Lockdown & Prison Riot Articles


Lawyers Fear for Marri's Sanity
U.S. Defends Conditions of Detainee's Solitary Confinement

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 4, 2008; A02

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is obsessed with the noise variations in an industrial fan, the buzzing of fluorescent lights overhead and the preparation of his dinners. He has stuffed his air vents with food to prevent what he believes are noxious fumes from streaming into his cell, and he worries at times that his lawyers are part of a government conspiracy against him.

The only person currently held as an "enemy combatant" on U.S. soil, Marri has been accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda, but he is not charged with any crime. After 6 1/2 years of confinement -- the past five in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. -- Marri's lawyers argue that his isolation has degraded his mental state and that years of being held incommunicado have left him unable to help in his own defense.

Marri's captivity in an often-forgotten part of the U.S. military detention system, outside the established legal process at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raises the legal question of whether the United States can hold him without trial under those conditions until the end of the "war on terror," as the government has argued in court.

In court papers and interviews, Marri's lawyers vividly describe their client's struggle to improve his conditions and his fight against the insanity that psychologists say can follow long-term solitary confinement.

Though Marri's living situation has improved substantially, with the addition of a personal library and a computer, his family and lawyers wonder whether his psyche can hold up long enough for him to collaborate in legal measures meant to secure his release.

"Mr. Almarri has been confined in virtual isolation at the Brig for more than 1,700 days, suffering egregious abuses during much of that time," Marri's lawyers wrote in court papers filed recently in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. "His prolonged isolation and other unlawful conditions of confinement are irreparably harming his health and safety, endangering what remains of his psychological resilience, and jeopardizing his ability to participate meaningfully in his . . . defense."

The Pentagon says Marri has been moved into a unique form of detention with more privileges and concessions than almost anyone held in U.S. high-security prisons. Justice Department lawyers have argued in court papers that Marri's detention is "safe and humane" and provides "him with a number of accommodations and privileges rarely seen in military detention of enemy combatants."

Though held alone and without contact with other detainees -- all of whom are U.S. service members convicted of crimes -- Marri has a 1,000-square-foot dayroom with cable television and recently was given access to a computer. He also can read books from an approximately 400-volume library, including religious texts; has his own exercise equipment; and can read articles from USA Today and a local newspaper, except for news about the counterterrorism effort, along with magazines such as Men's Fitness and PC World.

"We have made a deliberate effort to be sensitive to the fact that he does not interact with other detainees," said Alan Liotta, principal director of the Pentagon's office of detainee affairs. "We knew that this was different, so we have tried to make sure that he has had opportunities along the way that may not be available to others detained as enemy combatants by the Department of Defense."

It is clear that the government thinks Marri is a dangerous man with ties to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. He was arrested after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and accused of posing as a graduate student in Illinois while acting as a "sleeper agent" and preparing for follow-up attacks. He had returned to the United States on Sept. 10, 2001.

Initially charged with federal crimes, Marri was moved into military custody in 2003 after President Bush determined him to be an enemy combatant and an immediate threat to U.S. security. Of particular interest to U.S. authorities were Marri's alleged contacts with Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who is accused of being a paymaster and travel facilitator for al-Qaeda and is scheduled for arraignment before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay this week.

Marri also had allegedly stored on his computer speeches by bin Laden and information on chemicals that could be used as weapons.

Marri's brother Jarallah is a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, though lawyers said he has been cleared for release pending discussions with the government of Qatar, where both Marris hold citizenship.

"If the United States believes Mr. al-Marri did something wrong, the real question is why the government hasn't tried him and proven it in a court of law," said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer who represents Marri. "The government's conduct speaks volumes about the weakness of its case and its position generally."

His lawyers also said Marri has never confessed to wrongdoing -- unlike Zacarias Moussaoui, another prominent terrorism detainee in the United States, whose admissions of guilt contributed to his 2006 conviction in civilian court for trying to harm Americans. He is now serving a life term in Colorado's ultra-spartan Supermax prison.

So far, the legal motions filed by Marri's attorneys appear to have played a role in improving his treatment. After being held incommunicado for more than a year in South Carolina, he was allowed legal representation and his interrogations ceased. Then, after he filed a lawsuit in 2005, he was permitted to move around his isolated cellblock, was given a mattress every day and was allowed to pray the way he wished.

In the meantime, Marri has been kept at a great distance from those in the outside world, meeting only with his lawyers, the International Committee of the Red Cross and brig staff. His fight for improvements in his conditions recently led to a single phone call with family members in Saudi Arabia, part of a Defense Department policy that now allows detainees at Guantanamo Bay to call home. Marri learned shortly before the call that his elderly father had died during his seven years in prison.

Twenty family members squeezed into a room in Riyadh, excitedly and sometimes tearfully passing around a telephone receiver last month, said his brother Mohammed al-Marri. On the other end of the line was a man who had become like a ghost, a faraway voice some said they had to strain to remember.

"It was a very emotional time," said Mohammed al-Marri, who spoke with his brother for the first time since 2001. "I was very glad to hear his voice after all these years, but on the other hand, it's just an unbelievable situation."

He said it has been hard to explain to his brother's children -- ages 7 to 15 -- where their father is and why he has not returned, in large part because he has not been charged with a crime. Ali al-Marri's wife and children left the United States for Saudi Arabia in 2002, after he was arrested.

"If the guy is guilty, prove he is guilty and we will accept that," Mohammed al-Marri said by telephone. "If he is not guilty, then why hold him all these years? . . . At least he should get justice."

Ali al-Marri's attorneys said their client was elated after the call and stopped harping on some of the minor inconveniences of prison life, instead focusing on his reconnection with his family. Andrew Savage, who also represents Marri, spoke with brig staff after the phone call and learned that Marri has been in "great spirits" since.

That result does not surprise experts familiar with long-term incarceration and isolation, who generally say that family contact gives inmates hope and vital interaction with people they know. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who submitted his opinion to the U.S. District Court on Marri's behalf on March 6, said that being able to hear his family's voices inevitably gave Marri "a renewed sense of connection and purpose" and allowed him to focus his attention on "something very attractive and positive."

Still, Marri's lawyers say he suffers from disorientation, discomfort and sometimes pain. "There is clear evidence that his psychological resilience has eroded to a worrisome degree," wrote Grassian, who has not met Marri and relied on the accounts of Marri's lawyers. "He is becoming increasingly withdrawn 
at times paranoid, as well as increasingly irritable and impulsive, and increasingly obsessional."

Savage wrote in court papers in March that Marri "has said that he wants to return to Qatar or Saudi Arabia, even if it meant being beaten or tortured, because at least the uncertainty and indefiniteness of his current situation would end. He says he tries to live day to day but cannot block the terrifying thought from his mind that he may spend years, even decades, alone."

Long terms in solitary can warp minds, critics say
Sunday,  September 9, 2007 3:54 AM 
By Alayna DeMartini

James D. DeCampDispatch
English teacher Gretchen Hull-Morris works with an inmate outside his solitary-confinement cell at the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility.

James D. DeCampDispatch photos
Above: The interior of a solitary confinement cell at the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility

Right: Guards Robert Zinn, left, and Nathan Castle look in on prisoners in their solitary-confinement cells and fill out a log of check times at the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility.

The teen presses his pale face to the window of the locked door. When the guard flips open a slot in the door, the boy bends down to look out. Justin has been alone in this 9-by-8-foot cell for all but one hour a day for nearly a month. The room has only a stainless-steel toilet and sink and a plastic shelf above the bed. Through a narrow rectangular window, he can see a stretch of lawn -- a glimpse of what's beyond the white cinder-block cell wall.

When he's not sleeping, Justin says, he kills time drawing. The Dispatch was allowed to interview the 17-year-old from Toledo on the condition that his last name not be published.

In May, guards led him to this cell in the state juvenile prison in Marion County. Before he was transferred there, he had scaled a wall of the Cuyahoga Hills prison in Cuyahoga County, but his freedom was brief. Police arrested him after he stole a screwdriver at a Home Depot.

Justin would have spent only two weeks in 23-hour-a-day lockup if he had done his homework while there. 

But he didn't. So instead, he spent six weeks in solitary -- sitting and waiting, sleeping and drawing. 

"Getting tired of being in there yet?" a guard asks, looking at Justin through the window in the door.

The boy says nothing.

No state limits

Federal law requires that inmates in both juvenile and adult prisons get at least one hour a day outside their cells.

But how long a chronically troublesome or violent youth can be kept in solitary confinement in a juvenile prison is left up to states to determine. In Ohio's adult prisons, inmates can be held in solitary for six months. There's no limit for juveniles.

Last year, two inmates each spent four months straight in solitary confinement in an Ohio juvenile prison. On 36 occasions in 2006 and 2007, inmates spent three or more consecutive weeks in solitary, according to prison records.

The American Correctional Association, which sets standards for prisons nationwide, recommends no longer than five days for juvenile inmates. Staying in solitary even for more than a few hours can push adolescents toward depression, suicide or violence, experts say.

Even Gov. Ted Strickland, a former adult-prison psychologist, said he considers locking up youths for 23 hours a day for several days to be "pretty severe."

"I quite frankly wonder if that is the best approach," he said.

He has suggested starting off with fewer lockdown hours and then moving inmates to 23/1, as it's called, if they repeatedly defy rules.

Tom Stickrath, director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services, said solitary confinement has helped prevent chronically violent offenders from further harming other inmates or staff members.

Two juvenile prisons -- in Marion and Scioto counties -- have discipline units for chronically violent youths. The units have cells for solitary confinement as well as lockup for 16 or 14 hours a day.

But Youth Services tracks only how long inmates stay in the discipline units, not how long they spend in 23-, 16- or 14-hour lockup. 

Effects of confinement

Leaving inmates alone for days with little or no outside contact can be harmful to their psychological health, said Jamie Fellner, a director of Human Rights Watch.

"For the mentally ill, it can be torture," Fellner said. "You cannot just be locked up with your own mind because it can be very scary and damaging."

An inmate in solitary is allowed to have a pencil, paper and one book at a time. A teacher and a social worker are supposed to visit each of the youths in solitary every day and talk to them through the slot in the cell doors.

But social workers are stretched thin, said Jim Tudas, head of that union for the juvenile-prison system.

At the Scioto County prison, for example, "The contact amounts to maybe they walk by and look in and say, 'Do you need anything?' " Tudas said.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation into conditions at the Marion County prison found that youths often were placed in solitary confinement even though they weren't a threat to themselves or others. Some were held in confinement for long periods "for refusing breakfast, cursing and talking in class," according to Justice Department letters to Strickland.

The Children's Law Center, which represents jailed youths in Ohio and Kentucky, sued the state in April, saying that prison employees don't watch, teach or counsel inmates enough while they're in the long-term lockup.

Stickrath said the discipline units have made the prisons safer by keeping the repeatedly violent offenders apart from the rest of the inmates.

"I'd love not to even have this unit, but not at the expense of youths or staff," Stickrath said. "It's not humane to have kids out there assaulting each other."

But he said he is open to alternatives to 23-hour lockdown. No changes are in the works, but a team of consultants has been hired to evaluate the system's effectiveness, including how it handles repeatedly violent youths.

Bonnie Kerness, coordinator of Prison Watch Project, a national jail and prison watchdog group based in New Jersey, said corrections officers commonly rely on solitary confinement to isolate troubled youths instead of helping them learn to deal with their anger or violent behavior.

"It provides a nice, safe working environment for the officers, and then no one has to look at the roots of the problems," she said.

A few hours alone is enough for a person to calm down, she said. A longer confinement can harm youths already struggling with their emotions.

Brian Lane, who manages the 23/1 unit at the Marion County prison, said the confinement teaches youths to change their behavior. They seldom return to the unit, he said.

"I think it's very successful," he said. "It's very structured.

"Our business is to help kids. I wish there was not a need for my unit. In reality, there is."

