent fathers or fathers who were also incarcerated and they ended up picking up drugs or ditching class because they didn’t have anyone to guide them and explain to them the importance of an education. Luckily I had a good mother who would steer me back in the right direction when I fell off course. But emotionally and mentally, I felt damaged by the lack of understanding she had for my teenage issues. A parent can only teach you but so much. I had to make a conscious decision to follow and apply the principles she taught me at home in my day to day life. I had to teach myself how to overcome the problems I faced as a poor black teen, and make good decisions when not in her presence.

The confinement of my father felt like I too was incarcerated, doing the time right along with him. Communication with him was difficult because of the circumstances he was under. I felt angry. I was pissed off at the world, and I knew that a lot of my minority peers were too, because they were in the same boat as me. A lot of them ended up getting caught up in the vicious cycle of repeating their incarcerated parent’s crime or something similar to it.

Solitary confinement not only kept my father locked in a box, but it kept him locked out of my life. It’s not hard to see that this system of ‘justice’ is corrupted when we are aware of the psychological effects that locking a parent out of the life of a growing child can have on the mind of that child. Even though I was physically free, mentally I was trapped in a 6×9 cell, isolated from my parent, the only man in my life, and locked into a sentence of solitude. As much as I stated “I,” it was more like were both doing time.

NEWS: Roundup of National News on Solitary Confinement, March 2014

Compiled by Fran Geteles-Shapiro.

March 27

A man who suffers from extreme physical disabilities, and lives with constant pain, is suing the state in federal court, asserting that he has suffered medical neglect and physical abuse while held in New York’s prison system.  His attorney says that, once he began complaining about the lack of accommodation, he was placed in solitary confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) in retaliation.

March 24

Prisons have buoyed southern Colorado economically, providing thousands of jobs with retirement and health benefits. But stresses of the job create a serious downside for many of the guards.  Depression, alcoholism, domestic violence and heart attacks are common. Correctional officers’ life expectancy hovers around 59 years, compared with 77 for the U.S. population overall and the suicide rate among prison guards is 39 percent higher than the average for other occupations.  At Florence ADX, at least nine federal guards have committed suicide since 1994.

March 23

A mentally ill, homeless former Marine arrested for trespassing because he was sleeping in the roof landing of a New York City public housing project during one of the coldest recorded winters in city history, died in a Rikers Island jail cell. The cell temperature was reportedly at least 100 degrees. He was in what is supposed to be a special observation unit for individuals with mental illnesses and should have been checked every 15 minutes, but his body was found after four hours.

March 21

The CA group, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, is asking human rights advocates to submit comments to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opposing the implementation of the prison system’s Security Threat Group/Step Down Program (STG/SDP) because policies will perpetuate California’s over use of torturous isolation.   Their analysis points to the following: lifetime solitary confinement continues; solitary is still used for people who have committed no violent acts; there is no due process or independent oversight; decisions about SHU placement are discretionary and arbitrary; and, Coercive Debriefing/Confidential Informants continue to be used to keep men in solitary.

March 20

Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal – three Americans who endured many months of solitary confinement in Iran after being captured hiking near the Iraq-Iran border – have released a memoir detailing their experiences, “A Sliver of Light”.  When interviewed, they spoke out not only about their own experiences but the plight faced by the tens of thousands of individuals held in solitary confinement across the United States. /

March 19

The Chair of the Texas Senate’s criminal justice committee warned Texas’s Department of Criminal Justice officials that, if the agency does not rein in the use of solitary — known as administrative segregation — a federal judge may end up overseeing reforms as the result of a civil rights suit. He noted that the policy of putting mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, which courts in other states have found to be unconstitutional, would be difficult.  Although the number of people in solitary has dropped by 25 percent since 2006, 7,136 individuals are there currently.   About 1/3 of them have a serious mental illness or have documented mental retardation.

In Guantanamo last April, the U.S. military put nearly all the men on hunger strike under lockdown — i.e. each person alone inside a single cell — in a divide-and-conquer strategy.  As of this week, authorities there are saying that roughly 70 percent of the 154 detained individuals were being held in communal, medium-security detention.  The prison required the men to eat regularly – and to stop calling themselves hunger strikers – as a condition of release from lockdown.

