Monthly Archives: August 2019

U.S. sends the ‘worst of the worst’ to ADX super-max prison in Colorado, with poor outcomes

The U.S. sends ‘the worst of the worst’ to ADX. Here’s what happens when they get out from VICE News, Aug. 28, 2019

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The federal prison known as “The Alcatraz of the Rockies” or ADX is in the middle of nowhere, about a two-hour drive south of Denver. It houses many of the most notorious and violent criminals convicted in the United States, including terrorists, spies, mass murderers, and drug kingpins like El Chapo.


Of the federal prison system’s approximately 150,000 inmates, the 375 or so at ADX are often described as “the worst of the worst.” Every prisoner is housed in solitary confinement, most for 22 or 23 hours a day, typically in a 7-by-12 concrete cell.


But while some ADX prisoners are high-profile criminals serving life sentences, others are relative unknowns who are eventually released. And despite multiple warnings and violent incidents, the Bureau of Prisons has sent severely mentally ill inmates home from ADX with virtually no preparation for life on the outside.


One of those inmates was Jabbar Currence, who spent nearly 11 years at ADX. Three days after he was released from federal custody in February, Currence sexually assaulted a woman in a Virginia park. VICE News spoke with Currence and 10 other former ADX prisoners. Each had a different story, but virtually all of them described receiving little or no preparation for returning to society after years of brutal isolation.


At least four besides Currence have been either accused or convicted of serious felonies after being released from ADX. It’s unclear exactly how many prisoners have been let out of ADX over the years and how many of those have gone on to commit more crimes, but independent inspectors found that around 50 inmates at ADX were scheduled to be released from 2017 to 2020.


Read more from Keegan Hamilton on VICENews.com.

What happens to inmates after solitary confinement

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The problems with ADX reflect a nationwide issue with solitary confinement. An estimated 61,000 people are held in isolation in prisons and jails across the U.S., and it is now often the de facto way to deal with unruly inmates and those with mental illness. Many jurisdictions have no rules in place to ensure that inmates are not released directly from solitary to the streets. 

Numerous studies suggest that prisoners who spend time in solitary are more likely to reoffend than those who don’t.


“It made me not want to be around people,” Currence told us. “It made me more angry. It made me more resentful. It made me more thoughtful. I think it made me more of a predator. Well, not predator in the sense that — it just made me angry. Real angry.”

Watch our segment, which originally aired on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

“Leaving there, I was 10 times more violent” 

Tim Tuttamore returned to his hometown in Ohio last November after an 18-year prison sentence with 12 served at ADX. In prison, he called himself an “independent skinhead,” and he was sent to ADX because he repeatedly attacked other inmates and was considered a leader among white supremacist gangs at another high-security penitentiary.

He has a long history of mental illness, which he says was made worse by his years in isolation at ADX.

“I went there as a violent person, but leaving there, I was 10 times more violent,” he said. “There’s no rehabilitation. None. They got all these stupid little courses you take. They’re meaningless. It doesn’t help you. It doesn’t help when you get out of prison.”

Treatment not jails

by Lois Ahrens
Published: 8/18/2019 by the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Michael Ashe, former sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts

Michael Ashe, the longtime former sheriff of Hampden County, was an excellent salesman. He sold legislators on the idea that he could see into the future, and the future meant more incarceration.

Legislators believed him and taxpayers footed the bill for a jail in Ludlow big enough to cage 1,800 men. His successor, Sheriff Nick Cocchi, has a problem. Ashe’s prediction has not come true.

As of July 1, the Ludlow jail is incarcerating 421 pretrial men and 273 sentenced men, according to information provided by an attorney for the jail in response to a public records request. Sixty-eight men are jailed under Section 35, which allows the state to jail men who are civilly committed for “treatment” for substance abuse disorder. That is a total of 762 men; way under the number Cocchi needs to justify keeping all of his big jail open.

If bail reform happened and real alternatives to incarceration were implemented, what would Cocchi do? One alternative is jailing people under Section 35. Another option Cocchi is exploring, according to a WBUR report, is a lucrative agreement — at least $91 a day per person — with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to lock up undocumented immigrants.

In 2017, it cost taxpayers $77,729,229 a year to run Hampden County jails, according to budget documents for the jail. The majority of women and men incarcerated there are being held “pretrial,” that is they are mostly too poor to make bail. They have been convicted of nothing. It costs $100,000-plus annually per person to jail someone there. If $77 million is not enough, Cocchi has just persuaded legislators to give him $1 million more to support “treatment” at the jail.

Cocchi maintains that he is locking up men with substance use disorder because he is the only one who is compassionate enough to do it.

No matter that this flies in the face of what health and mental health practitioners believe — that people with substance use disorder are not criminals and that stigmatizing and criminalizing people runs counter to best practices.

No matter that on July 1, the majority of state commissioners who studied Section 35 for a year voted to recommend that the state be prohibited from sending people to jails and prisons for addiction treatment.

One thing is true, Cocchi has a lot of empty cells and a lot of correctional staff, and has hired some treatment providers. He is able to do this because we have invested billions of our tax dollars in building and funding jails.

And, as long as millions are poured into jails, they will not go to community-based, community-run treatment on demand. Think about what kinds of quality services and programs could be purchased for $100,000 per person. If these same choices are repeated, jail for people with substance use disorder will be the default. And if Cocchi has his way, jailing people under Section 35 will not only expand in his jail, it will open the doors around the state to other sheriffs who also have empty cells.

Massachusetts is an outlier. We are the only state that civilly commits people to jail only because they are living with substance use disorder. Now is the time to end it. Let’s invest in treatment not jails.

Lois Ahrens is the founding director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project, a national organization based in Northampton. For more information, find The Real Cost of Prisons Project on Facebook and at www.realcostofprisons.org.

https://www.gazettenet.com/Guest-column-Lois-Ahrens-27779474