Concerns about suicide

An April survey of 25 states that use solitary confinement in their juvenile prisons found that the average stay was 18.3 hours, said Ned Loughran, executive director of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators. The survey did not include states such as California, which was sued for inhumane prison conditions, including keeping kids in solitary confinement for as long as nine months.

New Jersey changed its policy last year so that juvenile inmates can be placed in solitary confinement for five consecutive days at most. The state used to allow a month, but that was changed because of the risk that youths would kill themselves, said Howard Beyer, executive director of New Jersey's juvenile-prison system.

"I didn't want to challenge fate," he said.

Inmates locked in 23/1 often have chronic mental illnesses that cause them to act out, said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Troubled youths need to learn how to communicate, and that's not happening when they have little or no contact with others.

"It leads to a psychological deterioration of youths who are vulnerable," Krisberg said.

In Ohio's juvenile prisons, guards are required to check on inmates in solitary confinement every 15 minutes to make sure they aren't trying to kill themselves.

Vincent Walker, now 18, was in the 23/1 lockup at the prison in Marion County at least three times, each for two weeks.

Walker was sent to prison in November 2005 after stealing a man's car and threatening him with a gun in Cuyahoga County. Although his bipolar disorder had been diagnosed before he arrived, he was never treated with medications or therapy in prison, said Linda Julian, his attorney.

In prison, he got into trouble for having marijuana and attacking inmates, his records show.

Walker called his days in 23/1 "dead time." To pass the hours, he slept, wrote or thought about his son.

"I daydream about the outside world," he wrote in a letter to The Dispatch.

When he was let out for his daily hour of recreation, a guard walked him to a room with a pull-up bar and a stair step. But he usually didn't exercise.

As Walker put it: "Being in the room alone all day just makes people mad."


"It leads to a psychological deterioration of youths 

who are vulnerable."

Barry Krisberg 
president, National Council on Crime and Delinquency 
"It's not humane to have kids out there assaulting each other."

Tom Stickrath 
Director, Ohio Department of Youth Services 


Published Monday, December 18, 2006

Lawyers, Prison Officials Debate Solitary Confinement

St. Petersburg Times

Ian Manuel had just turned 14 when he went to prison for shooting a woman in a botched robbery on a Tampa sidewalk. Mouthy and disobedient, he was sent to solitary confinement a year and a half later.

That was in 1992. He has been there ever since.

Now 29, Manuel has spent half his life in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet. His food comes through a slot in the door. He never sees another inmate. Out of boredom he cuts himself just to watch the blood trickle.

Lawyers who advocate on behalf of prisoners call Manuel "the poster boy" for the ill effects of solitary confinement.

There are 3,500 inmates in solitary confinement in Florida prisons. More than 1,400 of them are held under the strictest conditions, like Manuel.

They are not allowed out of their cells except for three quick showers a week and five hours in an empty outdoor cage that resembles a dog run.

They are not allowed to stand at their doors and look out the narrow Plexiglas window in their cells, bathe in their sinks when it's hot, or use their blankets as a wrap when it's cold.

They are not allowed to call out chess plays from cell to cell or read anything but legal and religious materials. If they violate any of these rules, their time in solitary is extended.

In Florida a larger percentage of inmates - 4 percent - live "behind the door" than in any other state. Their numbers are increasing by about 250 people a year, despite a state plan intended to decrease the numbers. Forty-seven of the inmates in solitary are younger than 18. Seventy-seven percent of the women and 33 percent of the men are diagnosed as mentally ill, raising questions of whether solitary confinement is a dumping ground for inmates whose illnesses are aggravated by isolation.

The Department of Corrections was brought to federal court in 1999 to defend itself against allegations that its use of solitary confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Seven years later, lawyers for the inmates argue the state still has not addressed the issue, despite a court-approved plan to do so. A federal judge will soon decide who is right: the state or the inmates.

During a September federal court hearing on the alleged abuses in solitary, Chase Riveland, former chief administrator for prison systems in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, said: "Prisons have people who must be kept away from the general population. The problem (in Florida) is not that (solitary) exists, but who goes in and who goes out and why, and how they are treated when they're in."

More than 50 percent of the inmates are held there for years, Riveland said, "because of minor disciplinary infractions, not because they're a threat to others."

Manuel holds the record for being there the longest without a break.

A call to apologize

On a muggy July night in 1990, Debbie Baigrie, 28, was walking with a friend in downtown Tampa. Three boys walked up as she got to her car and demanded money. Manuel, then 13, pulled a gun and fired.

A bullet tore through Baigrie's open mouth and out her cheek, shattering five teeth and part of her gum. Manuel pleaded guilty to attempted felony murder. At his sentencing, the judge cited 17 prior arrests for shoplifting, purse snatching and stealing cars. He gave Manuel a life sentence without parole.

In 1991, when Manuel arrived at the prison processing center in Central Florida, he was so small no one could find a prison uniform to fit him, Ron McAndrew, then the assistant warden, recalled. Someone cut 6 inches off the boy's pant legs so he would have something to wear.

"He was scared of everything and acting like a tough guy as a defense mechanism," said McAndrew, now a prison and jail consultant in Florida. "He didn't stand a chance in an adult prison."

Within months, Manuel was sent to Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, which McAndrew called "one of the toughest adult prisons in the state." At Apalachee, the boy mouthed off to other inmates and correctional officers and made obscene hand gestures, racking up disciplinary infractions that landed him in solitary.

On Christmas Eve 1992, he was allowed to make one phone call. He called Debbie Baigrie, the woman he had shot.

"This is Ian. I am sorry for all the suffering I've caused you," she remembers him saying.

They began to correspond regularly. Baigrie said she was impressed with how well he wrote.

She asked prison officials to let him take the General Educational Development test and take college courses.

"I got a second chance in life. I recovered and went on," Baigrie said. "I wanted Ian to have the same chance."

But the rules of solitary forbade Manuel from participating in any kind of self-improvement or educational program. Instead, he sat in his cell day in and day out, without reading materials or human interaction, racking up more infractions for "disrespect," which only extended his time in solitary.

After several years, Baigrie gave up.

"Not because of Ian," she said, "but because the system made it impossible for him to improve. What does it say when a victim tries to do more for an inmate than the very system that's supposed to rehabilitate him?"

Harsh, but right?

But rehabilitation is not the point of solitary confinement, which officials call "close management."

Its intent is "to provide housing that removes inmates from the general population to ensure the safety of staff and other inmates," said James Upchurch, the head of security for the state Department of Corrections.

Under the strictest conditions, he said, inmates are still allowed "numerous privileges," among them, "stamps, mail, paper and (rubber) pens, a prison uniform, bedding, legal and religious material, three 10-minute showers a week and haircuts."

In September, State Attorney General Charlie Crist, with Assistant State Attorney Jason Vail, wrote a brief saying solitary conditions "can be severe, even harsh, without violating the Constitution."

Their example: Sleeping on a concrete floor and "being denied a mattress or a bed for several days does not violate the Eighth Amendment."

Even if the state's "remedial action (is) unsuccessful," they said, the court cannot continue to monitor solitary unless the evidence shows the state "acted with the very purpose of causing harm."

Over nine days in September, inmates testified via video before Federal District Court Judge Henry Adams.

Anthony Sutton, 29, an inmate at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution, told the judge that he first went into solitary in 2002 when correctional officers found a knife in his roommate's mattress.

Sutton recently filed a written grievance because correctional officers won't allow him to wear the knee brace he needs to walk. Their written response: "Limited mobility of (solitary) status makes the knee brace unnecessary."

Inmate Marcus Green, 33, who is on the lowest level of solitary, told Adams, "Their rules aren't on the rule sheet. They make up their own rules. I was denied access to the day room because my pillow fluff wasn't neat the way they wanted. I was denied day room because I put paper on my vent to try to guide some ventilation in my cell."

Lawyers for the Department of Corrections did not dispute inmates' version of events. Vail said their stories "did not add up to systemic violations," which were required to prove cruel and unusual treatment.

"These prisoners don't practice civilized behavior. They don't follow rules. They don't deserve civilized treatment. It's a different world," Vail told the St. Petersburg Times.

Two days later, Vail asked to amend his statement: "What I meant to say was that these inmates don't conform and are there because they don't follow the rules. It's that simple."

Going slowly crazy

On the fifth day of the September hearing, Ian Manuel testified.

"It's my belief," he told Judge Adams, "that the reason I haven't been able to progress off CM (close management) all these years is the way the system is set up. One DR (disciplinary report) will keep you there for six months and those six months add up to years and those years turn into decades."

In the past seven months, prison records show Manuel received three disciplinary write-ups: one for not making his bed, another for hiding a day's worth of prescription medicine instead of taking it, and yet another for yelling through the food flap when a correctional officer refused to take his grievance form. Those reports extended his stay on the strictest level of solitary for nine months.

Manuel told the judge that in isolation he has become a "cutter," slicing his arms and legs with whatever sharp object he can find a fragment of a toothpaste tube or a tiny piece of glass.

Don Gibbs, a psychiatrist for the Department of Corrections, said cutting and watching the blood flow is how hundreds of inmates "relieve the boredom and stress of isolation."

It takes from two to six months, Gibbs said, for inmates in solitary to start exhibiting signs of mental illness, if they are not already mentally ill.

"Nobody can be isolated for long periods of time with nothing to see and nothing to do and not deteriorate," he said. "If you're not mentally ill when you go in, you probably will be when you come out."

In the past year, Manuel has attempted suicide five times. In late August he slit his wrists. A prison nurse closed the wounds with superglue and returned him to his solitary cell.

When the judge asked him why he attempted suicide, Manuel said, "You kind of lose hope."

In early 2007, Adams will rule on whether solitary conditions should continue to be monitored by his court.

About that time, staff at Union Correctional Institution will review Manuel's status to see whether, after 14 years in solitary, he will be allowed to go to the day room four hours a week to watch TV in handcuffs and shackles.

"Every day," he says, "I pray for this."

Researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report.


Life in Solitary Confinement
Q&A: Solitary Confinement & Human Rights
by Maria Godoy 

Jamie Fellner is director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch.

Long-term segregation -- also known as solitary confinement -- has been used in U.S. prisons since the late 1820s. But the practice only became widespread during the past two decades. That rise has coincided with a burgeoning prison population, and with the growing power and influence of gangs within the U.S. correctional system.

And yet, for more than a century, legal questions have surrounded the use of long-term segregation. 

Roger Pilon, a legal scholar with the Cato Institute, discusses some of the legal concerns involved. Read the Q&A with Pilon.

 NPR.org, July 27, 2006 · Prisoners confined to long-term segregation live in isolation, in small, often windowless cells, for years or even decades. They are passed food trays through slots in the doors. A few times a week, they are let out, in handcuffs and shackles, for a shower or to exercise in a small, enclosed space. As a general rule, they have almost no human interaction except with guards, no access to newspapers or television, and are allowed few personal items -- a few photographs, perhaps a book. 

Estimates suggest at least 25,000 U.S. prisoners are held in such "Supermaximum security" conditions, which were designed to hold the most violent of inmates. The rising use of long-term segregation has drawn sharp criticism from human-rights experts. 

NPR discussed these concerns with Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch. She has been researching and writing about prison conditions in the United States, with a focus on Supermax confinement, for more than a decade.

Q: Is there good reason to keep prisoners in long-term segregation in U.S. prisons? 

The massive use of long-term segregation reflects a failure of correctional policies. Segregation has become routine because of exploding prison populations, which strain meager prison budgets. That has made it difficult for officials to provide humane prisons with educational, counseling and rehabilitative activities. And we know that prisoners who have access to education while incarcerated, for example, are more likely to remain law-abiding once they're released.

That said, there may always be a few inmates who simply prove too dangerous to be in the general population. For them, some form of segregation may be the only option. But even then, the nature of segregation should be rethought. No one should be confined in small, empty cells with nothing to do -- and no one to talk to -- day in and day out, year in and year out.

Q: What worries you most about long-term segregation? 

Our research shows that segregation is used far more frequently, for far longer periods of time, and under far harsher conditions than is legitimately needed to manage inmate security. 

Supermax facilities have been built in excess of the number of truly "worst of the worst" prisoners they were ostensibly intended to house. They're often used for any troublesome inmate -- including those who break minor rules, are in a single fight or are mentally ill and act out.

The conditions of isolation are harsh and degrading. For many, the absence of normal social interaction, of mental stimulation, of exposure to the natural world -- of almost everything that makes life human and bearable -- is emotionally, physically and psychologically destructive. The experience is hardly conducive to successful re-entry to the community. No other Western democracy imposes such conditions of confinement for prolonged periods on so many people.

And segregation can last for decades. Officials have complete discretion when to release an inmate; there's no guarantee good behavior will secure a release. Corrections officials must be able to exercise their professional judgment -- but such discretion must be tempered to minimize the risk that an inmate is unnecessarily sent to or kept in segregation. Principled leadership, careful staff training and effective internal-review processes can help. But external, independent scrutiny is also needed to prevent abuse and give inmates recourse against arbitrary and unfair treatment.

Q: What do human-rights experts believe to be most problematic about the day-to-day conditions of long-term segregation? 

More than a decade ago, a federal judge noted that prolonged segregation pushes the bounds of what human beings can tolerate. Whether or not it produces clinical psychiatric symptoms, living in such conditions for years is likely to produce unfathomable misery and suffering. 

Some inmates with no prior history of mental illness develop clinical symptoms of psychosis or severe affective disorders. For prisoners with a history of mental illness, the isolation, lack of social interaction and lack of structured activities can aggravate their symptoms. Even worse, mental health service for prisoners in segregation is usually far worse than for the general population. The result is mental agony, sometimes to the point of suicide. Inmates whose illness becomes acute may be transferred to mental hospitals -- but once their condition is stabilized, they are returned to segregation, where the cycle of illness begins again.

In several states, lawsuits have resulted in bans against placing mentally ill prisoners in segregation. But elsewhere, in state after state, a disproportionately large number of prisoners in long-term segregation are mentally ill. 

Q: Prison officials say a burgeoning gang problem is one reason for long-term segregation. How can they deal with gangs without housing offenders in isolation? 

The problem of violent gangs in prison is serious -- and growing. But there's no evidence that long-term segregation is the solution. California, for example, has a horrific problem with gangs -- despite the fact that it has been locking gang members in segregation for years, refusing to let them out unless they renounce the gang and identify members. 

Gangs in prison serve many purposes: They provide status and respect, a sense of purpose, protection and an opportunity to acquire goods and services. Punishing gang members does little to change this function or to reduce the allure and power of gangs. 

Many corrections experts believe a solely punitive response to gangs is doomed to fail in prisons, as it has in communities. What's needed is an approach that combines "law enforcement" with better prison conditions: reduced crowding, increased educational and productive activities, more mental health counseling, and more staff to increase safety. 

Q: Some prison officials say some inmates are too violent to remain in the general population. If they aren't sent to isolation, what should be done with them? 

There would be much less violence in prison -- and much higher prospects of successful reintegration into the community upon release -- if public policies and correctional practices yielded something other than today's barren, overcrowded warehouses for people. 

But prison officials can't do it alone. The single biggest problem they face is the staggering and ever-growing size of the prison population. Too many people are sent to prison for crimes for which alternatives to incarceration would be appropriate, and their sentences are far too long. Public officials have been willing to give the United States the largest prison population in the world, but they haven't been willing to allocate the funds to ensure humane confinement. 

Elected officials should put prison reform on their agenda. They should give prison officials a clear mandate to provide productive confinement, they should give them the necessary resources, and they should hold them accountable when they fail. If prison were dramatically improved, long-term segregation would be needed for very few.


Life in Solitary Confinement
In U.S. Prisons, Thousands Spend Years in Isolation
by Laura Sullivan 

Ed Kashi 
An inmate sits in his solitary confinement cell in a prison in Huntsville, Texas, in this file photo from 1996. Most U.S. inmates who are sent to solitary spend at least five years there. Corbis 

In a three-part series, NPR crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan examines the state of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons today.

Part 1 -- Wednesday, July 26: California's Pelican Bay prison is considered the model for most long-term segregation units in U.S. prisons today. NPR visits the prison's secure housing unit to discover what life is like for the more than 1,200 inmates who live there in tiny, windowless cells. (Read Part 1: 'At Pelican Bay Prison, a Life in Solitary')

Part 2 -- Thursday, July 27: At Oregon State Pennitentiary, corrections officers are rethinking the idea of isolation and wondering if there might be a better way.

Part 3 -- Friday, July 28: Daud Tulam spent 18 years in solitary confinement in New Jersey. He's now free and trying to adjust to life on the outside.

TIMELINE: Solitary Confinement
The use of solitary confinement has become widespread in U.S. prisons over the past two decades, but its use actually dates back more than 180 years. From the Quaker philosophy that inspired the practice to its prevalence today, read a history of solitary confinement:

July 26, 2006
Timeline: Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons 

 NPR.org, July 26, 2006 · Over the past two decades, solitary confinement has moved out of the prison basement and into whole facilities built just for isolation. These places have many names -- Supermax, intensive-management units, secure housing -- but the meaning is the same: years alone, out of the public view and away from public oversight. 

Isolation today means 23 hours a day in a concrete cell no bigger than a bathroom. One hour a day is spent alone in a concrete exercise pen, about the length and width of two cars. 

Most inmates held in solitary have no contact with the outside world other than the U.S. mail. Depending on the state, inmates have limited access to visitors. Most can't watch television, call anyone on the phone or even touch another person while in the units.

Some inmates have been incarcerated in these conditions in U.S. prisons for more than 20 years. Most have been there for more than five years. 

Conservative estimates say that there are more than 25,000 inmates serving their sentences this way in 40 states. The inmates aren't in these facilities because of what they did on the outside. No one is sentenced by a court or a judge to serve their time in isolation, except in the rare occurrence of terrorists who could pose a threat to national security. 

Inmates are put in isolation because of something they did on the inside. Prison officials say inmates are placed in isolation because they are the most violent, dangerous prisoners. Officials say most inmates in the units are members of gangs that are making their prisons too risky for the officers and the other inmates. But over the years, the violence rates in U.S. prisons have not decreased, nor has the strength of the gangs. 

In many states, inmates held in solitary confinement have almost no way out. Many stay in isolation until their sentences run out. And that's pretty common. Almost 95 percent of the inmates in isolation in this country will be released back to the public one day. Many of them will receive little, if any, help with the transition. Texas, for example, took 1,458 inmates out of isolation in 2005, walked them to the prison's gates and took the handcuffs off. 

A few states are trying to implement programs to help inmates work their way out of isolation. Several states, including Oregon and Colorado, have started a system that allows inmates to earn back privileges with good behavior and eventually work their way out of isolation. Oregon also offers inmates therapy sessions with a visiting psychologist to work on anger management. And a dozen states now rely on a panel of prison officials outside the prison to decide who goes into isolation and who gets out, so it's no longer solely at the discretion of the warden. 

Prisoner advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are calling for an end to long-term isolation, arguing that it may make inmates more violent and render them unable to rejoin society. But many prison officials and correctional officers say isolation units are necessary, allowing them to control prison gangs and keep prisons safe for the rest of the inmates.

July 26, 2006


Life in Solitary Confinement
At Pelican Bay Prison, a Life in Solitary
 by Laura Sullivan 

Laura Sullivan, NPR
Two prison officers escort an inmate out of his solitary-confinement cell while other officers search his unit for contraband. Almost every prisoner at Pelican Bay wears only underwear.

Conservative estimates say that there are more than 25,000 inmates serving their sentences in solitary confinement in 40 states. Most have been there for more than five years. They live in small cells, with no human contact, no TV, radio or other mental stimulation.

July 26, 2006
Read an Overview of the State of Solitary Confinement in the U.S. 

Laura Sullivan, NPR
The outside "yard" at Pelican Bay. Inmates are allowed an hour-and-a-half alone in this small, enclosed space each day. They are not allowed to bring anything except the clothes they're wearing.

A view of the hallway in a "pod" at Pelican Bay. Each hallway houses eight cells. Each pod has six hallways. There are 132 such hallways at the prison.

 All Things Considered, July 26, 2006 · Associate Warden Larry Williams is standing inside a small, cement prison cell. Everything is gray concrete: the bed, the walls, the unmovable stool. Everything except the combination stainless-steel sink and toilet.

You can't move more than eight feet in one direction. 

"Prison is a deterrent," Williams says. "We don't want them to like being in prison."

The cell is one of eight in a long hallway. From inside, you can't see anyone or any of the other cells. This is where the inmate eats, sleeps and exists for 22 1/2 hours a day. He spends the other 1 1/2 hours alone in a small concrete yard. 
This is the Security Housing Unit -- or the SHU (pronounced "SHOE") -- at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. With more than 1,200 inmates, it's one of the largest and oldest isolation units in the country, and it's the model that dozens of other states have followed.

Although all the inmates are in isolation, there's lots of noise: Keys rattle. Toilets flush. Inmates shout to each other from one cell to the next. Twice a day, officers push plastic food trays through the small portals in the metal doors. 

No Contact but the 'Pinky Shake'

Those doors are solid metal, with little nickel-sized holes punched throughout. One inmate known as Wino is standing on just behind the door of his cell. It's difficult to make eye contact, because you can only see one eye at a time.

"I've got my paperwork, my books to read, my little odds and ends," he says, pointing to the small items carefully organized throughout his cell. 

Wino fears he'll get in trouble for talking; he asks that NPR not use his real name. Wino is a 40-something man from San Fernando, Calif. He was sent to prison for robbery. He was sent to the SHU for being involved in prison gangs. He's been in this cell for six years. 
"The only contact that you have with individuals is what they call a pinky shake," he says, sticking his pinky through one of the little holes in the door.

That's the only personal contact Wino has had in six years.

'Pods' of Isolation Cells

There are five other hallways like this one, in what prison officials here call a "pod" of cells. The hallways shoot out like spokes on a wheel. In the center, high off the floor, an officer sits at a panel of blue and red buttons controlling the doors. The officer in the booth can go an entire shift without actually seeing an inmate face to face. 

Far below, an inmate walks a few feet from his cell, through a metal door at the end of the hallway, and out into the yard. 

The exercise yards at Pelican Bay are about the length of two small cars. The cement walls are 20 feet high. On top is a metal grate -- and through the grate is a patch of sky. Associate Warden Williams says they don't allow inmates to have any kind of exercise equipment. 

"Most of the time, they do push-ups. Some of them just walk back and forth for exercise," he says. "We don't allow them to have any type of balls or -- I don't know what you call it -- any kind of activity out here. It's just basically to come out, stretch their legs and get some fresh air."
Monitor. Control. Isolate. 

Inside the SHU, there's a skylight two stories up. But on an overcast day, it's dark, and so are the cells. There are no windows here. Inmates will not see the moon, stars, trees or grass. They will rarely, if ever, see the giant, gray building they live in. Their world -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year -- is this hallway. There are 132 hallways at Pelican Bay just like this one. They are all full. 

More than 40 states operate facilities like Pelican Bay. Inmates aren't sent here by judges or juries. No prisoner is sentenced to isolation. It makes absolutely no difference what crime you committed on the outside. It's how you behave on the inside that counts, and every state has different rules for how you get here. In some parts of the country, the decision belongs to a small group of state officials; in other states, it's up to the warden.

Prison officials at Pelican Bay say the 1,200 inmates here are in segregation because, since arriving in prison, they have been the most violent, dangerous inmates in California. 

"The intent is to monitor, to control, to isolate," says Lt. Steve Perez, who has worked at Pelican Bay for 17 years. "This is in response to their behavior. That's why you have facilities like this."

Each month, officers squeeze soap, shampoo and toothpaste into paper cups for the inmates. They are issued a jumpsuit, but in two days at the facility, there doesn’t seem to be a single prisoner wearing one. All of them are wearing their underwear, white boxer shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. 

'It Breaks You Psychologically'

"You find yourself being by yourself, and sometimes you don't like what you see," said one inmate named Jason, a young-looking 39-year-old from Sacramento.

Four years ago, Jason violated his parole on a robbery charge and was sent to prison. A few months after he arrived, prison officials suspected he was involved in a prison gang and sent him to isolation. He's been in the SHU ever since. 

"A lot of guys go [crazy], really, and sometimes I ask myself, 'Am I losing it, right?'" Jason says behind his small cell-door holes. "It breaks you psychologically, right? People do develop phobias. You start thinking people are talking about you when they're not."

When inmates do go crazy, there is another part of the prison for them -- the psychiatric SHU. 

Treating Mental Illness in Solitary

In the psychiatric SHU at Pelican Bay, one inmate stands in the middle of his cell, hollering at no one in particular. Another bangs his head against the cell door. Many of the inmates are naked, some exposing themselves. 

The psychiatric SHU is full -- all 128 beds. One in 10 inmates in segregation is housed here. There's even a waiting list. 

Lt. Steve Perez points to the board outside the unit, where little markers describe some of the psychiatric problems of inmates held there.

"Here we are with Vic -- indecent exposure. He's got to be in a jumpsuit," Perez says. "Nichols -- he's on a razor restriction. This guy Flores -- staff assault through the food port."

The board says one inmate had his shoes taken because he kept kicking the cell door over and over. 
'Group Therapy' in a Cage

Lt. Troy Woods works in the psychiatric SHU. He says they treat mental illness by monitoring the inmates and sending them to what he and others call "group therapy." It consists of a small room with six phone-booth-sized cages. 

"Depending on what the group is, they'll either listen to music, watch movies, play games, have art, current events -- a lot of different types of groups," Woods says. 

There are no therapists in group therapy. Woods says the idea is to help inmates socialize with each other and behavior normally again. 

"Normal" for these prisoners means they don't smear feces on themselves or throw urine at the officers. They shower when able, eat when told and keep their cells tidy. For the most part, when prisoners do achieve this, the reward is a return to the regular SHU. 

Experts say it can cost $50,000 more a year to house these inmates in isolation -- regular or psychiatric. But if you ask prison officials in this state why they need facilities like this one, they have one answer: to control the prison gangs. 

Controlling the Grip of Gangs

Outside in the yard, hundreds of prisoners from general population are playing basketball games, exercising and crowding around cement tables. On this day, without exception, every inmate is divided by race -- and gang membership. 

"You've got your white group there on that one dip bar. You've got your southern (Mexicans) -- they're always on that one table. You have your blacks," Lt. Steve Perez says, looking out onto the yard. 

Prison officials like Perez say a lot of crimes happen on the yard right in front of them. 

"Right now, business is being conducted," Perez says, pointing to the group of prisoners gathered on the yard. "There's gambling that's going on, drugs that are being passed and sold." 

Assaults, stabbings and attacks on staff are weekly occurrences here. Two former gang members sit at a table in the yard, long after most other prisons have been sent back inside. They're kept separate because they recently left the gang. Because they fear for their life, they asked that NPR not to use their names. 

They say the gangs run the prisons. 

"If they keep killing people, you are going to do what they tell you to do -- out of fear, out of self-preservation," one of the inmates says. "If you're 90 days at the house, and a gang member tells you, 'You go stab that dude right there,' or 'Go back in and stab your cellie,' out of self-preservation, you are going to do what you are told. Because if you don't, you are going to be killed." 

Associate Warden Larry Williams acknowledges that prison gangs are an enormous problem that prison officials do not have control over. 

"Every time we pluck one out, a new one pops up," he said. 

'There Are Times When You Lose Control'

Officials say 70 percent of the inmates in California's prisons are in some way affiliated with prison gangs. 

When asked whether the gangs control Pelican Bay, Williams says: "The biggest part of me wants to say no. But you know, prisons only run with the consent of the inmates -- and that's all the inmates. The administration and the officers do have control of the prisons. But there are times when you lose control." 

Associate Warden Larry Williams says it has been this way since the 1980s, when the number of inmates exploded, and rehabilitative programs disappeared. The gangs filled the void left from increasingly tense conditions and utter boredom. California's answer to the gangs was, and is, the SHU.

Even locked in isolation, some inmates have managed to find ways to kill each other and assault staff. On a recent afternoon, a half-dozen officers spent an entire day tearing apart the cells in one hallway, searching desperately for a metal binder clip they believed one of the inmates was hiding. Officer Buchanan discovered the paper fastener hidden inside a crack in the concrete wall. It had been sharpened into a deadly razor. 

In the cell next door, Sgt. France held up a couple of staples she found. 

"They use the staples. They sharpen them to a point, wrap paper around them real tight, and make a spear out of it," France says. "It will go through the perforations on the cell. They can spear someone with it."

Isolation Breeds Deadly Ingenuity 

Lt. Steve Perez explains that inmates pull out the elastic from their underwear and braid it into a kind of super-powered bow to fire their weapons. 

"They can project a spear coming out of there at 800-square-pounds per foot," Perez said. "And 800 pounds per foot, into your neck, it'll drive that right in there. And now we've got to go in there, and what does he have on it? Does he have feces? HIV? Does he have herpes? TB? Hepatitis? And that's not unusual."

Prison officials say that removing the most dangerous gang members and putting them in segregation makes regular prisons safer for the rest of the inmates -- and it weakens the gangs.

But Jim, a 38-year-old SHU inmate from Long Beach, says that's wishful thinking. He says that to gang members, being sent to the secure-housing unit is an honor. 

"Coming up here was the big thing," Jim says from inside his cell. "Put in work. Come up here, be with the big homeys. Because this is the only place you're going to be around the fellas, you know." 

'You're a Target Because of the Color of Your Skin'

Jim says gang leaders still control the gangs from within the SHU, mostly by mailing each other letters. And he says if you show up to prison and don't join the gang of your race, you'll be a target for the other gangs within days.

"When there's a war, there's a war," Jim says. "You're a target just because of the color of your skin, so you might as well. You're going to have to defend yourself. The lines get divided. You've gotta take sides."

Jim was sent to prison 10 years ago for armed robbery. Several years later, he was put in segregation for assaulting other prisoners when he joined a prison gang called the Nazi Low Riders.

"It's definitely racist," Jim says. But he says he wasn't racist before he came to prison. "Prison made me that way. My mom and dad taught me to respect everybody, no matter who it was. It's funny because I still remember, to this day, my dad telling me, 'You respect every man until he proves differently.'" 
'It's Designed to Break You'

There are really only two ways out of Pelican Bay's SHU. Either you have to prove to prison officials that you have not been involved in gang activity for six years -- which is rare -- or you have to tell everything you know about your gang. It's called debriefing. It can sometimes take two years. That's what Jim is trying to do now.

But it has a cost. Jim says he's already been warned through the grapevine that if he gets out of the SHU, he's a dead man. But after seven years in isolation, Jim says he doesn't care anymore. 

"A place like this is designed to drive you crazy," he says. "It's not just designed to isolate you from the general population. It's designed to break you. It sucks. It's hard. It's made me different. It's made me spiteful." 

Is Solitary Working? 

Associate Warden Williams says that without the SHU, the gang problem would be even worse. 
But after almost 20 years, California is now holding more inmates in solitary confinement than it ever has -- and its gang problem is worse than it has ever been. And over the years, the violence rates at Pelican Bay have actually gone up.

Williams says he worries a little that segregation could be making the inmates worse.

"I can't totally disagree that it may affect the inmates in some kind of way," Williams says. "It may make them mad for a while. But the benefit of these security housing units is that we take the people who go out there and cause the trouble, and we lock them up here, to get them off the mainline so that it can functions the way it's designed to -- and the way we would like it to, and the way the inmates would like it to."

Almost 95 percent of the inmates in Pelican Bay's SHU are scheduled to be released back into the public at some point. They'll spend a few weeks in a local prison before rejoining society, with little, if any, preparation for how to live around people on the outside. And for every inmate that leaves, there is another one waiting to take his place.

Related NPR Stories

Life in Solitary Confinement
Timeline: Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons
by Laura Sullivan 

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, where the first American experiment in solitary confinement took place. Library of Congress 

Pentonville is a prison built in 1842 in North London. Its design was influenced by the "separate system" developed at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Stapleton Collection/CORBIS © 1862 

The "Birdman of Alcatraz," Robert Stroud, is one of the prison's most famous D Block residents. Stroud got his nickname from a previous prison stay in Leavenworth, Calif., where he raised canaries. Bettmann/CORBIS 

Thirteen years ago, Pelican Bay State Prison was cut out of a dense forest near Crescent City, Calif. The highlight of the Supermax prison was the Security Housing Unit (SHU), where 1,300 of the state's most hardened criminals are kept in near isolation. San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association 

Guards at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU put handcuffs on an inmate through a small hole in the door. Adam Tanner/Reuters/Corbis 

In 1995, a federal judge rule that conditions at the Pelican Bay facility "may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable." Adam Tanner/Reuters/Corbis 

The ADX (administrative maximum) Supermax Prison in Florence, Colo., is a state-of-the-art isolation prison for repeat and high-profile felony offenders. Corbis 

 NPR.org, July 26, 2006 · An overview of key moments in the history of solitary confinement.
1829 - The first experiment in solitary confinement in the United States begins at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. It is based on a Quaker belief that prisoners isolated in stone cells with only a Bible would use the time to repent, pray and find introspection. But many of the inmates go insane, commit suicide, or are no longer able to function in society, and the practice is slowly abandoned during the following decades. 

1890 - In an opinion concerning the effects of solitary confinement on inmates housed in Philadelphia (Re: Medley, 134 U.S. 160), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller finds, "A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community." 

1934 - The federal government opens Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay to house the nation's worst criminals. Most inmates spend many hours outside in the yard and on required work details. But a few dozen are kept in "D Block," the prison’s solitary-confinement hallway. One cell in particular is called "The Hole" -- a room of bare concrete except for a hole in the floor. There is no light, inmates are kept naked, and bread and water is shoved through a small hole in the door. Although most inmates only spend a few days in the hole, some spend years on D Block. Conditions are better than in The Hole -- inmates have clothes and food -- but they are not permitted contact with other inmates and are rarely let out of their cells. The most famous inmate on D Block is Robert Stroud, known as the "Birdman of Alcatraz,” who spends six years there. A 1962 movie about Stroud -- and subsequent media reports on the conditions on D Block -- made solitary confinement a fixture of the American imagination for the first time.

1983 - Two correctional officers at a Marion, Ill., prison are murdered by inmates in two separate incidents on the same day. The warden at the time puts the prison in what he calls "permanent lockdown." It is the first prison in the country to adopt 23-hour-a-day cell isolation and no communal yard time for all inmates. Inmates are no longer allowed to work, attend educational programs, or eat in a cafeteria. Within a few years, several other states also adopt permanent lockdown at existing facilities. 

1989 - California builds Pelican Bay, a new prison built solely to house inmates in isolation. By most accounts, it is the first Supermax facility in the country. There is no need to build a yard, cafeteria, classrooms or shops. Inmates spend 22 1/2 hours a day inside an 8-by-10-foot cell. The other 1 1/2 hours are spent alone in a small concrete exercise pen. 

1990s - The building boom of Supermax or control-unit prisons begins. Oregon, Mississippi, Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and a dozen other states all build new, free-standing, isolation units. 

1994 - The U.S. Bureau of Prisons builds ADX Florence, the federal government's first and only Supermax facility, in Florence, Colo. It's known popularly as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." It currently houses 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, former FBI agent and convicted spy Robert Hanssen, Olympic Park and abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, and many others. 

1995 - A federal judge finds conditions at Pelican Bay in California "may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable" (Madrid v. Gomez). But he rules that there is no constitutional basis for the courts to shut down the unit or to alter it substantially. He says the court must defer to the states about how best to incarcerate offenders. 

1999 - A report by the Department of Justice finds that more than 30 states are operating a Supermax-type facility with 23-hours-a-day lockdown and long-term isolation. The study finds that some states put 0.5 percent of their total inmates in this kind of facility, while other states lock up more than 20 percent of their inmates this way. 

2005 - Daniel P. Mears, an associate professor at Florida State University, conducts a nationwide study and finds there are now 40 states operating Supermax or control-unit prisons, which collectively hold more than 25,000 U.S. prisoners.


Bill to ban solitary for mentally ill inmates going to Pataki

Associated Press Writer

July 25, 2006, 4:20 PM EDT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Despite three previous suicide attempts and a long history of mental illness, 36-year-old James Butler was treated like just another prisoner with disciplinary problems. 

He was put in "the box," housed alone in a cell 23 hours a day for months at a time at Fishkill Correctional Facility. Butler, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, took his own life in June 2000, his mother Elsie Butler said Tuesday. 

"Putting James in the box did not help him," she said. "It killed him. ...It was cruel punishment he should not have been forced to endure." 

Under a bill being sent to Gov. George Pataki on Aug. 4, mentally ill inmates in New York prisons would no longer be put in solitary confinement. Instead they would be placed in a residential mental health treatment program. 

If signed by the Republican governor, New York would join a handful of states, including California, Florida and Texas, that ban the practice of putting mentally ill prisoners in so-called "special housing units," said mental health advocates who came to the state Capitol to push for Pataki's approval of the measure. 

State Sen. Michael Nozzolio and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey, sponsors of the bill, say about 8,000, or 12 percent, of the state's 63,500 inmates are affected by serious mental illness. When put in solitary confinement, those prisoners are three times more likely to commit suicide or mutilate themselves than inmates in the general prison population. 

Nearly a quarter of the roughly 7,600 inmates in special housing units are being treated for some type of mental illness. Half of those suffer from depression and 28 percent suffer from either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to a survey by the Correctional Association, a watchdog group for prisoners and their families. 

Nozzolio, a Seneca County Republican, said the bill would also make state prisons safer for staff and inmates by giving treatment to those who need it. He noted the union representing state corrections officers supported the bill, which passed 61-0 in the Republican-led Senate and 133-6 in the Democrat-led Assembly. 

"We look at this as a way to make our prisons safer and more humane," Nozzolio said. 

Prison guards and staff working in the residential treatment programs would get 40 hours of initial training and all correctional staffers would annually get eight hours of training in how to handle the mentally ill. 

Pataki spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti said the governor would consider the bill when it is sent to him. 

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.


Tempers flare over prison lockdown

By George B. Sanchez

MONTEREY - Lockdown continues at Salinas Valley State Prison one month after two correctional officers were stabbed by an inmate, but a protest outside the prison planned for Saturday by inmates' families was called off for fear of further delaying visitation.

Last weekend, six women gathered outside the prison in Soledad to protest the lockdown, which has kept them from seeing their husbands and brothers. Two women said the prison's spokesman approached them and said their protest wouldn't grant them access to their loved ones any more quickly.

The spokesman, Lt. Bill Muniz, said he thinks the women might have misinterpreted him but confirmed that their protest would not release the prison from its sealed status any sooner.

Muniz said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation administration in Sacramento was notified of the protest last weekend and requested backup from the Soledad Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Monterey County Sheriff's Office.

"We're in between a rock and a hard place. We're in between competing priorities," Muniz said of the decision not to allow visitations.

The investigation into the stabbing continues, he said, explaining that the incident so far seems unprovoked and premeditated by an inmate granted special work privilege to assist correctional officers in handing out breakfast to other inmates July 14.

One guard was stabbed in the face and neck. Another guard was stabbed in the shoulders and arms.

"This was not a disagreement. This was not a conflict," Muniz said. "This was a planned attack."

Muniz said prison officials understand the concerns of families and recognize that continued restriction of programs and visitation only exacerbates an already agitated inmate population. But safety remains a top priority.

Safety concerns seemed justified Sunday after two inmates attacked several officers during visiting hours in B-yard, which along with E-yard was open for visitations.

No weapons were involved in the attack, though a correctional officer slipped and fell on a slick of pepper spray.

One woman said the prison's lockdown decision is nonetheless a Catch-22.

"When they take visits away from these guys, their tempers flare and they become agitated," said Terry Fry. Prison administrators "create their own problems by restricting visitation."

Week four of the lockdown also highlights the continued staffing state of emergency. Muniz said the prison has tried to attract people from the area who are interested in working for the prison and are "familiar with the housing crisis." The prison recently held an open house and conducted medical tests on the spot for people interested in the job.

Jeanne Woodford, who heads the state corrections agency, declared the staffing emergency after personally visiting the Salinas Valley State Prison and Correctional Training Facility in April.

Fry said Saturday's protest was called off midweek after other women involved weighed in.

One woman who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation against her husband said the prison staff at tried to "discourage" the women from coming back.

"Mr. Muniz said it didn't matter if we protest and it doesn't impact management's opinion," she said. "He pretty much said we're wasting our time."

Fry had another take on Muniz.

"He made it perfectly clear that what we are doing could cause the lockdown to last longer," she said.

Fry is one of many women who arrive Fridays and park outside the prison as early as noon, spend the night outside the prison, and wait early the next morning to receive a visiting pass. Fry's husband is appealing his murder conviction.

She said the point of last weekend's protest was to get Sacramento's attention. However, she said, the group doesn't want to hurt other families in the same situation.

So they've opted to wait. "That's what we've done. That's what I've done for the last 13 years: wait indefinitely."


Posted on Sat, Aug. 13, 2005 

Lockdown reaches week four
Salinas Valley State Prison: Family members call off protest
Herald Salinas Bureau

Lockdown continues at Salinas Valley State Prison one month after two correctional officers were stabbed by an inmate who was helping distribute breakfast to other inmates.

A protest outside the prison planned for today by families of the inmates was called off for fear of further delaying visitation.

Last weekend, six women gathered outside the prison in Soledad to protest the lockdown, which has kept them from seeing their husbands and brothers. Two women said the prison's spokesman approached them and said their protest wouldn't grant them access to their loved ones any quicker.

The spokesman, Lt. Bill Muniz, said he thinks the women might have misinterpreted him, but confirmed that their protest would not release the prison from its sealed status any sooner.

Muniz said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation administration in Sacramento was notified of the protest last weekend and requested backup from the Soledad Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Monterey County Sheriff's Department.

"We're in between a rock and a hard place. We're in between competing priorities," Muniz said of the decision not to allow visitations.

The investigation into the stabbing continues, he said, explaining that the incident so far seems unprovoked and premeditated by an inmate granted special work privilege to assist correctional officers in handing out breakfast to other inmates July 14.

One guard was stabbed in the face and neck. Another guard was stabbed in the shoulders and arms.

"This was not a disagreement. This was not a conflict," Muniz said. "This was a planned attack."

Muniz said prison officials understand the concerns of families and recognize that continued restriction of programs and visitation only exacerbates an already agitated inmate population. But safety remains a top priority.

Safety concerns seemed justified Sunday after two inmates attacked several officers during visiting hours in B-yard, which along with E-yard was open for visitations.

No weapons were involved in the attack, though a correctional officer slipped and fell on a slick of OC pepper spray.

One woman said the prison's lockdown decision is nonetheless a Catch-22.

"When they take visits away from these guys, their tempers flare and they become agitated," said Terry Fry. "(Prison administrators) create their own problems by restricting visitation."

Week four of the lockdown also highlights the continued staffing state of emergency. Muniz said the prison has tried to attract people from the area who are interested in working for the prison and are "familiar with the housing crisis." The prison recently held an open house and conducted medical tests on the spot for people interested in the job.

Jeanne Woodford, who heads the state corrections agency, declared the staffing emergency after personally visiting SVSP and Correctional Training Facility in April.

Fry said today's protest was called off midweek after talking with other women involved.

One woman who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation against her husband said the staff at SVSP tried to "discourage" the women from coming back.

"Mr. Muniz said it didn't matter if we protest and it doesn't impact management's opinion," she said. "He pretty much said we're wasting our time."

Fry had another take on Muniz.

"He made it perfectly clear that what we are doing could cause the lockdown to last longer," she said.

Fry is one of many women who arrive Fridays and park outside the prison as early as noon, spend the night outside the prison, and wait early the next morning to receive a visiting pass. Fry's husband is appealing his murder conviction.

She said the point of last weekend's protest was to get Sacramento's attention. However, she said, the group doesn't want to hurt other families in the same situation.

So they've opted to wait. "That's what we've done. That's what I've done for the last 13 years: wait indefinitely."

George B. Sanchez can be reached at 753-6771 or  gesanchez@montereyherald


Long Beach Press Telegram

State prisons' hidden scandal
By Tom Hennessy
Staff columnist 

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 - A scandal is unfolding in California, and no one cares.

Why? Because the scandal's victims are prisoners, essentially regarded as the bottom rung of the social ladder. The prevailing public thought is that they deserve anything bad that happens to them.

On April 17, I approached this story with a column about David O'Brien, an inmate of Corcoran State Prison near Bakersfield. O'Brien deserves to be in prison. His is not a story about a guy who got a bad rap. He has been in trouble since he was 10.

The column said, among other things, that O'Brien had requested lethal injection. The state, quite properly, refused.

O'Brien suffers from liver and kidney failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, pneumonia and myriad other ills. He says that a liver biopsy, ordered by a specialist in 1999, was never done.

"Now I'm at end stage liver illness," O'Brien wrote me last week. "I wonder (if) had they done the biopsy in 1999, could they have caught it early and prevented this. If so, then they killed me."

Even given the penchant of prisoners to exaggerate their situations, O'Brien's health is terrible, according to his brother, Sid, a Signal Hill businessman who visits the prisoner often.

In, out, back in

When I contacted Corcoran officials in April, O'Brien was in solitary confinement for reasons they would not or could not explain. But after saying I was writing a story about his wish to die and his claim of inadequate health care, a spokesman for the warden called to tell me he was being released from solitary.

A few days later, after my story had appeared and when it may have seemed I had lost interest in it, O'Brien was returned to solitary.

Among the state's 165,000 prisoners, O'Brien is not unique. There are others whose medical care ranges from medieval to nonexistent.

But should taxpayers be concerned over the quality of medical care given to criminals? Well, yes. Aside from the element of human decency, if there is such a thing in the bureaucracy, the prison system is a reflection of the state's efficiency or lack of it.

Court intervenes

About the time I wrote the column on O'Brien, Thelton Henderson, a U.S. District judge in San Francisco, was threatening to place the state's prison health care system in federal receivership if it did not improve.

On June 30, he did precisely that. Saying the $1.1 billion medical system is guilty "at times (of) outright depravity," he announced he will appoint a federal receiver to take charge of it. The size of this takeover is unprecedented, but Henderson finds that the woeful care has resulted in the deaths of at least 64 inmates.

Last week, San Quentin's warden, Jill Brown, was removed from her post for allegedly trying to silence prison physicians from talking about medical care in the facility.

All this adds up to another black eye for the beleaguered administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. As James Jacobs, a New York University law professor has told the San Francisco Chronicle:

"This is humiliating … it's like the judge is saying to the state, 'I'm totally giving up on you. You are unwilling or unable to do this on your own."

The judge's action may be too late for David O'Brien. But I hope he hears about it in or out of solitary.

Tom Hennessy's viewpoint appears Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He can be reached at (562) 499-1270 or by e-mail at  Scribe17 @aol.com

Supreme Court will review rights of inmates to contest assignment to `supermax' prisons 
- GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004 

(12-10) 10:21 PST WASHINGTON (AP) -- 

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider how much flexibility corrections officials have to put inmates in super maximum-security prisons. 

Most states and the federal government have such prisons, intended to separate the most dangerous prisoners from other inmates. 

Justices will review an appeal next year from Ohio, which opened a super-security prison with about 500 beds in 1998 after a deadly inmate riot five years earlier at a state prison. 

In the so-called Ohio "supermax," inmates are held in 23-hour-a-day lockdown, in 90-square-foot cells built to prevent prisoners from communicating with each other. They also face tighter security with strip searches and less access to telephones and personal items. 

Civil rights groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the state on behalf of prisoners in 2001, claiming that the inmates were not given a chance to prove they didn't belong in the Ohio State Penitentiary near Youngstown. 

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled earlier this year that prisoners are entitled to hearings, with witnesses, before being assigned to the prison. 

Ohio Solicitor Douglas Cole told justices that the requirements imposed by the appeals court make it almost impossible to "neutralize the threats posed by dangerous inmates." 

"The question presented here has significant safety implications for tens of thousands of state prisoners," he wrote in a court filing. 

Lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the prisoners, said the confinement "imposes an atypical and significant hardship" on the detainees. The 6th Circuit decision, they said, appears to be the first to declare that prisoners in super maximum security prisons have a constitutionally protected liberty interest. 

The case forces the Supreme Court to revisit a 1995 decision that limited prisoners' rights to have hearings before they lose privileges or are disciplined for misconduct. 

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote in that opinion that inmate liberty interests are "limited to freedom from restraint which ... imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." 

The case is Wilkinson v. Austin, 04-495. 

On the Net: 
Center for Constitutional Rights: www.ccr-ny.org 

Ohio Attorney General: www.ag.state.oh.us 


From the issue dated June 18, 2004


Madness in Maximum Security
When scholars get a look inside America's secretive prisons, they find chaos


When America's overflowing prisons boil over, or when television shows such as HBO's prison drama Oz presume to portray the grim conditions inside them, members of the public may think they get a picture of what the institutions are like.

Wrong, say criminologists and other social scientists who study incarceration.

And yet, academics allow, over the last two decades, they, as much as the public, have had little opportunity to observe prisons from the inside because access has become more tightly controlled. "Most criminologists have never been inside a prison," says Jeffrey Ian Ross, an associate professor of criminology, criminal justice, and social policy at the University of Baltimore.

At a time when Americans are discovering, through reports from Iraq, just how grave abuses can become when hidden from view, such secrecy in prisons is unsettling, scholars insist. The situation for scholars is a far cry from that in the 1960s and 1970s, when sociologists and ethnographers worked in prisons and produced many ethnographies and analyses. By the 1990s, those became as rare as escapes from Alcatraz used to be.

Scholars say that less-glamorized and more-accurate information is urgently needed because prison has become home to vastly more Americans than ever before. Between 1980 and 1998, the number of people in state and federal prisons ballooned from 329,821 to 1,302,019 -- a higher percentage of the population than in any other country, and far higher than in most. 

The vast majority of prisoners are young, nonviolent, first-time offenders. Half of them are African-American, and half a million of them are released to the general population each year. Most reoffend, and many spread illnesses they caught while incarcerated. "The prison system is in many ways becoming a petri dish for the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis," says Donald F. Sabo, a professor of social sciences at D'Youville College.

Despite the need to study the problem, scholars face "bureaucratic rationalization of prison management," which has made access almost unattainable, says Meda Chesney-Lind, a professor of women's studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who has published widely on youth and adult imprisonment. "Administrators take courses in this, in how to deal with the press, or the public," she says. "There has been more management, and that has become antithetical to letting researchers into facilities."

Lorna A. Rhodes, author of the just-released Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison (University of California Press), is one of the few researchers who have managed to get past such restrictions and gain a clearer picture of the nature and effects of incarceration. 

Her book is the result of several years of fieldwork, which began thanks to a friend who worked as an officer at a state penitentiary and helped her gain access. After winning the confidence of prison staff, Ms. Rhodes, who is a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, was able to repeatedly interview prisoners, uniformed guards, mental-health workers, and administrators. She was helped, too, by her participation in a now-unusual instance of cooperation between a corrections system and academic researchers -- the Correctional Mental Health Collaboration between the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Corrections -- which was active from 1993 to 2002.

The researchers wished, says Ms. Rhodes, to provide a better picture of maximum-security life than the popular stereotypes. "I stay away from, for example, descriptions of people's tattoos," she observes, "and stony faces, and things like that. I feel like that would be replicating something that we already have enough of."

But even without details like those, the picture of life inside America's maximum-security prisons that emerges in Total Confinement is harrowing. In the institutions, says Ms. Rhodes, whose previous book, Emptying Beds: The Work of an Emergency Psychiatric Unit (University of California Press, 1991), was based on observation of psychiatric hospitals, it can be hard to tell what is madness and what is not. 

Out of Control?

In her book, Ms. Rhodes concentrates her attention on "control units" -- the "super maximum" wings within maximum-security prisons, cordoned off by razor wire. They house inmates removed from the general prison population for breaches of prison regulations or for fighting or harming other prisoners or officers.

These units emerge as, to say the least, hell holes -- black boxes within black boxes where prison officials can make criminals who often are too mentally disturbed to live peaceably in regular cell blocks "disappear," as she puts it.

Control-unit prisoners spend 23 hours or more a day in 8-by-10-foot cells with one frosted window in the shape of a slit. They must withstand constant day-and-night clamor, raving neighbors, ghastly food, racial and other taunts, including encouragement to commit suicide, and predatory aggression, not always at the hands of other inmates. Rape is widespread, as it is throughout the prison system.

The routines and severe forms of constraint of control units, augmented increasingly by electronic surveillance, are so harsh that prisoners cannot be considered "rational actors," Ms. Rhodes argues. In fact, many inmates who are not mentally ill become psychotic under the strain of isolation. The conditions often provoke fear of all other human beings, or antagonism toward them, and prisoners respond with violence or other infractions that prolong their punishment.

Such responses can strike outsiders as inexplicable. Many prisoners smear feces on cell walls, or on themselves. Others take to storing their own body wastes and blood, and fashioning them into projectiles that they throw through meal slots at guards.

Inmates commonly describe this as "a particularly satisfying form of resistance," reports Ms. Rhodes. It contaminates guards with "a kind of contagion" that makes them "at least momentarily, disgusting themselves," she says. And because guards generally do not know which prisoners are suffering from AIDS, hepatitis, or other infectious diseases, an element of terror creeps in.

Such behaviors are so prevalent, says Ms. Rhodes, that she wonders whether the ratcheting up of control overwhelms prisoners' self-regulation. In that light, she suggests, such overtly disgusting and irrational acts can be interpreted as "a willful -- perhaps even too sane -- deployment of the most obvious of weapons."

Ms Rhodes observes that the battle to keep order amid such disruption -- and keep down the soaring costs of incarceration as well -- has led prison officials to a "preoccupation with a technologically elaborate efficiency." Innovations such as computer-controlled locking and surveillance systems, and such tools of the prison trade as pepper spray, incapacitating stun guns, and increasingly severe "violent-prisoner restraint chairs," which shackle an inmate's limbs, torso, and head, have become the weapons of choice in this war.

Prison officials, in writing about conditions in maximum-security wings, frequently acknowledge their shortcomings but say they are trying to correct them. As one report on the Iowa prisons puts it, they try to "focus on stabilizing, socializing, and reintegrating the offender back into an appropriate general population setting."

But some human-rights organizations, like many scholars, have had harsh words for prison conditions. In recent years, Human Rights Watch has assailed corrections systems in the United States for mistreating and neglecting the one in six prisoners who the organization says are mentally ill, and who are three times as numerous as the mentally ill in hospitals. Human Rights Watch also says that prison officials have displayed a "wholesale disregard" for inmates' right to protection from rape.

Ms. Rhodes says that although the ideal of individualism underpins the history of Western prisons and psychiatry, control-unit prisoners who are mad, or who are driven mad, have little chance to earn their way out of the units with good behavior. Prison officials say "individual choice" will determine punishment or reward, but the control they maintain is so severe that prisoners are largely deprived of personal choice, and often lack the ability to make choices because they are psychotic.

Prison administrators and guards, she notes, constantly assert that prisoners choose to do what they do, from committing crimes to attacking prison guards. But the understanding of "choice" has a social context, she says. After several American prison riots in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, notions of choice intensified as a rationale for prisons, with a simultaneous withdrawal of explanations attributing behavior to childhood abuse or other social factors.With the rise of consciousness of "victim's rights," among other forces, she says, it has become "almost scandalous" to imply that anything but personal failings may underlie a criminal behavior, "unless there's a medical reason."

"And even then," she adds, "you have to be really floridly psychotic before that will kick in."

When inmates are first admitted to prisons, officials make determinations about whether they are "mad or bad": Are they rational-choice makers who have done wrong and will or may do so again, at any opportunity? Or, rather, do they represent an ongoing risk because they are psychotic? Narrowing the choice to those two options poses a problem, Ms. Rhodes writes: "An overly expansive definition of illness would threaten to shift many prisoners from the bad into the mad category, not only diluting punishment to an unacceptable extent, but also underscoring the lack of facilities for treatment."

Even after most admittees have been designated as "bad," usually because they exhibit "antisocial personality disorder," the rest -- schizophrenics and other "mad" inmates -- still must be admitted, and housed in conditions where their madness surely will worsen, or under which their ranks will swell.

Making that more likely is that both the mad and the bad often end up in solitary confinement. Despite the pain of, say, being zapped with stun guns, or forcibly removed from their cells, prisoners fear solitary confinement more than anything else, Ms. Rhodes reports. With good reason: Now, as it has done throughout penal history, solitary confinement drives prisoners mad.

All maximum-security punishments exact a more subtle, but still harsh outcome, she says. They inject prisoners into a "mutually reinforcing cycle" in which, in the eyes of prison staff and even other inmates, they "come to represent a shadow side of human nature." Then, because they signify danger, harsher and harsher confinement seems guards' only reasoned, risk-minimizing recourse, says Ms. Rhodes. Tainted prisoners who are not currently violent are designated as "violent potential" and become "simply bodies to be stored."

Put simply: Once in the control unit, you are lucky to get out.

The Other Side of the Bars

The specter of philosopher Michel Foucault hovers over Ms. Rhodes's book. Due to his writings on madness, discipline, and punishment, most notably Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (reprinted in paperback by Vintage in 1995), the prison provides metaphors in much modern academic writing. 

But, Ms. Rhodes says, the application of Foucault's thought to prisons is tricky. "Unlike all the places where Foucault's metaphors are used for how power works," she observes, "when you're in a supermax prison, you're in the place that is working the way he wrote about it -- and yet in other ways, it isn't." Most obviously, she says, prisons are not just metaphors of imprisonment. They are imprisonment.

Projects that grapple with such complexities are essential if policy makers and the public are to become better informed about the realities of prisons, says Mr. Ross of the University of Baltimore. In Convict Criminology (Wadsworth, 2002), he and his fellow editor, Stephen C. Richards, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Northern Kentucky University, set out to provide what he calls "a missing piece in the puzzle of understanding prisons and corrections" by collecting writing that includes several articles by ex-convicts. While former correctional officers, parole officers, and the like are well represented in the ranks of criminology, the field has heard little, until now, of the experience of academics who have been sentenced to time behind bars.

Mr. Richards did three years, including time in two maximum-security prisons, on first-offense marijuana charges that he says were baseless. Mr. Ross, who once held a job assessing the mental competence of prisoners about to stand trial, says "some respected criminologists have that kind of history, but most have been in the closet." Every week, he says, he hears from academics or aspiring academics who were once convicts, debating whether to admit to their pasts.

The ex-convict authors in Convict Criminology, by treating their own experiences as empirical data for criminological study, replace fantasies with reality, says Mr. Ross.

So what, then, is an appropriate and realistic balance of punitive and psychiatric responses to extreme prison behavior? That is the question, says Ms. Rhodes.

What is clear, she says, is that the task of achieving such a balance is not easy for prison guards. Many of them buy into the rhetoric of the "warehouse prison," she says, because it is they who suffer the assaults, as well as stigmatization outside the prison, once friends and acquaintances learn of some of their experiences. They also have little ability to improve conditions, working as they are in low-paying jobs that often are the only alternative to flipping burgers in rural communities. And in a further complication, says Ms. Rhodes, while friends on the outside say that "we should just shoot them all," they inevitably also sympathize with some of prisoners, whom they know.

She came away from her research with empathy for prison workers. They suffer from severe job stress. They must deal with inmates whom they quickly learn not to trust, not knowing which they can trust. Even if inclined to support or protect ill or oppressed prisoners, they lack the means to do so. And, she says, "they are entangled in issues that would be very hard to sort out." 

Civilizing Incarceration

At the end of her book, Ms. Rhodes describes a project in the control unit of a maximum-security prison where officials cleaned the walls of racist graffiti, made renovations so that it would be more difficult for prisoners to throw feces at staff members, and directed administrators to walk the tiers once or twice a week talking to inmates and dealing with problems. Educational programs were introduced.

Four years later, the unit was experiencing dramatically less violence and use of force on prisoners. Many inmates who had seemed to be doomed to spend their lives in control units managed to graduate back to the general prison population.

The existence of so many control units where "no redemption of any kind is possible," says Ms. Rhodes, is "a failure of imagination." Change, over all, is very slow in coming, she says: "I think people are quite locked into their own visions."

The best hope for less self-defeating attitudes about prisons, prison construction, harsher sentencing laws, and the incarceration boom, she says, is that legislators and the public will come to realize that "we can bankrupt ourselves doing this. There are diminishing returns. You get some drop in crime rates after your first large boost in incarceration, but when you start locking up a lot of petty drug criminals, you're not getting very much for your money." Nationwide, state and local incarceration costs almost $40-billion each year, she notes.

Legislators in some states, says Ms. Chesney-Lind, are realizing the huge cost of mass imprisonment, both in terms of what cannot be paid for when prison budgets are so large -- higher education, for example. In social terms, legislators "are looking at the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, and are asking, 'Did we mean to punish them as if they were violent offenders? What about criminalizing drug addiction as if it was a crime rather than a public-health issue?'"

When it comes to imprisonment, she says, "no one else in the developed world has followed our lead."

Prisons to reform solitary confinement rules 
Suit by inmate isolated for 10 years results in 'up-front due process' 
- Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Saturday, June 19, 2004 

Sacramento -- California corrections officials will revamp procedures used to keep thousands of prisoners isolated in tiny cells in some of the most remote lockups in the state, according to the settlement of a 10-year-old lawsuit brought by a jailhouse lawyer doing time at Pelican Bay State Prison. 

The settlement will reshape policies for the use of secured housing, or "supermax,'' units, which have long been decried as inhumane by human rights groups and many mental health professionals. About 3,000 California prisoners spend 22 or 23 hours a day in 8-foot-by-10-foot cells with little human contact. 

Prison officials say the secured housing units -- referred to as SHU's in corrections parlance -- are reserved for the worst-of-the-worst inmates, those who cause too much trouble when mixed among general prison populations. 

But corrections regulations also allow for inmates who are declared members of a prison gang to be shipped off indefinitely to the units, rules that inmates and activists have complained are too ambiguous and let prison officials sentence inmates they don't like to years of solitary confinement. 

A 1994 lawsuit, brought by an inmate who has spent nearly a decade confined in the secured housing unit at the notorious Pelican Bay prison near the Oregon border, challenged the rules. 

Steve Castillo is serving a 35-year sentence for attempted murder and was validated by prison authorities as a member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Castillo, who has filed numerous lawsuits against the corrections department and organized inmate hunger strikes, contends he is in the housing unit as retaliation for his activism. 

Ten years after the lawsuit was first filed, lawyers for the state and Castillo have reached a settlement that corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton characterized as "more clear, concise, up-front due process'' for inmates facing time in secured housing. 

The deal was reached late last month but must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins in San Francisco. 

"The hope is that this will keep thousands of people out of SHU's,'' said Charles Carbone, a San Francisco attorney for the inmate-rights group California Prison Focus who helped represent Castillo. "It's been a system that has been prone to abuse, and this settlement should change that.'' 

While acknowledging that "there were problems with the gang validation process,'' corrections spokeswoman Thornton denied that policies have been stretched to banish activists and said the new policies would likely not result in a dramatic decline in the secured housing population. She pointed to a review done last year that reaffirmed that virtually all of the inmates in secured housing for gang activity were truly gang affiliates. 

Policies surrounding the use of secured housing for gang members have been criticized for several reasons. 

Corrections officials, not judges, administer the sentence. Inmates have virtually no opportunity to challenge charges that they are active in a prison gang. And evidence used to prove gang activity has often been flimsy, according to Carbone. 

"You could have correspondence between two inmates about the weather and it could be used against one of the inmates as gang activity,'' if the other inmate was already a validated gang member, he noted. 

Under conditions of the settlement, inmates would have the right to dispute evidence. Prison officials also would have to detail how a piece of evidence indicates gang activity. 

Regulations concerning inmates who accuse other inmates of gang activity also will be altered. The practice is referred to in a common prison phrase as one of three ways to leave the secured housing unit: "Snitch, parole or die.'' 

Inmates who become sources for the department must provide specific allegations of gang activity instead of simply supplying names, according to the settlement. 

California maintains four secured housing units in some of the most far- flung prisons in the system. Male inmates can be sent to Crescent City, Tehachapi or Corcoran; women are shipped to Chowchilla. 

Prison officials say the units are necessary to isolate troublemakers and members of gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood and Black Guerrilla Family, which they argue are behind most of the illegal drug trade and violence inside lockups. 

But the units, which are used by the federal government and several other states, remain a continuing source of criticism. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned their use, and several studies have concluded the isolation in secured housing can create serious mental- health problems. 

Oakland-based psychiatrist Terry Kupers, who has worked with hundreds of inmates in secured housing, has written about an anxiety disorder he refers to as "SHU-induced mental illness.'' 

Others are even harsher in their assessments. 

State Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, who has been involved in legislative hearings on secured housing and is a frequent critic of the Department of Corrections, offered a scathing critique of the department's use of secured housing. 

"It's a department of destruction and torture, and SHU's are the most exaggerated example of their perversion,'' said Vasconcellos, who is carrying legislation this year to re-emphasize rehabilitation in the department's mission. 

Inmates in secured housing in California have about 90 minutes a day to shower or spend time in larger, outdoor caged areas. They are not allowed phone calls, family visits are difficult, and there is no educational or vocational programming. 

E-mail Mark Martin at markmartin@sfchronicle.com. 

Page B - 1 
URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/06/19/BAG0M78V4V1.DTL

Prison Held Gang Members in Lockdown for Almost 2 Years
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

April 8, 2004

SACRAMENTO — For 20 months, scores of Latino gang members at Folsom State Prison were locked in their cells around the clock and deprived of regular exercise, visitors, religious services, hot meals, telephone calls and frequent showers, internal documents show.

At least one top Department of Corrections official has concluded that the extended harsh restrictions — known in prison parlance as a lockdown — amounted to violations of state policy and the inmates' constitutional rights.

Imposed as an emergency measure after a gang riot in April 2002, the lockdown continued month after month, even though inmates filed more than 100 grievances. Restrictions on exercise, visits and hot meals were eased in December, but even now some limitations remain in effect. 

Newly appointed Corrections Director Jeanne Woodford confirmed that an internal department inquiry was underway. She would not discuss it, but called the length of the lockdown excessive.

"Should it have gone on for two years? In my opinion, it should not have gone on for two years," Woodford said in an interview. 

National prison expert Craig Haney said, "a lockdown for two years is just about unheard of." Haney, a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor, added that "to confine inmates under those conditions for that long really presses against the psychological bounds of people's survival." 

Haney — and some state corrections administrators — say the lockdown underscores the department's struggle to manage an ominous problem: the expanding power of gangs within the sprawling prison system. The department estimates that more than 100,000 inmates — about two-thirds of the population — belong to gangs or splinter groups.

Although officials have tried to limit violence by isolating leaders at a few maximum-security housing units, gangs — and scores of splinter groups — have continued to flourish, battling each other in a constant war for turf and control.

When riots occur, officials routinely impose a lockdown while they search cells for weapons and identify instigators.

Such was the case at Folsom, where all 3,500 inmates were locked down after the 2002 melee. Gradually, groups of convicts were released from lockdown after agreeing not to initiate further violence, officials said.

But one group — members of assorted Northern California Latino gangs — would not make such a pledge, a department spokeswoman said. Those were the inmates who ended up on lockdown for 20 months. 

"When they refuse to agree not to attack someone, then, for obvious security reasons, we can't put them back on the yard," said department spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

That explanation rankled some inmate advocates. They said lockdowns often drag on — as at Folsom — in part because prison officials lack an effective strategy for preventing more violence when inmates are released to mingle again outdoors.

"Using a lockdown as a quick response to a security breach is a common corrections practice," said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator of the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington. "But something like this is astonishing. It sounds like there are major problems in California and that corrections administrators are letting the gangs run the prisons."

. . .

In December, then-Corrections Director Edward Alameida fired Folsom's warden, Diana Butler, citing the need for "new leadership" but making no mention of the lockdown. In January, 10 other top managers at the prison were reassigned, but again nothing was said about the lockdown.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has asked the U.S. attorney in Sacramento to investigate the April 2002 riot and its aftermath. Prison sources say the FBI is collecting documents and asking questions about the lockdown.

Folsom marks the latest episode in what some describe as a crisis engulfing California corrections. Over the last four months, disclosures have revealed problems ranging from extreme violence in juvenile lockups to a "revolving door" parole system that funnels two-thirds of all ex-convicts back to prison.

Legislators are holding oversight hearings on the troubles, and a commission appointed by Schwarzenegger has been asked to suggest reforms.

State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) is among those pushing for change. She called the lockdown "indefensible" and a violation of federal standards.

"It's very disturbing," said Speier, who vowed to pursue an audit of lockdowns throughout the prison system. "It's like grounding a child for five years and forgetting all about him."

According to documents and interviews, the lockdown rose out of a period of escalating tensions between rival Latino gangs that prison officials label northern Hispanics and southern Hispanics.

Those tensions peaked April 8, 2002, when members of the southern group attacked their enemies on the exercise yard, resulting in a melee that left 24 injured and one officer permanently disabled.

Documents show that during the 20-month period after the riot, the northern Hispanics' conditions of confinement were severe. On Dec. 9, 2003, the department's then-regional administrator for northern prisons, Ana Ramirez-Palmer, sent a memo to Alameida outlining findings of a management assessment.

The memo expressed "significant concerns" about the lockdown and recommended that the U.S. Justice Department investigate "the apparent civil rights violations." 

Another memo a few days later cited these problem areas, among others:

•  Food: The inmates were not afforded two hot meals a day as required by department policy. The only hot meals provided were breakfast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

•  Showers: Because the inmates refused to wear soft-soled shoes, they were routinely denied showers. Some inmates, however, were allowed to use the outdoor showers three days a week.

•  Exercise: At the start of the lockdown, all the inmates were given periodic access to telephones and a "mini-yard." Later on, some of them were denied all exercise.

•  Canteen: The inmates were not allowed to make purchases at the prison store, where convicts typically buy snacks, hygiene items and stamps. "Since they could not purchase stamps … and were not indigent, they could not mail out any correspondence to family or friends," the memo said.

•  Visiting: Except for Dec. 26, 2002, the locked-down inmates were not permitted any visitors.

•  Religious services: None. In addition, the prison's chaplains and spiritual advisors "failed to provide face-to-face interaction by walking the tiers."

The memo also noted that the inmates' appeals pertaining to the living conditions were not processed according to policy.

A review of appeals filed by several inmates showed that many of their complaints centered on the quality of the food.

In one complaint, dated Dec. 14, 2002, inmate Harold Matus said he and fellow inmates were being served peanut butter and bread as a main course three times a day. Such a diet, he said, violated department regulations that require balanced nutrition and at least two hot meals a day.

The complaint ended up at the director's level, where it was reviewed — and denied — by a staff member on behalf of Alameida. That decision cited what appeared to be the department's overall justification for the lockdown — that the warden has the authority to "temporarily suspend the normal operations" of a prison to maintain safety and security.

Shortly after receiving the memos, Alameida resigned for personal reasons.

Woodford, the new department director, acknowledged that "we do have a ways to go" in controlling gang violence. Several years ago, she noted, the state considered adopting a program that motivates inmates to break free of gangs.

The department's model for the program, however, carried a high price tag, and the idea was shelved.

One high-level corrections administrator, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the lockdown should never have lasted so long. 

"It's insane," the official said. "After you impose a lockdown, the goal is to do your cell searches and investigation and then unlock as soon as possible. If you're afraid that will lead to more violence, you use your head and scatter the troublemakers at other prisons. You don't just sit there and keep them locked down and hope the problem goes away."

Times staff writer Tim Reiterman contributed to this report.

Prisoner's isolation leads to desperation 
Safer cells mean dangerous streets 
Joan Ryan
Tuesday, January 27, 2004 
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URL:  sfgate.com/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2004/01/27/BAGAC4IMC91.DTL

For six years, Jason Treas lived in a world of one. 

He had no physical contact with another living being. Not a handshake, a hug, a slap on the back. He had just three face-to-face conversations during those years, all through a glass partition. He never spoke on the phone. He never saw a blade of grass or a bird from the bare-walled, windowless room in which he spent 22 1/2 hours a day, or from the covered concrete courtyard in which he spent the remaining 90 minutes. 

The background noise to his world of one was the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the shouts of other inmates whose faces he couldn't see. 

At the end of the six years by himself, Treas was dropped off in San Francisco on an April afternoon last year with the clothes on his back and $200 in his pocket. 

"It was sensory overload,'' Treas said over lunch Monday at a Mexican restaurant on Mission Street. "I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up.'' 

He had migraines for weeks from the sun. He was frightened in crowds. He had no job. His father was a drug addict. His mother had disowned him. He fully understood, now that he was without a job or the skills to function normally in society, why so many men end up back in prison. 

"Desperate men are going to do desperate things,'' he said. 

Legislators in Sacramento have been investigating corruption and brutality in the state prison system, trying to push for overdue reforms. If one of the goals of prison is to keep our society safer, then we have to stop dumping ex-convicts back onto the street after years of sensory deprivation. This means getting rid of the place where Treas and thousands of others have done their time, the infamous Security Housing Unit, known as the SHU, at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border. 

There are no educational or vocational classes in the SHU. There are no prison jobs or any group activity of any kind to pass the time. Some inmates go crazy. Treas recalled one inmate who became so paranoid that he never left his cell. Some men become more violent. 

Here's why we should care: Hundreds of these inmates every year are released directly from the SHU back into society to live among the rest of us. 

Correctional authorities say SHUs are crucial in isolating the worst of the worst in order to keep safe the guards and the rest of the inmates. 

Understandable, but illogical. What about us? How is this approach keeping society safe when the prison system dumps these isolated, dysfunctional men back on the streets without social or job skills, without any psychological preparation for life in a crowded, noisy, messy, demanding world? 

The practice of complete deprivation is stunningly short-sighted -- keeping the immediate peace in prison at the expense of the eventual peace out here. It is setting up ex-cons for failure, and putting every citizen in California at risk. 

Treas' time at Pelican Bay capped 11 total years of incarceration, beginning in juvenile detention. While on a weekend pass from a juvenile ranch, he was charged and convicted as an adult for assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting of an Irish tourist, a charge he denies. He was 16. 

Now he is 27. He looks, in some ways, like a central-casting depiction of an ex-con, with tattoos, a mustache and goatee, and black hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. But he has, through his own diligence and social awakening in prison, landed a job at a San Francisco-based magazine called The Beat Within, which publishes writings and art from inmates at juvenile halls and prisons. 

Treas began contributing to The Beat years ago, developing an intense pen- pal friendship with several of the editors. He taught himself math, English and history, and earned a GED. The Beat editors helped him land a grant when he got out that is paying him a salary for a year to help teenagers at three San Francisco Boys & Girls Clubs to paint murals. He leads art and writing workshops at Walden House and other San Francisco places where runaways and troubled teens turn for help. He shares an apartment in Pleasant Hill with his sister and commutes every day by BART to the city. 

But most inmates who leave the SHU aren't as fortunate. They don't have jobs to pay the bills. They don't have friends and co-workers to teach them how to use a computer for the first time, or to listen to them when another intimate relationship fails to meet the idealized version they had created in their heads all those lonely years. 

"My success is not the prison's success,'' he said, finishing his burrito. "I don't know how I made it out. If not for the grant I got, what would I be doing now? In the SHU, the things you need in order to function in society are all taken away from you. You are removed from everything that makes you human." 

E-mail Joan Ryan at  joanryan@sfchronicle.com .


Friday December 27, 04:00 PM 

Actor Robert Blake Depressed in LA Jail - Report

Actor Robert Blake ( news), in jail awaiting trial on charges that he murdered his wife, worries that this may be his last Christmas on Earth, according to a television report broadcast on Thursday.

Local Los Angeles station CBS2, the west coast flagship of the CBS network, said that Blake's attitudes toward life appear to have deteriorated along with his physical condition.

"This is the fourth time I have interviewed Robert Blake, the second time in jail, and definitely there is a change," said reporter Paul Dandridge, who added that the actor, now 69, is "not sure as to how much more he can last."

Dandridge said the only human contact Blake has is a once-a-week handshake from a priest who visits the actor in his jail cell.

Dandridge said Blake, the star of the television series "Baretta," told him he wondered if "this would be his last Christmas on Earth."

Blake, who is accused of shooting his wife Bonnie Lee Bakley to death while she sat in a car in May 2001, is scheduled to answer questions under oath on Jan. 15 in connection with a wrongful death lawsuit Bakley's children filed.

A preliminary hearing in the criminal case against him is set for Feb. 26. 


Lockdown at Pelican Bay after fight

Friday, January 3, 2003 
©2003 Associated Press


(01-03) 19:37 PST (AP) -- 

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. -- A partial lockdown was instituted at Pelican Bay State Prison after a fight broke out involving up to 75 inmates.

The fight Thursday afternoon was the largest at the remote prison near the Oregon border since a riot in February 2000, according to Lt. Rawland Swift, public information officer. 

Swift did not know what caused the fight. Guards used pepper spray and tear gas to control the inmates. Four inmates had minor injuries. 

Pelican Bay is home to the state's most hardened criminals, most of whom are serving lengthy terms for violent crimes. The riot in 2000, involving 200 inmates, was the largest in prison history. One inmate was shot to death and dozens were seriously injured. 

©2003 Associated Press 


Officers injured at New Folsom

The prison is locked down after inmates attacked the guards.

By Denny Walsh -- Bee Staff Writer 
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Monday, December 30, 2002A brief scuffle among correctional officers and inmates Saturday at California State Prison, Sacramento, resulted in moderate injuries to two officers and a lockdown of the entire facility, known as New Folsom.Correctional Lt. Merlin Feryance said Sunday that prisoners attacked officers on an exercise yard about 11:15 a.m., when the officers moved in to break up a fight between two inmates. 

Officers involved in the melee used pepper spray and side-handle batons to quell the uprising, while officers in towers fired rubber bullets into the yard and live warning rounds overhead. The disturbance was put down within three minutes, Feryance said. Sixteen inmates have been identified as being involved, the lieutenant added. 

Sgt. Sebastian Graham and Officer Stephen Solomon were taken by ambulance to the UC Davis Medical Center, where they were treated and released. Graham had a gash on his head that required seven sutures and two puncture wounds on his upper back. Solomon suffered abrasions to his face. 

A number of inmates were treated for "abrasions, bruises and bumps" at the prison, Feryance said. 

Several other officers were treated for minor injuries. 

An investigation of the incident is under way, the lieutenant said. "As of now, it appears to have been spontaneous," he said. 

About the Writer 

The Bee's Denny Walsh can be reached at (916) 321-1189 or  dwalsh@sacbee.com


Many inmates in lockdown after riot

Racial conflict is a given in prisons, officials say; the difference at Folsom was the use of deadly force. 

By Niesha Gates -- Bee Staff Writer 
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Saturday, December 14, 2002African American inmates as well as Mexican American inmates from Northern and Southern California have been placed on lockdown indefinitely while officials investigate Thursday morning's race riot at Folsom State Prison, officials said Friday.The inmates will not be allowed to leave their cells or have access to telephones or visitors, said Lt. Tom Ayers, a prison spokesman. 
Ayers said the inmates will be served meals in their cells. In addition, the more than 30 inmates involved in the riot have been confined in administrative segregation housing units."It's very hard for us to say that the lockdown will be lifted in time for Christmas," he said.The riot in the dining hall at 7:10 a.m. was sparked by a fight minutes earlier in a nearby housing unit between 10 African American inmates and a group of Mexican American inmates from Southern California, Ayers said. It was quelled when a correctional officer shot an inmate, wounding him in the buttocks. 

He was in stable condition Friday.The riot marked the second time in two years that a correctional officer in a California prison has used deadly force. The incident has prompted a major in-house investigation and raised questions about the prison system's segregation policies.Ayers said the mÍlée lasted five minutes as more than 100 inmates beat one another with hard plastic trays, cups, plates and fists. Some inmates dove to the floor and scrambled under tables to avoid the fight and officers' attempts to break up the fighting with rubber batons and pepper spray. 

It ended after one shot was fired by an officer, who was patrolling the area from a catwalk above the dining hall, he said."Once the rifle was fired you could have heard a pin drop," Ayers said. "They all went to the ground, and we began using restraints and escorting them out of the area."Ayers didn't identify the inmate who was injured and later underwent surgery.The officer who fired the shot has been placed on administrative leave while prison officials investigate the shooting. They will be interviewing each of the prison's 3,875 inmates. 

It took 33 seconds to contain the last riot at Folsom prison, in April, between Mexican Americans from Northern and Southern California, he said. Prior to that, the last riot of equal magnitude was in 1992, between Mexican American inmates from Southern California and African American inmates who belonged to the Crips gang.Folsom prison houses mainly medium-and minimum-security prisoners. It also houses 797 Level 3 custody inmates, a category one step below maximum security.Prisoners involved in Thursday's riot were all medium-security inmates, Ayers said.Russ Heimerich, a Corrections Department spokesman, said reports of race riots come in to the department daily. 

The distinguishing mark in Thursday's riot was the use of deadly force."All of our riots are race-based riots. This is nothing new," he said. "What is new is that now, unlike 40 or 50 years ago, most prisoners associate with some sort of prison gang, and those gangs are based on race."Heimerich said when a fight breaks out, it's usually because one gang perceives that another gang was disrespectful. "It could have been something as simple as bumping into someone without apologizing," he said.Inmates who take part in riots may face punishments, including administrative segregation, prison transfers or felony prosecution.Heimerich said the Department of Corrections is trying to address the racial self-segregation within the prison system but doesn't know how to stop it. 

"They come in and affiliate that way," he said. "The best we can do is try to manage the tension."When riots occur, instigators are transferred and inmates are placed on lockdown. Advisory councils made up of inmates sometimes are established to help prison officials better understand the problems, he said.But according to Steven Fama, an attorney at the Prison Law Office in San Rafael, such solutions merely add to racial tension."All too often, in the wake of incidents like this, CDC officials are too quick to make assumptions based on an inmate's race. Lockdowns will be imposed and lifted on the basis of race," Fama said. 

"An inmate wants his conduct to be judged on what he's done in the past, not by his ethnicity."About 15 years ago, Fama said, there were prison programs that helped curb racial tension. But a lack of funding and a shift of emphasis has eliminated them."The emphasis now is on punishment and stripped-down, bare-minimum prisons," Fama said. "The problem ... is that the people in them are still human beings. What's needed are programs that would allow prisoners to break down barriers and form relationships."About the Writer 

The Bee's Niesha Gates can be reached at (916)608-7454 or  ngates@sacbee.com

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