Tag Archives: solitary confinement

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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Justice Department Finds Pennsylvania State Prison’s Use of Solitary Confinement Violates Rights of Prisoners Under the Constitution and Americans with Disabilities Act

A lot of attention on the use of solitary confinement and administrative segregation…which is a good thing.

From the press release: “Today, the Justice Department issued a findings letter detailing the results of its investigation into the use of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Cresson in Cambria County, Pa.  The department found that Cresson’s use of long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

Read more here.

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Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in the US Detention System

Report from the Physicians for Human Rights on solitary confinement.  Check it out here.


CO: Suspect in Colorado prison chief killing spent bulk of sentence in solitary

I am in no way saying that prison caused this man to act out in murder, as the disciplinary and sentencing records indicate that he was a violent, disturbed person.  But it does make you wonder what programs or other reentry-related therapy was conducted to prepare him for release.  Could anything have changed the course of his behavior?  I do not know, but I do know it’s not going to be found in solitary.

Read the article here.

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ACLU of Pa., others sue Pa. Dept. of Corrections over housing of mentally ill inmates

From the article: “The state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has joined the Disability Network of Pennsylvania in a lawsuit challenging what the attorneys call the unconstitutional treatment of prisoners with serious mental illnesses who are held in solitary confinement.”

Like I said in the post immediately below this one, mentally ill inmates who are disruptive are treated as high security risks and locked down.  And what happens when we lock them down?

“Prolonged isolation under these extremely harsh conditions exacerbates the symptoms of the prisoners’ mental illness, which can include refusing to leave their cells, declining medical treatment, sleeplessness, hallucinations, paranoia, covering themselves with feces, head banging, injuring themselves and prison staff, and suicide,” the complaint reads. “Frequently, these symptoms are regarded as prison rule infractions, which prison officials punish with still more time in the RHU.”

Read more here.

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WA: State prisons rethink solitary confinement

From the article: “Washington’s prisons are at the forefront of a new approach to solitary confinement, finding that a new focus on rehabilitation may calm some inmates’ behavior in prison and prevent violence once they are back on the street.”


Read more here.

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New York prison officials sued over solitary confinement

From the article: “The lawsuit is the latest challenge to standards by which some 80,000 inmates a day are confined up to 23 hours a day in isolation or with another inmate inside cells as small as a parking spot.”

Read more here.

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Companionship or Death: The Torture of Solitary Confinement

Great article on Huffington Post re solitary confinement.

From the article: “On any given day in the United States, 80,000 prisoners are held in some form of isolation or solitary confinement. Rather than being a method for holding the worst prisoners, solitary confinement is often the punishment for infractions of prison rules, such as fighting, gang membership or obtaining contraband. Many of the mentally healthy who are placed in isolation develop psychological problems as a result. Inmates engage in self-mutilation, sit catatonic in their own waste, and demonstrate cognitive dysfunction, paranoia and depression. According to testimony presented in June by Dr. Craig Haney, a leading expert on solitary confinement, at the first ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, for many prisoners, “solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness.” As Sen. Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which held the hearing, shared in his opening statement to that hearing, 50 percent of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.”