ACLU Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Care At Women’s Prison To Proceed

ACLU Lawsuit Charging Inadequate Care At Women’s Prison To Proceed
Federal Judge Rejects State Request To Dismiss Class Action Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE ERELEASE
November 25, 2009

CONTACT:
Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin, (414) 272-4032, ext.13; cahmuty@aclu-wi.org

MILWAUKEE – A federal judge has denied a request by Wisconsin state officials to dismiss a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Jenner & Block charging that grossly deficient health care and mental health treatment jeopardizes the lives of women prisoners at a state prison.

In a sternly-worded ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa said there “is a great deal of evidence demonstrating that there are systemic and gross deficiencies in staffing, facilities and procedures” at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), Wisconsin’s largest women’s prison, and that the evidence suggests that state prison officials “are and have been subjectively aware of the risks that are posed by the administration of medical and mental health care at
TCI.” Judge Randa described the state’s attempt to have the case dismissed as “curious” given that the state’s own expert witness described health care at TCI as a system “designed to let people ‘fall through the cracks.’”

“I am pleased that the court is allowing our litigation to proceed and look forward to bringing the case to trial,” said Gabriel Eber, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Without court-ordered changes, women at TCI will continue to suffer needlessly in a system that still fails to comply with the requirements of the Constitution.”

In a first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit filed in 2006 on behalf of women prisoners in Wisconsin, the ACLU charges that the state prison system puts the lives of women prisoners at risk through grossly deficient health care, provides far inferior mental health treatment as compared to men and fails to provide reasonable accommodations to allow prisoners with disabilities to access basic prison services. Judge Randa’s decision allows all three claims to proceed to trial.

The lawsuit asks the court to order reforms to the system so that constitutionally adequate care is made available. In April 2009, Judge Randa entered a preliminary injunction ordering that significant changes be made immediately to TCI’s dangerous system of administering medications to prisoners.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charges that the prison’s health system violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit also charges the health system violates the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection, because the women receive mental health care far inferior to what male prisoners receive. The ACLU says in the lawsuit that these lapses in mental health care occur against the backdrop of a prison system that has a suicide rate of twice the national average.

“Judge Randa’s decision recognizes a ‘mountain of evidence’ showing the continued failure of state officials to fix a system that has been in crisis for years,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It is far past time that state officials be held accountable.”

The lawsuit names as defendants a number of senior officials in the state corrections department as well as Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

A copy of Judge Randa’s ruling is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/flynn-et-al-vdoyle-
et-al-decision-and-order

A copy of the ACLU complaint is available online at: www.acluwi.
org/wisconsin/police_prisons/TCI%20Complaint%20–%20for%20filing.pdf

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Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Madison Capital Times: Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Democrats seeking to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population are reintroducing a batch of bills vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle this summer. This is a picture of an inmate at a prison in Arizona, which is considering turning over its prisons to private companies. MATT YORK | Associated Press

This summer, Gov. Jim Doyle made a controversial decision to roll back truth-in-sentencing legislation and let up to 3,000 nonviolent inmates out of prison early to save the state the $29,000 or so it cost to house each of them every year. Fellow Democrats in the Legislature hoped that Doyle would also sign into law measures they introduced to further chip away at the state’s burgeoning prison population, but Doyle vetoed many of them.

Now Democrats are re-introducing those measures. It’s unlikely that they will pass as written, but legislators hope they will provide a starting point to keep the debate going, possibly through several legislative sessions. Doyle, after all, has decided not to run for re-election and will only be in office for another year.

“Obviously because these specific proposals were vetoed, we’re going to have to work with everyone to fashion policies that we can move through the Legislature and have enacted,” says Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, chairman of the Assembly corrections committee.

The measures, introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly, are intended to keep inmates from landing back in prison after they have served their prison sentences but while they remain on extended supervision, which has become a key contributor to the prison population explosion. One provision would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime.

According to a study by the Justice Center of the Council on State Governments, a nonpartisan Kentucky-based association, the average stay for such violations in 2007 was 18 months, costing the state $99 million that year.

The Justice Center, which has successfully helped other states, including Kansas and Texas, reduce prison populations, made several other recommendations that Democrats included in the 2009-11 budget. But Doyle vetoed those, saying Department of Corrections officials need a free hand to determine who should get out of prison.

The proposals would have limited the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars, required the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011 and expanded community-based mental health and job placement services.

While Doyle allowed $10 million for community-based services, Democratic lawmakers wanted $20 million more — $8 million to bolster mental health services for severely mentally ill offenders on parole or extended supervision, and $12 million for transitional employment programs — as another means to keep offenders who have been released from re-offending.

“We have to break the cycle of people being released into the community and being unsuccessful and landing back in our prison,” Parisi says. “That’s the main driver of our prison population right now.”

Truth-in-sentencing legislation in 1999 abolished parole and replaced it with extended supervision, making it mandatory for inmates to serve out their entire sentences. Since then, the prison population has grown by 14 percent to about 22,500 and is projected to climb another 25 percent by 2019 if nothing is done to stop it. The further increase is expected to cost the state $2.5 billion in construction and operating costs.

Some Republicans howled at Doyle’s decision to let nonviolent offenders out of prison before reaching the end of their jail terms, but one key lawmaker says such measures were inevitable.

“At the time truth-in-sentencing was passed, and I voted for it, most knowledgeable people felt that there would be some follow-up legislation to prevent that bill from becoming too expensive,” says state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the ranking Republican on the Senate corrections committee.

He says he doesn’t go along with law-and-order Republicans who oppose letting anyone out of prison before their sentences are served. And he says Doyle’s move will allow the Department of Corrections to hold the line on the prison population, but do little to reduce it.

“Something should be done,” Grothman says.

But he doesn’t support proposals that would cost more money. For instance, he says, while inmates with jobs are less likely to re-offend, the $20 million for community-based services is unnecessary. The Department of Corrections, he says, already has enough employees to provide those services now.

“I’m sure Doyle did the right thing in vetoing them,” he says of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals. “Obviously we’re broke.”

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals aren’t the only pending legislation that deal with inmates.
Another Assembly bill would allow felons who have been released from prison to vote while they remain on extended supervision. Currently offenders are barred from voting until they have served out their entire sentence.

Parisi says the measure would save money by eliminating the felon lists that poll workers have to use to verify voter eligibility and also reduce lines on Election Day by making the polling process less complicated.
In addition, he says, studies have shown that former inmates who are allowed to vote tend to be less likely to re-offend.

And there’s also a racial justice component, Parisi says. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s worst track records in disproportionately locking up blacks, who make up nearly half of Wisconsin’s prison population while constituting just 6 percent of the state’s population.

“Since the criminal justice system targets blacks, it also disproportionately disenfranchises them,” Parisi says.
The measure has support among many Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature. All 18 co-sponsors in the Assembly are Democrats as well as four co-sponsors in the Senate. The bill passed the corrections committee on a party-line vote, clearing it for further debate in the full Assembly, but it is unlikely to garner wide bipartisan support.

Rep. Karl Van Roy, R-Green Bay, the ranking Republican on the Assembly corrections committee, was not available for comment. But he told constituents in a statement posted on his website that giving released felons the right to vote would allow them “to forget the reason why they lost their right to vote in the first place.”

“When you choose to commit a serious crime against society and you are found guilty by a court of law, you must forfeit certain rights for a prescribed amount of time in order to repay your debt to society,” he wrote.
Another bill introduced in the Assembly would dent county budgets. It would require that inmate phone charges in county jails not exceed rates charged by the state Department of Corrections.

The bill would come at a time when Dane County has already reduced phone charges for inmates. In 2007, the County Board voted to stop the county from profiting on inmate phone calls, which cost inmates $4.25 for a connection fee plus up to 50 cents a minute. This year, the charges are expected to bring in just over $800,000 for the county, but next year, when the new contract with the jail’s phone service provider, Inmate Calling Solutions, goes into effect, those rates will drop to 33 cents a minute for a local call and the connection fee will be eliminated. That would earn the county about $476,000, the 2010 county budget projects, which officials say is just enough to cover costs.

