Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Push to reform ad-seg lacks organic constituency

The issue of solitary confinement emerged on the media's radar screen this summer after inmates in solitary at California's Pelican Bay prison went on a hunger strike. Perhaps in reaction to that story, Dane Schiller at the Houston Chronicle has a piece today on solitary confinement (known in Texas as "administrative segregation," or ad-seg, in the parlance) at TDCJ titled "Years long isolation of inmates under attack." The article opens:
Behind the razor wire-topped fences of Ferguson prison and other Texas penitentiaries are 5,205 inmates branded the baddest of the bad — dubbed so devious they are locked in one-man cells for 23 hours a day often for decades.

Lock down. Isolation. Administrative segregation.

Spread among 22 prisons, Texas has more inmates in so-called "ad-seg" than most other states in the nation.

They have been deemed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to be "confirmed" members of gangs, too organized, predatory and violent to mix with the 150,000 prisoners in general populations.

They serve their time in cages of about 9 feet by 7 feet with cement walls outfitted with solid steel doors or bars covered with mesh.

"We ain't the most likeable or most welcomed group in society," concedes 38-year-old Anastacio Garcia, a robber from the Rio Grande Valley who has been in isolation here for 15 years. "We sit here day in and day out, basically rotting ourselves away."

Another 4,000 or so inmates are serving temporary stints in ad-seg as punishment for breaking rules or being escape risks.

Their cells are identical to those on death row.
A minister who works with inmates in ad seg estimated that in TDCJ isolation cells it's "115 degrees this time of year, without a cross breeze."

There are no Texas-based organizations working on ad-seg issues to my knowledge, but Schiller quoted someone from the national ACLU criticizing the practice:
The ACLU contends ad-seg is arbitrary and ineffective.

"This type of isolation is pervasive around the country," said Amy Fettig, ACLU's senior counsel for the national prison project. "It is now being used at an unprecedented level.

"Unfortunately, when you place somebody in (ad-seg) you are not teaching them how to be a better person. You are simply driving them crazy."
Last month the blog Solitary Watch had a (frankly much more thorough and well-researched) article on ad seg in Texas by Elisa Mosler that made implied criticisms in the Chronicle more concrete, including providing perspective from ad-seg inmates themselves:
Texas’s administrative segregation units deprive prisoners of all human contact. Bartlett Whitaker, in solitary confinement on death row, writes: “I am not even sure that a man who has completely disconnected from the world should still be called ‘human’ to be honest with you.” For 23 hours every day, inmates stay in tiny and often windowless cells; most are permitted one hour of solitary recreation time. Texas segregation units forbid contact visits for inmates, while telephone use is severely limited and sometimes prohibited altogether. Inmates do not have access to rehabilitative or educational programs. Prisoners placed in solitary remain there, on average, for more than four years, though some have been in isolation for up 25 years. Former inmates say that once placed in isolation, it is extremely difficult to be allowed to re-join populated prison units and many prisoners finish their sentences in solitary cells.
Solitary Watch also detailed how ad-seg is used as a substitute for provision of mental health care:
administrative segregation units in Texas, as elsewhere, are used as holding cells for the large numbers of inmates with serious mental illness. After visiting the segregation units of several Texas prisons on behalf of a federal court in 1999, psychologist Craig Haney painted a disturbing picture of a place rife with mentally ill prisoners:
I’m talking about forms of behavior that are easily recognizable and that are stark in nature when you see them, when you look at them, when you’re exposed to them. In a number of instances, there were people who had smeared themselves with feces. In other instances, there were people who had urinated in their cells, and the urine was on the floor…. There were many people who were incoherent when I attempted to talk to them, babbling, sometimes shrieking, other people who appeared to be full of fury and anger and rage and were, in some instances, banging their hands on the side of the wall and yelling and screaming, other people who appeared to be simply disheveled, withdrawn and out of contact with the circumstances or surroundings. Some of them would be huddled in the back corner of the cell and appeared incommunicative when I attempted to speak with them. Again, these were not subtle diagnostic issues. These were people who appeared to be in profound states of distress and pain.
There's no reason to think any of that has changed since then. Indeed, judging by the Chronicle's reporting, the number of TDCJ prisoners in ad-seg is presently higher than ever. In conclusion, Solitary Watch quoted your correspondent , discussing why a bill generating new data about ad-seg prisoners never got off the ground in the most recent legislative session. Those comments apply to concerns raised in the Chronicle article as well, and serve as a fitting conclusion to this post:
The introduction of House Bill 3764 in the Texas legislature earlier this year, designed to move a portion of inmates out of administrative segregation, offers a glimmer of hope to the thousands of inmates kept in isolation. Introduced by Rep. Marisa Marquez in March 2011, the bill would not only attempt to reduce numbers of inmates in segregation but would also set up programs to gently help segregated inmates integrate into the free world on their release. The bill would also, significantly, lead to increased transparency in the prison system by pushing the TDCJ to report on the mental and physical effects of segregation and provide information on reasons why inmates are placed there. But HB 3764 failed to make it to the House floor before the legislative session ended.