 March 17

The latest development in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in September 2012, a plan to improve conditions at juvenile justice facilities in Illinois was filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).   If approved, conditions will be improved in several areas: education, mental health treatment, idleness reduction, solitary confinement, continued incarceration solely for lack of a community placement, and protection for LGBT youth.

New legislation to revise and reform solitary confinement conditions and procedures in California’s prisons was introduced in the legislature. The legislation is designed to achieve four goals: increased oversight and accountability; integrity and fair treatment in detention decisions; humane conditions in the SHUs; and, positive incentives for people in prison to change their lives.

In a letter to the Denver Post, an attorney with CO’s ACLU challenges their editorial saying that, while eliminating the practice of warehousing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement should be a policy priority, this job should be left to the prison professionals and need not be dealt with in legislation.  The attorney notes that binding legislation with clear definitions is critical to ensure that future leadership does not reverse the new reforms that have been implemented by current prison authorities because this would drive CO back to an earlier period of severely abusive policies.

 March 14

Funding has been approved for activation of ADX-USP Thomson, a new federal supermax prison which is to hold incarcerated individuals with various security designations, including SMU and ADX. Although the federal Bureau of Prisons has been claiming that it is working to reduce the number of people it holds in solitary confinement, Thomson will substantially increase the federal government’s capacity to hold people in extreme isolation. Backing the opening of ADX/USP Thomson is the same Sen. Dick Durbin (D, IL) who has built a reputation challenging the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He says his purpose is to help alleviate overcrowding and that all prisoners held there will be treated appropriately and humanely.

March 13/14

On these dates, for the first time since 2006, the UN held hearings on the US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects basic human rights, such as freedom from torture and abuse, freedom from discrimination, and others rights.  Solitary confinement was one of the issues to be considered. A shadow report from the ACLU suggested issues to be addressed. After stressing the need for accurate statistics and information about the measures being taken to limit or regulate the imposition of solitary confinement, the report recommends greater transparency about policies and practices, banning prolonged solitary, banning the use of solitary for children and persons with mental disabilities, and compilation of data on the effect of isolation.  /

March 13

The U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal court to stop the Ohio Department of Youth Services from using solitary confinement to punish boys with mental-health issues, arguing that keeping the boys in solitary confinement violates their constitutional rights and deprives them of education, exercise, programming and mental-health care.  They note also that many of the boys were on suicide watch, had suicidal thoughts or hurt themselves while in seclusion and that the way in which Ohio uses seclusion to punish youth with mental health needs victimizes one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.  But the state is opposing the limitation effort on the grounds that the state is in the best position to determine how seclusion is applied and the amount of time a youth should spend in seclusion. OhioYouth Services says it secludes juveniles as a last resort and still offers treatment and programming in those cases. /

For over a decade, abused men incarcerated at Guantanamo have been denied any effective legal mechanism to challenge their treatment. But, a recent ruling of the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) affirmed that the men at Guantánamo do have a right to challenge their force-feeding, and, more generally, other aspects of their detention.  As a result of this new ruling, a Yemeni man has filed a lawsuit arguing that the way the force feeding is practiced amounts to torture designed to cause gratuitous pain in an effort to silence the prisoners. In response, government officials have invoked the need to protect the health and safety of detainees.  /

March 12

Institutionalized Cruelty, a film by James Tedrow, discusses the abuse of solitary confinement in the Pennsylvania prison system, as documented by investigations of the Human Rights Coalition.

March 11

Mayor Bill de Blasio named Joseph Ponte as Commissioner of the Department of Correction of NYC. Mr. Ponte has earned a national reputation as a successful reformer, most recently for the reforms he instituted in Maine that reduced the use of solitary confinement by two-thirds, and eliminated the use of disciplinary segregation for people identified as mentally ill.  He will be charged with overhauling the city’s corrections system: ending the overuse of solitary confinement, curtailing officers’ use of excessive force, and improving resources to handle the mentally ill.

The Bureau of Prisons has opened a two week period for the public to comment on the regulations governing Communication Management Units, where: detained individuals are completely banned from any physical contact with visiting family members and friends; interactions with other incarcerated people and phone calls with friends and family members are limited; no meaningful explanation is given for transfer to these units or is there any review or appeal process; many people in the CMU have neither significant disciplinary records nor any communications-related infractions so placement there is more likely the result of bias, political scapegoating, religious profiling and racism. An earlier comment period resulted in over 700 comments critical of the policies, but appropriate legal action was not taken.

