Thursday, September 06, 2012

'Solitary confinement reform needed'

The title of this post is the headline to an Austin Statesman staff editorial arguing to reform solitary confinement ("ad seg") policies and procedures to reduce recidivism and prepare prisoners kept in isolation for reentry when their prison terms are up. Here's an effective excerpt:
The fact that hundreds of convicts deemed by prison officials to be too dangerous for the general prison population are going from solitary to release, Ward reported, seemed to stun members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee during a hearing Tuesday at the Capitol.

The state senators called on prison officials to develop programs for inmates in solitary.

"Why not give them some life-skills or some faith-based programs or something that can prepare them for when they get out, rather than just turning them loose," state Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, asked prison officials.

Inmates in solitary confinement typically spend 23 hours of each day in their cells. They are let out for an hour to exercise and shower.

A Texas inmate shipped off to solitary can find himself in isolation for an indefinite stay. The average is 3.2 years. Some inmates are locked away alone for a decade or more.
Texas prison officials said that most Texas inmates kept segregated from the general inmate population — about 60 percent — are gang members, Ward reported.

No doubt there is a small group of inmates who truly need to be separated from the general prison population, but the experience elsewhere, according to various reports, is that most inmates in solitary confinement are there for relatively minor reasons. They are not among "the worst of the worst" — the common assumption regarding prisoners in solitary confinement — and do not need to be kept isolated for sustained periods of time.
See Grits coverage of the Senate Criminal Justice Committe hearing on Tuesday discussed in the editorial.


Red Leatherman said...

I'm no scholar of the effects of isolation on the mind of a criminal or for that matter, any human. It's scary to think that prison officials would overlook the potentially adverse behavioral effects of solitaire and without knowing, they could be creating some very dangerous humans.
But of course that's nonsense. They know exactly what they're doing

RSO wife said...

My question is - Why hasn't anyone figured out that isolating people for extended periods of time constitutes cruel and unusual punishment?

Or maybe the question should be - Is there anybody out there who actually cares how inmates are treated- besides their families?

Petra de Jong said...

I'm with RSO wife on this one. If being kept in solitary for years on end isn't cruel and unusual punishment, I don't know what is. Enough is known about the horrific effects of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation to know that we should not be doing this.

Phillip Baker said...

I know that the UN considers prolonged solitary confinement as torture. There are plenty of studies that show the results of isolation, even for a fairly short period. Remember Padilla, the "terrorist" US citizen arrested off an airplane on arrival back in the US? He was kept in isolation for years, while the debate raged over whether he should be tried by a civilian or military court.In the end, he was not even charged with a terrorist- related crime. But by the time he came to trial, he was reduced to an incoherent psychotic.

I know a guy in Florida who has been held in solitary for 17 straight years. Why? Back when first in the Florida DOC, he got and sold drugs smuggled in my staff. The scheme was busted, officers fired and charged.....and the inmate- a paraplegic, btw- has been in solitary ever since. I have followed his mental deterioration by his letters over this time.

But the reality is that nobody out here really cares how prisoners are treated, except family and friends. I've found Texans in general favor the harshest treatment for any prisoner, making no distinction between a young first offender or a career violent convict. That TDCJ routinely lands in the top 3 for sexual assaults on inmates (many by staff), that healthcare is clearly an 8th Amendment violation, that food is of very poor quality and reduced, that programs are often just shams- nobody out here cares.

Nurseypooh said...

Ad Seg is not solitary confinement. Ad Seg is a bldg, with 6 pods, each pod has 76 single bed cells, within one pod it is divided 6 sections, each section holds like 14 cells right next to each other, a day room, and a shower the inmates talk to each other and the officers all day long. When they go to recreation for their one hour out either in the day room or outside rec yard, they have more oppurtunity to talk, visit etc with more inmate's who may be in the adjoining day room rec. cell so to speak, outside 2 rec yards are side by side divided by a wire cage and they play basketball against each other, visit, kick it, what ever you want to call it.
Some inmates that don't give the officers any problems talk them into letting them stay in the day rooms, and rec longer than an hour if it's the end of the day and everyone else has gone. Yes they are in there 23 hr.s a day but mailroom, nursing, psych, library staff, legal, medical, counsel subs all come on those pods daily making rounds and see the inmates.
Yes the majority are gang members, but they're are a lot of them in there for their own protection. Intersexed, passive, mentally slow, small stature, older slower inmates who couldn't defend themselves out in GP some have already been victimized already and in ad seg to prevent it from happening again. They have sinks, toliets, small window, mesh wire opening in the doors to see out and talk, they pass stuff back and forth to each other all day long. I agree the lack of physical human contact is not good for them, as one male inmate was being escorted in handcuffs to the shower by two officers as he passed his homeboy's cell door they grasped each other's fingers just for a brief moment kinda like a high five or pat on the back. The "real" solitary confinement is a bit of a joke, it is in 11 bldg. along with transit, phd, and other mishoused inmates the are on a row single celled with other inmates next to them and across the hall that they can see and talk to and they are only held in there for a set short amt. of time like 72 hours. It's not a ideal situation but it is prison and solitary is not like you see in the movies in a dark dank windowless hole with a hole in the ground for a toilet and a bucket thrown in with some putrid soup. There is no a/c, food could be better, they recieve clean clothes 3 hots, a cot, with a mattress, sheets and blanket, toilet paper, states soap, tooth powder and brush, and a razor.
Nothing is perfect, not all officers do their jobs correctly. People it is prison! I'm a advocate of humane treatment and adequate medical care and for them recieving what is allowed to them. I just wanted to clarify what was ad seg and solitary in TDCJ on the units I've worked on. Could things be better a big YES! Just like things could be worse, we could be Mexico. I have since moved on btw.

sunray's wench said...

Nursey pooh ~ thanks for posting that. I was going to say that Ad Seg isn't solitary, but now I don't need to.

Congrats on getting a new job, if that's what you mean by "moved on".

Nurseypooh said...

Your welcome I'm not sure I've explained it properly. Yes I have another job now and am enjoying it.