“Ad seg issues keep being thrown under the bus,” says Scott Henson, who writes the “Grits for Breakfast” blog on the Texas criminal justice system. Henson argues that the reason for this and the failure of the bill is that there is no strong constituency in Texas pushing for segregation reform. Unlike in other areas of prison reform, segregation inmates tend not to have paid attorneys on the outside or anyone with an economic interest in representing them. And though much [legal] advocacy work has been done to ameliorate segregation conditions, organizations do not necessarily have the resources to finance a full-blown campaign for a bill.

In this period of budget cuts, one way the state of Texas could be convinced of the merits of HB 3764 is by being shown the savings it would incur. “[The bill passing] is much more likely on economic reasons than on the principle. There is room for budgetary arguments to make a lot of hay there,” Henson says. If an economic study calculating the savings incurred of moving thousands of inmates from segregation to populated units were presented along with a positive risk assessment of reclassified segregation inmates, the bill could have a chance of passing. Henson says this is how Texas probation reforms were passed in 2007.

The passage of HB 3764 could produce data which would support the above cost-benefit analysis of administrative segregation. If the absence of an adequate constituency willing to make segregation reform a priority continues, however, change will stay out of reach.  And while the Lone Star state makes baby steps towards a less draconian criminal justice system, administrative segregation will remain alive and well and continue to play an integral role in the state’s prison system.


Anonymous said...

Worth noting, perhaps, that the "solitary rec time" is often done in an open room that is part of the pod where the ad-seg inmates are held, so they don't actually go outside even for the one hour of recreation (though there is natural light in the recreation room, as I recall).

Anonymous said...

Neither the ACLU nor the media seems to have questioned whether a federal grant program extant since the 1990's is responsible for the boom in the creation of administrative segregation cells.

The Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grant program (found at 42 USC, chapter 136, secton 13703) gives grants to states to build prison cells as long as those states pass laws that ensure that violent offenders serve 85 percent of their time. (Hmmm, could this be the genesis of 3g status? Bueller? Anyone?)
It would be interesting for an enterprising reporter (or blogger) to find out how much in grant funds Texas has gotten as a result of this federal program and the extent to which these monies have been allocated to build 2250 units and ad-seg cells. Bueller? Anyone?

Anonymous said...

Lessons to be learned here: 1) Follows the rules in prison; 2) Don't join a prison gang. Problem solved. Of course, if these criminals were capable of following rules, they probably wouldn't be in the pen to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Today’s TDCJ correction officers are a bunch who suffer from chronic pusillanimous character traits, unlike the boss’ from back in the game. Add in a federal grant to support this chronic character trait and you have what we have now with ad-seg. We spent and still spend tax money to fund the administrative corruption from the fall out of the Ruiz case. TDC went from a model prison system to a bunch of pusillanimous practicing inhuman acts on the mentally ill while acting in a most corrupt of fiduciary duties to their state employment. Or state went from ag-work to ad- seg at a tremendous expense to the tax payer.
In this new TDCJ if you aint blastin you aint lastin. Its loose lose all around.

Anonymous said...

Ok, this is a really sick thing the government is doing...

Let's have one more round of "God Bless Texas" from people like Rick Perry!

Solitary Watch said...

Thanks for linking to our article--and thanks for lending your wisdom to help us write it!

Prison Doc said...

Nobody likes Ad Seg. It is a necessary evil. I'm not sure what else one can do with persons who repeatedly assault staff or other inmates, or are recurrent sexual predators, or who are sworn to maintain a lifetime of gang violence. In Texas, at least, I don't believe that the use of Ad Seg is either "arbitrary" or "ineffective", to comment on the ACLU adjectives...clearcut guidelines are what put you into seg, and segregation is more effective than anything else for controlling continual violence. Contrary to what is implied by several other commenters, Administrative Segregation isn't the result of mean or antisocial prison staff: it is the result of the inmates own actions and the dictates of the Safe Prisons Act.

Scott, I don't think you are likely to see an "organic constituency" develop for these chronic bad actors whose mothers may love them but not many others will.

It should also be pointed out for Texas readers that your average Texas prison does not house long term segregation cases, to the best of my knowledge.

Hook Em Horns said...

Prison Doc raises some valid points. Some folks cannot be fixed. Regardless of the best efforts, nothing is going to make them fit to be around other human beings. Since we saw fit to let them live and not give them the needle, ad-seg is all there is.

Anonymous said...

If these categories of prisoners have long term sentences, where do they go when they've been in ad seg a certain amount of time. They aren't disappeared or made well, so of course they sit in ad seg for years on end. Not being able to be socialized is not a reason to cage them like animals. There must be a better way.

Anonymous said...

Let see, we have "reformed probation", and "reformed Juvenile/TYC" and Prison reforms have been ongoing. When in the hell is someone going to suggest reforming MHMR and all the mental health grants. That is the biggest waste of money in Texas. WAY WAY to many generals and not near enough foot soldiers in the MHMR system. I would not be superised if there are at least as many supervisory positions as there are MHMR clients being served.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, how would your comments apply to mentally ill offenders in ad-seg, and in your experience is the criticism of using ad-seg to house the severe mentally ill an accurate critique?

You're right they don't have ad-seg at most units. The Chron said they're housed at 22 of Texas' 113 facilities.

I also agree there's no "organic constituency" on the horizon on this topic with one exception: Budget cutters. Ad seg costs per prisoner are much higher than in genpop. As I told the folks at Solitary Watch, the more effective argument for reducing use of solitary in Texas isn't "pity the poor prisoners" but a clear-eyed cost benefit analysis. If there are offenders in segregation who pose little risk, they should be identified through a formal risk assessment process and moved to a less restrictive setting, both to improve the chances of rehabilitation and to reduce overall costs.

Finally, I think there needs to be more consideration given to resocialization for inmates who finish out their sentences in ad-seg. Imagine being released back onto the streets after spending years locked up 23 hours per day. Those folks not only must overcome their psychological trauma, but likely have few social skills to help them succeed when they get out. I can't fathom what that must be like, leaving ad-seg to be dumped on the street with $100 and a bus ticket. At a minimum folks in ad seg should be let out at least one year before the end of their day-for-day sentence so they don't leave TDCJ completely unsupervised. Such folks have a high potential for recidivism and from a pure public safety perspective it would make a lot of sense to provide extra services and supervision upon reentry to mitigate risk.

Anonymous said...

The problem you run into in your effort to reintegrate these offenders back into general population is what happens when they harm other prisoners. When one of these former ad/seg offenders with a documented history of assaultive behavior or known gang affilation "goes off" on another inmate, someone is about to have a really nice Section 1983 lawsuit against the state for "failure to protect." Back in the pre-Ruiz "good ol' days" when TDC had building tenders, a lot of these disciplinary problems simply did not exist. Yet another legacy of William Wayne Justice---bless his heart!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:28 writes: "Back in the pre-Ruiz "good ol' days" when TDC had building tenders, a lot of these disciplinary problems simply did not exist."

That is, if you consider assaults by building tenders on other inmates not to be "disciplinary problems." Assaults by building tenders were part of what led to the Sec. 1983 suit in Ruiz, so your reasoning is a bit circular. (For those not familiar with the terminology, "building tenders" were inmates that TDCJ staff designated as enforcers, giving them special privileges in exchange for keeping other inmates in line by any means necessary.)

If you work in a TDCJ prison today you should thank your stars for William Wayne Justice: Without him, Texas' prisons would look a lot like California's, which are by comparison utterly dysfunctional hellholes. Folks working in the system didn't like it at the time, but in retrospect the man was a visionary, as well as a consummate gentleman and IMHO a true Texas hero.

Prison Doc said...

Grits, I do not work on a "Mental Health Unit" in our system, so I can't comment on how it's done here. I would add that regarding mental health, there's crazy and then there's crazy--that is, many offenders have mental disorders that do not respond to modern psychiatric treatments--they don't do well no matter how many meds they are on, so some of them will always have to be locked down if there is no other method of protecting "themselves and others". I realize this conjures up the medieval image of a poor insane person locked in a cage surrounded by bones and excrement but I don't know the answer.

Re-entry? Boy, that's another issue entirely.

Nurseypooh said...

There are a lot of Ad-seg offender's in there for their own safety. I've seen traumatized offenders who were in gen pop and abused put in there to protect them and they were glad to be there. I've seen mildly mentally challenged individuals in there for their protection, older guys who use canes, etc. It's not always the worst offenders but that is what Ad-Seg was intended for and yes there are plenty of the worst offender's there but they are mostly in E and F pod G5, G4. As your custody level gets better you get to move up the hall, they have A-F pods. Gang members are there also, suppose to cut down on gang activity but I don't see that it has that much impact. TDCJ has a super seg also for the worst of the worst of the worst!
They traffic, trade, talk, converse with all the other 14-18 offender's in their pod/section, when they go to rec. and yes they do get to go outside once or twice per week maybe more depending on who the inmate is, how he behaves and who the officers are. A lot of times the inmates whose turn it is to go outside refuse and if your one who behaves and doesn't give anyone any trouble you can usually talk the officers into letting you go outside rec yard since they're empty anyway and that frees up and inside rec room to get rec over with sooner, and sometime your buddy down the hall can get put in the outside rec yard next to you and you can visit, play b-ball against each other etc.

If your son was mentally challenged or not able to defend himself in gen. pop would you want him in (protective custody0 which isn't really that protected and it's as the punk bld, all the child molesters, gay, serial killers, snitches etc. live there or would you want him in Ad-Seg where he is in a one man cell and has to have two officers handcuff him and any other offender before coming out of their cell and escorted to the day room, rec yard, shower etc. one offender out at a time is all thats allowed with two officers.
If I was in prison I'd want to be in Ad-Seg, I'd claim to be in some kind of made up gang or find a way to get in there.

Nurseypooh said...

Mentally ill. Thats another one of my soap box issues.

We used to have state hospitals. yes there were problems with them as anything else.

Texas shuts most of them down.

Our homeless population increases.

Our prison population increases. I firmly believe half of our prison population are mentally ill and 1/4 of them are convicted of minor crimes just to get them off the streets and in an instututional setting to protect them, the citizens and provide them at least with bed, meals and medical care, it's better than the streets for some.
So we closed the state hospitals and put them in prison. Our prison have become our state hospitals in a weird sort of way!

Nurseypooh said...

Grits since I don't know how to email you directly I'd like to bring up another concern.

NON_KOP medications.
KOP mean keep on person. These meds are issued to the offenders in a blister pack to take back to their cell.

All units going to 8 hours and one pill line per day are going to issue all meds including psych meds KOP the only meds that won't be KOP are going to be TB meds, some inhalers and all injectables.

This is a prescription for disaster because we have many, many mentally ill offender's with a history of overdosing. The inmates will traffic and trade, steal, abuse, sell and od on these meds. Some of these meds are very expensive also like the HIV meds and we have no way of tracking who is taking them or not, until they od on them.
Our Dr. psych Dr.'s, nurses and medication aids are very opposed to this because they've know some of these offenders for years and know their history. Staff has been told they have to issue them KOP now. So do they refuse and get fired, file a class action law suit, stay, give them KOP and risk their license, being sued by family etc. or just go ahead and quit the job find a job somewhere else and keep their license?
We're all in a quandry over this, I'm moving to another unit soon so this won't impact me.

Hook Em Horns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hook Em Horns said...

Nurseypooh, to suggest ad-seg is full of gay, old men with canes, and other's who want to be there is disingenuous.

Texas has safekeeping prisons for some folks who cannot defend themselves are older and/or who are young and gay. I know, I have clients there.

The over-use of ad-seg for every disciplinary excuse under the Texas sun can be a problem but, once again, what do you do with those who cannot be fixed and simply cannot be housed with other people for one reason or another? And then, of course, there is gladiator school which is a whole separate issue.

Grits raises valid concerns for the mentally ill and I, for one, am concerned about your "one pill line a day" issue which I agree will create huge problems.

Anonymous said...

As a former BT, I can attest the system worked. Everybody ate good, especially the boss’s. We maintained order out of chaos. The punks had their special block, pc, and the boss’s stayed out of our business. We didn’t have the high ratio of mentally ill inmates nor did we have the high ratio of low level offenders.
Today’s system is cruel and unusual and the cost to the tax payers is out of control. I would venture to say that 75% of the people working in TDCJ have no business working there. Look at employee retention if you need proof. The people who fought to keep Estelle’s system in place were defiant and, IMO, are responsible for causing the tax payers and the future of Texas corrections to become a lose/lose situation all around.
Lift the prohibition on weed, reinstate the BT’s and farm operations and add some worth to all those degrees issued by Sam Houston by giving them to the ad-seg inmates to wipe their ass with.

Nurseypooh said...

Hook em_-I did not say Ad-seg was full of those type of offenders.