The annual report of Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to the General Assembly, looks at a variety of cases of abuse in the US.  These included the four complaints by men in NYS prisons regarding the prolonged use of solitary confinement.  He concludes that each man’s right to be free from torture has been violated, and that the practice of solitary confinement in New York State violates the international obligations of the United States of America.  He urges the authorities (State and Federal) to look into the regime of administrative segregation.  He also urges them to take all measures necessary to ban the use of prolonged solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and persons with mental disabilities.

In a document called “Medical Management of Detainees with Weight Loss,” the Guantánamo Bay prison has adopted a new forced-feeding policy that rhetorically recasts the year-long hunger strike in the remote prison camps as “long term non-religious fasting.”  And they are calling forced-feedings “involuntary enteral feedings.”

March 10

In CO, a bill, which would prohibit the state from placing individuals with serious mental illness in long term solitary confinement, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5-0 vote.  Democrats and Republicans, the state Dept. of Corrections and the American Civil Liberties Union all supported the bill.

March 9

A suicide review team raises serious questions about the way in which the suicide of a man who was in AdSeg at Pleasant Valley State Prison in CA was handled by prison guards.  According to medical staffers, after the man was discovered hanging in his cell, guards refused to act and he remained hanging for nearly four hours before he was cut down.

March 7-present

People held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, one of the largest immigration prisons in the country, began a hunger strike and work stoppage to call attention to the unrelenting deportations of immigrants.  They also protested abusive conditions at the facility run by the GEO group.  Advocates attribute the poor conditions to the profit-seeking element that has inserted itself into the detention system and to the government’s detention bed quota. GEO Group and ICE retaliated by putting leaders in solitary confinement, threatening to force-feed strikers and threatening to deny their asylum claims. A man who suggested they add a work stoppage to the strike was also put in solitary.  On the 11th day of the strike it was reported to have spread to another GEO run detention center in Conroe, TX.  Here too officials are reported to have retaliated against the individuals they believe to be “leaders” of the protest by isolating and shackling them. Some Tacoma politicians have raised questions about: the process for putting someone in isolation and the existence of an appeals process; regulations about detainees’ work and pay; nutrition standards; the average length of detention; and the bond process.  /  /

March 4

The budget request of the U.S. government for FY 2015 was released, proposing $8.5 billion for prisons and detention. An analysis by Solitary Watch reports that there are few specifics on how the money will be spent  in comparison to the details contained in the 2014 budget request.  That budget specifically referenced ADX/USP Thomson and its security levels, but this information is omitted from the latest request.

Amnesty International has released a videotape from Teenie Rogers whose husband, a guard at Angola prison, was killed there in April 1972.  Albert Woodfox, one of the men convicted of the murder, has been in solitary confinement for decades.  In the video Rogers pleads for his release.

NEWS: Treating Humans Worse Than Animals: Solitary Confinement in New York Featured on “Democracy Now!”

Reprinted from Democracy Now!

Following the death of two prisoners at New York City’s Rikers Island facility, we look at mounting pressure on jails and prisons to reform their use of solitary confinement. A corrections officer was arrested last week and charged with violating the civil rights of Jason Echevarria, a mentally ill Rikers prisoner who died after eating a packet of detergent given to him when his cell was flooded with sewage. It was the first such arrest in more than a decade. Also last month, Jerome Murdough, a mentally ill homeless veteran, died in a Rikers solitary mental-observation unit where he was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes. An official told the Associated Press that Murdough “baked to death” after temperatures soared in his cell.

We hear from Echevarria’s father, Ramon, at a protest seeking justice for his son, and speak to former Rikers prisoner Five Mualimmak, who was held in solitary there. And we are joined by two guests from within the prison system calling for reform: Dr. James Gilligan, a psychiatrist who is helping reduce violence in prisons, and Lance Lowry, president of the Texas Correctional Employees, the union which represents Texas prison guards. Lowry is calling on the state to reduce the use of solitary confinement, including on death row. “Zookeepers are not allowed to keep zoo animals in the kind of housing that we put human beings in,” Dr. Gilligan says. “We have created the situation; it is called a self-fulfilling prophecy: We say these are animals, they are going to behave like animals, then we treat them so that they will.”

To watch the video segment or read the full transcript, click here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: