Monday, February 16, 2015

Don't release inmates directly from solitary to free world

On UT-Austin's website today, a short essay on solitary confinement by Octavio Martinez Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, opened thusly:
Of all the statistics that point to an urgent need to reform the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons, there’s one that is most striking: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released more than 1,200 people directly from solitary confinement back into Texas communities in 2013.

Imagine for a moment languishing alone in a 60-square-foot cell for 22 hours a day, for months or even years. Then one day, suddenly you’re left to successfully re-enter society.

This practice needs to stop. 
The article concluded:
For too long solitary confinement has been deployed as a routine disciplinary measure, rather than as an extreme practice reserved for rare circumstances. This needs to change.

Among other reforms, we should better train our correctional officers to work with people with mental health issues. We should have an incentive program that allows prisoners in solitary to earn their way, with good behavior, back into the general population. And we should ban releasing people directly from solitary confinement back into the community.

In recent years, the Texas criminal justice system has begun to tilt the balance back toward rehabilitation for all but the most violent offenders. In the same spirit, we are overdue for a far-reaching, but entirely common sense, rethinking of the way that solitary confinement is used in our prisons.


Anonymous said...

In 2011, in California, a class action lawsuit was initiated addressing the issue of solitary confinement and the mentally ill who should be protected against such form of torture and abuse.
The ADA (American Disability Act) protects the mentally ill against torture and abuse. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS ABUSE!
I hope the California law suit will set a precedent for Texas.
Are we, here in Texas, so terribly backwards that we need the Feds or California or somebody on the outside to straighten up our act?

Anonymous said...

The practice of solitary confinement goes against the Americans for Disability Act. California: 1911 - class action lawsuit against the prison system. 2014: judge declared such practice unconstitutional and in violation of the ADA.
Will Texas follow or do we need the Feds to tell us what to do?

Anonymous said...

I meant to say: "Americans With Disability Act".

Anonymous said...

Solitary does irreparable damages to the inmates.

Here's a PARTIAL list:

1. Solitary damages THE BRAIN - permanently. --- Brain imaging better conveys the damages of solitary confinement because SEVERE AND PROLONGED STRESS ALTER PATHWAYS TO THE BRAIN.
-- A PET scan, or an EEG will show permanent parenchymal atrophy - (shrinking of the brain caused by the loss of its cells, called neurons.)
“What you get from a brain scan is the ability to point to something” concrete, said law professor Amanda Pustilnik of the University of Maryland, “The credibility of psychology in the public mind is very low, whereas the credibility of our newest set of brain tools is very high.”

“There are few people who say that mental distress is permissible in punishment. But we do think harming people physically and torturing them are impermissible,”
“You can’t starve people. You can’t put them into a hotbox or maim them,” she continued. “If you could do brain scans to show that people suffer permanent damage, that could make solitary look less like some form of distress, and more like the infliction of a permanent disfigurement.” -- WELL< WE HAVE SHOWN THIS. BRAIN SCANS DON'T LIE."
2. Prolonged solitary confinement damages the inmates MENTAL HEALTH - permanently.

Haney, who in 2012 was appointed to a National Academy of Sciences committee studying the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration in the United States, has interviewed hundreds of prison staff and inmates and toured and inspected dozens of U.S. prisons. At a June 19, 2012 hearing, he showed pictures to illustrate solitary confinement's harsh conditions, including filthy cells that are "scarcely larger than a king-sized bed," he said. As a result of the endless monotony and lack of human contact, "for some prisoners ... solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness."
Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners giving them the name Special Housing Unit Syndrome or SHU Syndrome. Some of the many SHU Syndrome symptoms include:

Visual and auditory hallucinations
Hypersensitivity to noise and touch
Insomnia and paranoia
Uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear
Distortions of time and perception
Increased risk of suicide

If one is not mentally ill when entering an isolation unit, by the time they are released, their mental health has been severely compromised. Many prisoners are released directly to the streets after spending years in isolation. Because of this, long-term solitary confinement goes beyond a problem of prison conditions, to pose a formidable public safety and community health problem. Many inmates experience panic attacks, depression and paranoia, and some suffer hallucinations, he said. These don't disappear when they get out.
(Disclaimer: the above is a compilation from different sources that I am not crediting for lack of space)

A note from Mary... said...

Excellent information. I hope someone hears you. My husband has been in AS for 23 years and has been told he will be released directly into society. Shameful to say the least.

He's Innocent said...

In recent years, the Texas criminal justice system has begun to tilt the balance back toward rehabilitation for all but the most violent offenders.

Except sex offenders. The BPP imposes "sexual offender therapy" to take place inside, before release. Yet, that same person is subjected to the same forced therapy on the outside. Sometimes for years, and at a cost of $30-45 weekly. Therapy my butt. It's a money making scheme, as is the entire criminal legal system.

But I digress. My point is this: until society, Texas, and the south as a whole, drop the mindset of "throw away the key" punishment, there will never be a full realization that incarceration should also be for rehabilitation, not just for punishment. Just about all incarcerated persons will re-enter their communities at some point. Question is, what are they going to be like when they do after years or decades of bitter punishment?

Ad Seg (and the death penalty) is simply the epitome of the stupidity of the entire incarceration as punishment scheme.

Wolf Sittler said...

Releasing ad-seg inmates directly to the streets is totally contrary to the mission statement of TDCJ...: "to provide public safety, promote positive change in offender behavior, re-integrate offenders into society and assist victims of crime."
The acting Commissioner of Corrections in New York state noted " reform is not about going soft on crime, but about how we get people to leave prison better than when they came in".
That's not happening as much as it could, or should, in Texas. The burden is on everyone interested in this issue to push for common sense changes.

Anonymous said...

When they get out they are top dog in they set. They got it made.

Dominic Jiminez said...

I agree that prisoners being kept in solitary confinement must be rehabilitated first by bringing them among normal prisoners first, counsel them properly so that they are equipped mentally to live in the society normally.

Anonymous said...

Very true, the so-called Justice system would better be defined as a financial institution to keep supporting the Matt Binghams!

Anonymous said...

I was at the Walls Unit for a short time some time ago. It was scary one time to see a guy being lead across the rec yard from solitary in ankle cuffs, hand cuffs and even a "spit mask" on his way to the front of the unit to get discharged from prison and out in "the world." That was just plain scary and stupid.