Tag Archives: isolation

CA: Solitary confinement case set to expand

From the article: “A federal judge Thursday said she is likely to allow a lawsuit alleging that solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison amount to psychological torture, to be expanded from the cases of 10 prisoners to include about 1,100 inmates now held in indefinite isolation.”

According to the article, there are 500 men who have been held in solitary confinement (defined in the article as 22.5 hour per day lockdown) for more than a decade.  Unbelievable.

Read more from the article here.

The reality is that not all solitary confinement is created equally.  Speaking from my state, some segregation units are relatively humane, with inmates who have access to adequate food, lighting, recreation opportunities, reading material, and who report few concerns.  Other segregation units (I am thinking of one in particular) are the not-so-good scenario, with inmates who are in a sensory-deprived environment, where they can only get books if they pay off a porter, recreation is limited, etc.

What makes the difference?  Well, I can tell you.  The first issue is overcrowding.  Segregation is a microcosm of prison and just as on the compound, overcrowding taxes staff resources and makes staff go into “survival mode,” where they do even less than they might have otherwise done for a population that they could handle.  This results in a negative spiral, as inmates’ issues are not addressed, so they become frustrated, so they act out, so staff react negatively, etc.

The second issue is the time that inmates are kept in segregation, which is not always (sometimes not even frequently) within the control of staff, particularly if inmates are waiting for a disciplinary transfer.  They could be back there for months, or even a year.  This results in a huge amount of frustration (understandably, in my opinion).  Staff feel helpless.  Again, a negative spiral.

The third issue is in fact the type of inmate that you’re housing, although in my opinion this is less of an issue than the above two.  The inmate is in the most secure environment, so security classification seems less of an issue.  However, it is certainly the higher security inmates who engage in the most disruption (breaking off sprinkler heads, flooding the range, creating a disturbance, etc).

So, is it always psychological torture?  I would say no when you are talking about a short term stay in an under-capacity unit with a manageable population.  But a definitive yes to the overcrowded, under-resourced segs where inmates just sit with nothing to do for months.  The only question is, what do you do with the inmates who have legitimately misbehaved in order to place themselves in the unit?

h/t Vera Institute

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Calif. inmate hunger strike heads into 7th week

From the article: “Lawyers and advocates said that the roughly 70 inmates who have refused prison meals since July 8 want to start taking a liquid diet that includes fruit and vegetable juices, just as they said hunger-striking terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay are allowed to do. But California corrections officials define fruit and vegetable juices as food, and thus would reclassify inmates as not being on a hunger strike if they started drinking them.”

Interesting.  I think I would have to say that my first inclination is to side with California, at least regarding the calories.  How about you?

Read more of the article here.

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Calif. Prison Hunger-Strikers Being Blasted With Cold Air, Lawyers Say

From the article: “About 1,450 California prisoners participating in a mass hunger strike continued to refuse meals on Thursday, with some inmates alleging that prison officials are trying to break the campaign by blasting cells with cold air, according to lawyers and relatives.”

Read more here.

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Calif. prison chief: Inmate hunger strike will harm cause

From the article: “The strike is the largest of three hunger strikes protesting conditions in California prisons in the last two years. After the earlier, smaller strikes, the department began its program giving gang members a way out of the isolation units. About half of the nearly 400 inmates considered so far have been or will be let out of solitary confinement, while another 115 are in a program in which they can work their way out of the units.”

Read more here.

I hate to be a little cynical here, but since the only benefits of the hunger strike are accruing to the state’s most powerful gang leaders, makes me wonder how many of the hunger strikers are under strict orders to refuse food.  Then again, that doesn’t mean that the goal isn’t worthy.

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