I said safe keeping bldg or 3 bldg or the 2250 farms was for young, gay, old, sex offenders, serial killers, notorious, etc. and it was't "that safe".

If you will reread my post I also said Ad-seg did have violent, dangerous offenders mostly kept in F pod. In addition to them were offender's who couldn't protect themselves, old guys with canes, small men, mentally ill, mentally challenged, traumatized and let me add transgendered offenders who very much look like females! Along with gang members and various other offender's for one reason or another. There are some who can't be helped, won't change and will hurt anyone who comes near them, these are either in super-seg or F pod not by their choice but for the good of security and themselves and other offender's.
Most of the units which have a real seg are 2250 units such as Hughes, Micheal, Telford.

We should all be concerned with the medications being distributed to these offenders!

Susan Fenner said...

Currently many inmates are being placed in ad seg for having been caught with a cell phone. Also, there are inmates who have been in ad seg for many years. Some will be in ad seg until the day they are released (NOT a good reentry strategy!!!). A friend's son recently got out of seg via the GRAD program. He had been in ad seg over 10 years.

Anonymous said...

The state sends down a lot of money for treatment of mental illness. It IS TIME TO ASK WHAT THE HELL IS BEING DONE WITH THE MONEY. How many of you are aware that MHMR spends its tax dollar resources bidding on Highway rest area state contracts and don't even have to bid competitively to secure the contract? They name their price and get the contract. They are using Tax dollars to generate more revenue without accountability for how it is spent. Like typical beuracracy, the money goes to pad executive salaries and other "non-treatment executive privelage" waste.
This is no B.S. go pull the state contract list and look at how many high dollar rest areas MHMR has secured.
That is time and money they could be putting resources to use treating mentally ill in the prison system. MHMR is one of the most corrupt and unaccountable State agencies in Texas.

Anonymous said...

Just question for Prison Doc, although I would be happy to hear from anyone who knows. Prison Doc, you mentioned in an earlier post that "clear-cut guidelines" are what put people into ad seg. I was interested in what those were. Do you know what the "clear-cut guidelines" are? Also, are those guidelines uniform within TDCJ, or do different units have different guidelines?

Nurseypooh said...

Currently our prison inmates are basically medicated if they agree to it. No counseling or very little is available the counselors are only able to spend 20 min. talking to one offender, they were having group to deal with anger issues etc. but the social worker who led it got layed off this last rift. Our psych staff feel pretty helpless to say the least.

MHMR? I don't know where the money goes etc. etc. I do know you can't make someone seek treatment or take medication a lot of mentally ill individuals are resistant to treatment. The help is there in the freeworld if you want it but a lot of these people don't think they need it. A lot of times when they do have a pyschotic break or something and become hospitalized and medicated, once released they usually don't take their meds very long. So the cycle begans again.
We can't force them to take meds in prison either.

The meds they are soon going to be giving KOP to offenders a 30 day supply at a time are thorazine, haldol, zoloft, prozac, nortriptyline, risperdal, lithium cogentin, benadryl and more! Just think what they can do with a 30 day supply of all that!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nurseypooh, what is the KOP acronym?

Nurseypooh said...

KOP stands for "Keep on Person" meaning the offender recieves a blister pack with usually about a 30 day supply of meds to be kept in their cells.


The Dr.'s, provider's and medication aides have taken a stand and told UTMB and TDCJ they will not prescribe or issue psych meds KOP to offender's they deem unstable to take them responsibly!

Enough of them took a stand that it was announced they will have a meeting on Monday to rethink this further! Gee ya think! Thank God for this it will save many lives!

Anonymous said...

TDCJ does have a re-entry program for offenders who are being released from custody directly from ad-seg. The following link

amber said...

I am an ad-seg nurse at a maximum security prison. Most of the offenders have been there for years. The main reason being is there own choice. As soon as they get ready to go to GP they will get into a fight or hit a staff member getting sent back to phase 1. In they house I am in all but one wing is complete insulation, most have cellies. Or they are in PC for some reason. I will add this most of the prisoners in ad-seg are hateful unforgiving manipulative asshole. This is a job that challenges the whole caring for your patients no matter how you personally feel about them. They will call you names curse you, spit, piss and throw shit at you. They will do anything to get there way, fake illnesses, mutilate themselves, fake seizures and con Drs into giving them what drugs they seek, like the combination of bentyl CTMs and one other medication to get themselves high. They will go to the library look up what symptoms they need to have and then fake them. Nursing assesments are critical in this field I deal with GP(though not often though out the day) and AD-Seg and I will say this AD-seg is a whole different creature.