Category Archives: solitary confinement

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.”

Six by 10: Stories from Solitary

From Lauren K. Gibbs, an EMIT leader and activist

I just finished “Six By Ten: Stories From Solitary,” edited by Taylor Pendergrass and Mateo Hoke, 2018, part of the Voice of Witness series. I got it from the library system and it is available on Amazon.

The experiences are from nine imprisoned or formerly imprisoned people, one from the wife of an imprisoned young man who died, one from the mother of an imprisoned young man who she believes is likely to die soon, and two from white Corrections Officers – one who almost was incarcerated before joining the COs – who are trying to make a difference in the system.

The incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people are three black men, two white men, one Asian man, two black women (one Muslim), and one black transgender woman. These are frightening stories.

Read this book if you can. I am asking the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the heads of the Judiciary Committee, and my legislators to read the book (242 pages plus six appendixes comprising 37 pages including what we on the outside can do, a timeline of Solitary Confinement in the US, a glossary of Solitary language, a six-page discussion of Intimacy and Violence in a supermax prison, a six-page discussion of where Solitary Confinement is headed in the US, and the five-page demands of the 2011 California Prisoner Hunger Strike.

 The 10 things we can do are as follows.

 1.  Befriend someone in Solitary. Go to http://solitarywatch.com/about-lifelines to obtain a pen pal.

2.  Invite people who have been in Solitary to speak in our community about their experiences and thoughts.

3.  Make demands of local elected officials and candidates, such as Sheriffs (and District Attorneys).

4.  Give money or time to local prisoners’ rights and reentry organizations. Prisoners Legal Services in Massachusetts is a strong advocate for incarcerated people, especially in solitary.

5.  Organize to pass statewide reforms, particularly of solitary confinement and improve access to quality mental health care funding in the broader community and in prisons and jails.

6.  Ask Governor Baker to take a stand against Solitary Confinement and appoint a corrections director who implements reforms to Solitary Confinement different from this administration.

7.  Volunteer in a prison.

8.  Support efforts to hire formerly incarcerated people.

9.  Support investigative journalism.

10. Share this book. 

The 5 Demands of the 2011 Strike are as follows.

1. End Group Punishment and Administrative Abuse.

2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria.

3. Comply with the 2006 Recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons to end Long-Term Solitary Confinement.

4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food

5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU-Status Inmates. 

Gov. Baker, the Massachusetts State Legislature and the Mass. DOC should work to end Solitary Confinement [under many different names and designations] and provide the programming, food, and mental health care that incarcerated people need to break the cycles of incarceration and get ahead in life. 

Influence & inform your state rep AGAIN ! It’s critical & timely

TODAY, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, the Massachusetts House will hopefully start debating on 212 possible amendments to its big criminal justice reform bill, and we expect a vote on the bill by WednesdayWe’re in the final stretch!

We need YOUR HELP to make this bill as strong as possible. Here are three things you can do:

(1)  Email your state rep the attached list of requested votes.  The list includes “YES” votes on amendments that would help make our justice system more fair and effective, and critically important “NO” votes.   The list itself is simple, to make it easy for state reps to use.   Click here for the list:  H 4011 Requested Votes

Check whether your state rep sponsored any of the positive amendments.  If so, thank them for that.  (You can look up your state rep at https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator .)

Use a subject line like “Vote requests for H.4011 & amendments.”  The body of the email can be short and sweet:

Dear Representative XXX,

I am excited by the current opportunity for comprehensive criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.  [Thank you especially for your leadership on YYY.]

I hope you will help make our justice system more fair and effective by voting on amendments to H.4011 as requested in the attached document.

Most importantly, I hope H.4011 will pass with a resounding majority.

Thank you!

(2)  Attend any part of the House debate.  The House will likely start to debate this bill  at around 1 p.m on MondayTuesday, and Wednesday (Nov. 13-15).

 Sometimes sessions go well into the evening. You call the State House at 617-722-2000 and ask whether the House is still in session.
Email or text your state rep to tell them you’re there and/or drop by their office to say hi to their staff and possibly drop off a paper copy of the amendments requests.
Wear light-colored or bright-colored clothing with a message printed or a button, and sit in the front row of the balcony (which is on the fourth floor).  We want our presence to be known and visible!
(3)  Share this email with anyone you think might want to help improve our Commonwealth’s justice system.

Thank you for anything you can do!  
Activists [like YOU] have created the momentum for this exciting opportunity for several years. PLEASE email your rep the list of amendments RIGHT NOW.

Here’s hoping for a strong bill with a 2/3 veto-proof majority . . .
Susan Tordella
Thanks to EMIT core members Lori Kenschaft for compiling the email and the list of amendments, and for Lauren Gibbs additions.
 
And thanks to YOU for participating in our democracy, to correct some of the worst injustices of our time.

14 KEY Amendments & sponsors to H 4011

For all tireless justice and corrections systems advocates, H 4011, An Act to Reform Criminal Justice, is poised to be debated by the Mass. House of Representatives Nov. 12, 13, 14. Here are the latest amendments EMIT is advocating for. You can copy and paste and email to your state rep. Find your state rep here. 

NOW IS THE TIME to email your state rep! Don’t wait. We expect legislators to finalize it by Nov. 17.  Even if you’ve previously contacted your rep, the amendments and sponsors are NEW. Encourage him/her to co-sponsor & support them.

Dear Rep ___,
As your constituent, I urge you to vote for H4011, and to co-sponsor and advocate for the following amendments, to rebuild lives, prevent incarceration, and save money. Justice reform is bi-partisan and the Omnibus Bill offers a huge opportunity for all of us.
 
These amendments would enhance the bill significantly:
 

• Felony larceny threshold – Rep. Linsky:  Taise the level of what constitutes a felony to $1,500 — the level it would almost be if the threshold had kept up with inflation;


• Fines and Fees – Rep. Keefe:  Eliminate parole fees, and also public counsel fees for people who are indigent;

• Justice reinvestment — Rep. O’Day:  Track the savings generated from reducing the prison population, and reinvest half of it in job training, job placement, and other supports to further reduce unemployment and recidivism;

• Juvenile diversion — Rep. Cahill:  Allow statewide pre-arraignment diversion for young people;

 
• Juvenile expungement — Reps. Dykema, Khan and Decker:  Strengthen the House bill’s expungement provisions;  Rep. Khan is filing an amendment to allow some juvenile records to be sealed in 4 years (rather than 10);
 

• Mandatory minimums #1 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal mandatory minimums for all non-violent drug sentences;

• Mandatory minimums #2 – Reps. Carvalho and Keefe:  Repeal the “school zone” mandatory minimum;

• Medical parole #1 — Rep. Connolly:  Make people with permanent cognitive incapacitation (think dementia) eligible, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Medical parole #2 — Rep. Connolly:  Lengthen the terminal prognosis from 12 months to 18 months, in keeping with the Senate bill;

• Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction — Rep. Carvalho and Rep. Khan:  Raise the lower age to 12 and the upper age to 19 ;

 

• Romeo & Juliet — Rep. Lewis:  Don’t prosecute teens who are close in age and engage in consensual sexual activity;

• School-based arrests — Rep. Vega:  Reduce school-based arrests for adolescent misbehavior like disorderly conduct and disturbing an assembly;

 
• Shackling — Rep. Khan:  Codify current court policy prohibiting indiscriminate shackling of juveniles;
 
• Solitary — Rep. Balser:  Further limit the use of solitary confinement and provide data on its use.
​Sincerely,
Your name & address

This documentary on solitary is powerful & memorable

Maine and Mississippi have both reduced use of solitary, also known as “segregation” or “SHU-Special Housing Unit,” by 70 to 80 percent. We are rallying to end this cruel and unusual punishment in Massachusetts that typically makes matters worse instead of better.

PBS Frontline has crafted a powerful 2-hour documentary, “Last Days of Solitary” available online for free. What makes this film so remarkable is that it humanizes the most dangerous and difficult to reach people who are incarcerated, and it takes us behind the barbed wire into places usually hidden from the public.

The camera brings us face-to-face with caged people in Maine, while officials transitioned 92 people back to general population over a few years, leaving eight in the unit. The new approach saves the state an estimated $1 million a year because staffing solitary is so labor intensive.

This film is a must-see. Even watching 30 minutes will inform you on why and how we can change this practice often negatively impacts people for years, and does NOT necessarily add to institutional security.

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, a champion of rights of the incarcerated, created a 7 minute video of testimonies from Massachusetts residents who have suffered the torture of solitary.

Here is a sampling of bills Massachusetts activists are endorsing during the 2017-18 session. Please contact your state legislator, set up a face-to-face meeting and encourage him/her to support the bills.

Solitary Confinement Reform (S.1306/H.3071)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Ruth Balser, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Russell Holmes . These bills would end the practice of sentencing prisoners to long periods of isolated confinement. They would divert vulnerable groups (youth, pregnant women, those deaf, blind or in protective custody, prisoners with     serious mental illness or likely to deteriorate, away from solitary confinement.

To Collect Data Regarding Solitary Confinement in MA Prisons (S.1286/H.3092)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Christopher Markey. Massachusetts corrections facilities are not required to make public information regarding our state’s solitary   confinement practices. This bill would require quarterly data relating to solitary confinement, including the age, disability status and racial composition of inmates, the length of time spent in solitary and the number of suicides.

Segregation Oversight (S.1297/H.2249)

Lead Sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. This bill would create a solitary confinement oversight committee to review data and make recommendations on the use of solitary confinement in Massachusetts.

 Promote Humane Conditions of Confinement (S.1296 / H.2248)

Lead sponsors: Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Ruth Balser. Vulnerable populations, including those who have serious mental illness, should not be placed in solitary confinement. Those who are placed into segregation should have full access to regular mental health treatment, facility programming, disability accommodations and other humane services.

 

The inhumanity of solitary

U.S. faith leaders push for prison reform of solitary confinement

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. Prisons Policy and Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is pictured in a replica solitary confinement cell during the Ecumenical Advocacy Days event in 2015. Photo: CNS/Erin Schaff, courtesy Perisphere Media

The “SHU” is not much larger than a good-size bathroom.

The SHU, or special housing unit, was where Johnny Perez spent a total of three years – the longest period being 10 months – in solitary confinement during the 13 years he was in New York prisons for armed robbery.

The tiny cells where inmates are sent for breaking prison rules or misbehavior are also known by nicknames such as the box, the bing, punk city, the hole, the pound and lockdown.

Perez was sent to solitary for fighting, testing positive for marijuana and having a frying pan in his cell.

In solitary he was alone with his thoughts 23 hours a day, with an hour outdoors in a small caged area for exercise. Corrections officers who brought meals and conducted security checks offered his only human contact.

“If they’re not sociable then you won’t be having a conversation with them,” Perez said of the guards. “One didn’t even look me in the face. It’s hard that the only person you come in contact with doesn’t validate you as a human being.

“It was dehumanising.”

Perez, 37, made it through isolation with no debilitating psychological effects, unlike some others. He received “tons of magazine subscriptions” and two books a week – the maximum allowed – from his family and their church. He had writing materials so he could journal and also thought a lot about being elsewhere, far from the around-the-clock fluorescent-lit cell. He kept reminding himself, “I have to leave here the same as I came, that I don’t succumb to my environment.”

It was an environment where the men in neighbouring cells screamed, acted out their frustration in anger and cut themselves. And there was suicide.

About halfway through his sentence Perez began to realise “my mother didn’t give birth to me to sit in a jail cell”. He had a daughter who was born two days before he was arrested and he had barely seen her.

Perez enrolled in college classes while incarcerated, studying criminal justice and is set to graduate from St Francis College next year. His studies and change of heart helped prepare him for his first job when he was released from prison two and a half years ago. Today, he is a safe re-entry advocate with the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project in New York City helping the newly released adjust to life outside of prison.

He also is a vocal advocate for solitary confinement reform.

Perez’s stay in solitary was relatively short. Some incarcerated people have spent 30 years or more in isolation.

Advocates like Perez have joined their voices in a growing campaign to call attention to the wide use of solitary confinement nationwide. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were held in isolation in 2014, said a report from the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called attention to the importance of the criminal justice system to rehabilitate people convicted of crimes and that imprisonment “should be about more than punishment” in its 2000 statementResponsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.

While the bishops did not address solitary confinement directly, they expressed a belief that prisons are places where human dignity must be respected.

Advocates for reform as well as psychologists say solitary confinement often destroys people rather than rehabilitates them.

The Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which the USCCB is a supporter, is one of numerous organisations calling for the end of solitary confinement.

Rev Laura Markle Downton, director of the U.S. prisons policy and program for the religious campaign, compared inmate isolation to torture, citing a 2011 United Nations finding.

“For us as people of faith, we really see this effort as a profoundly moral effort, that we would deny any person access to community, access to restorative justice, to, what I would say as a Methodist minister, access to redemption and a belief in God’s ability give us all a second and third and 23rd chance,” Rev Downton told Catholic News Service.

“There’s been a real acceptance that once someone is labeled a criminal that the standard of humanity and dignity would be removed from them,” she said. “The inherent God-given human dignity of the person doesn’t end at the prison doors.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has produced a documentary on solitary confinement titled Breaking Down the Box. The organisation also has built a replica 1.8-metre-by-2.7-metre cell that it displays at programs.

In 2011, Juan E. Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture with the Human Rights Council, called for a ban on solitary confinement except in exceptional circumstances and for no longer than 15 days. Mendez also said that in no case should the practice be used for juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

In January, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons. He said the practice is overused and can “worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones”.

Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has researched the psychological effects of incarceration. He has found that segregated prisoners deprived of normal human interaction reportedly suffer from mental illnesses including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators did not respond to requests for comment.

Bills to limit solitary confinement have been introduced in several states in response to concerns raised by once incarcerated people and psychologists. They have met with mixed results.

Catholic leadership on the issue, particularly by Catholic Mobilising Network, the New York State Catholic Conference and the California Catholic Conference has helped obtain gradual shifts in inmate isolation practices, Downton said.

In New York, the bishops in 2000 called upon state officials to “avoid extreme forms of confinement and abusive punishment” in its statement Restoring All the Fullness of Life: A Pastoral Statement on Criminal Justice. In April, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany addressed the need for reform of solitary confinement in a column in the Times Union.

The New York Catholic conference also backs the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act. The bill would limit the time anyone can spend in segregation, end solitary confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in isolation and create more humane and effective alternatives for inmates.

Retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany told CNS that the state’s bishops have worked on restorative justice issues for more than a decade. He said their concern always has been for the dignity of the inmates.

He also welcomed a settlement agreement reached in December in a lawsuit over incarceration practices in New York prisons. The agreement calls for a step-down unit to help inmates reintegrate into the general prison population, a substance abuse treatment program, a community re-entry program for people being released, incentivising good behaviour, ending the use of a restrictive diet as punishment, and disciplinary guidelines to end the use of arbitrary sanctions.

Cross country, the California Catholic Conference has pursued avenues to reform the state’s use of solitary confinement. From meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown to backing legislation placing limits on inmate isolation, the conference has staked out a consistent position that, a staff member told CNS, the bishops view as a human rights issue.

“They just felt like this is wrong. That we need to find different ways to address this. There’s different ways than keeping people in isolation for so long,” said Debbie McDermott, associate director for restorative justice at the California Catholic Conference.

Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Monterey, California, who chairs the conference’s Restorative Justice Committee, said he was troubled to see during visits to different isolation units that some inmates were held in cages. He said the men told him they feel lonely and neglected.

“It’s disconcerting that a lot of the people are left alone. Many threaten suicide. They can’t see their families for long, long times. So we have to reach out to them (state corrections officials) to say, ‘This isn’t the way to go. They’re not animals’,” the bishop said.

Over the years, the committee has been instrumental in gaining reforms in California solitary confinement practices. It played a major role in ending a two-month hunger strike in 2013 that involved nearly 10 per cent of California’s inmate population over solitary confinement policies, particularly at Pelican Bay State Prison.

“When the men were not eating at Pelican Bay, certainly we advocated for them and against what was happening to them there,” Bishop Garcia said.

“I think the SHU is improved, especially at Pelican Bay, from what I’ve been hearing,” he added.

Perez is pleased that reform campaigns are gaining attention. The reform efforts are not meant to prevent prison officials from doing their job, he explained, but to ensure that administrators remember that incarcerated people must make amends for their wrong-doing and not to be further punished in isolation for even minimal rules violations.

“We’re not saying you can’t not hold people accountable,” Perez said. “But you don’t have to treat them inhumanely.”

A must-see solitary drama, free

mariposa_artThe longer I’m in this movement, the more I learn about every aspect of prison life. Solitary, SHU [special housing unit], the hole, the box, or whatever you call it, is not much of a life. Deprived of most sensory experiences in life and often with the only regular human contact, antagonistic, outside of your door, solitary can drive a sane person mad, and a mad person to self-destruction and deeper madness.

The public is invited to view a powerful informative 45 minute play that dramatizes these realities, based on the letters of a woman in solitary for nearly three years.

It will be performed Thursday, March 24, 8 pm, at the Milford Performing Arts Center, 150 Main St., Milford. Admission is free, donations accepted. Reserve free tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/Mariposa-MASS

Other performances in the Boston area are as follows: Wednesday, March 23, 7 pm at the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, lower level, Room 129, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; Friday, March 25, 8 pm, Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont St., Boston; and Saturday, March 26, 6:45 pm, First Church in Roxbury, 10 Putnam St., Roxbury. For information, go to http://www.juliasteeleallen.com/portfolio/mariposa/

The play is co-sponsored by Prisoners Legal Services, Coalition for Effective Public Safety, EMIT, End Mass Incarceration Together, a task force of UU Mass Action Network and host venues. For information, contact emit.susan@gmail.com or Susan Tordella at 978-772-3930. More information on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/170428996672052/

The shows are part of a week-long series of events to raise awareness about the inhumanity of being confined in a sterile environment the size of an elevator or parking space, for months, years and decades. The USA boasts an estimated 80,000 people in solitary. Because of the veil of secrecy shrouding most prisons, the true number is unknown.