Under the state bill, the county would have to further reduce its rates to 12 cents a minute for in-state calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls with no connection fee — the rates currently charged by the Department of Corrections.

If passed, the law would have no impact until the county’s new contract with Inmate Calling Solutions expires in 2012.

At a time when the county is already trying to pinch pennies, the bill, which has had a public hearing but not a committee vote, would put a further burden on county taxpayers, according to Capt. Jeff Teuscher, Dane County jail administrator.

“Someone would have to absorb those costs,” he says. “In all likelihood, if that bill would pass, then that will be Dane County taxpayers.”

INMATE LEGISLATION

A series of bills introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly deal with getting inmates out of prison or keeping them from returning after being released. Provisions would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime; limit the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars; and require the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011. Another measure would add $20 million to the budget for community-based mental health and job-training services.

The proposals have virtually no change of passing as written. They were included in the state budget last summer and Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the limits on prison time, and reduced $30 million Democrats wanted for community-based services to $10 million. But Democrats say re-introducing the bills provides a starting point for compromise measures.

Assembly Bill 353 would allow felons who have been released from prison, but remain on extended supervision, to vote. Currently, offenders are prohibited from voting until they have served their entire sentences.

The measure has Democratic support and passed the Assembly corrections committee on a party-line vote.

Assembly Bill 144 would prohibit county jails from charging inmates more than the state Department of Corrections does for phone calls. The legislation would likely affect revenues at nearly every jail in the state. The office of state Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, the author of the bill, reports that every jail that responded to a survey of phone rates charges more than the new state rates of 12 cents a minute for local calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls, with no connection fee.

The bill has received a public hearing, and Kessler has added an amendment that would allow current jail phone contracts to expire before the requirement kicks in. But the corrections committee has not voted on the proposal.

Assembly Bill 448 would require those held in a prison, jail or a juvenile facility to pay a portion of medical or dental care, through deductibles, coinsurance, copayments or other charges.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, and has three Democratic and three Republican co-sponsors in the Assembly, plus one Democrat and two Republicans in the Senate. The bill is opposed by Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, the Assembly corrections committee chairman, who is unlikely to allow a hearing on it.

Assembly Bill 345 would prevent the state Department of Corrections from entering into any agreement to house detainees from the Guantanamo Bay naval base. Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, who introduced the bill, says it would make Wisconsin a “Terrorist Free Zone.”

The proposal has Republican support, but Parisi says the legislation is unnecessary since there has been no talk of housing inmates from Guantanamo Bay in Wisconsin’s prisons.

Why deny used books to prisoners in Wisconsin’s state prison system?

Keep books flowing to prisons
Reblogged from: By Camy Matthay • November 16, 2009
Greenbay Press Gazette

Why deny used books to inmates in Wisconsin’s state prison system?

Wisconsin Books to Prisoners (WBTP), a project of Rainbow Bookstore, is a volunteer nonprofit organization that provides books to prisoners free of charge. Since the project began in 2006, it has put thousands of books into prison cells statewide.

The project currently receives more than 40 book requests a week. These requests show that prisoners love to read, want to learn more about the world, and want to improve their prospects when they get out of prison.

A prisoner at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) recently wrote, “I would be grateful if you could send me any books about the construction trade and/or business skills.”
“I am interested in any books by or about African Americans. Do you have any books by James Baldwin or Alice Walker?” wrote another prisoner.

The most frequently requested books by prisoners are collegiate dictionaries and thesauruses. The project also frequently gets lists of topics from prisoners who hope some of their interests will be fulfilled.

A recent request, for example, listed the following topics: “1. Beginning Japanese or a Japanese/English dictionary; 2. Barn owls; 3. Vultures or other birds of prey; 4. Ancient Roman society; 5. Ice age animals and humans; 6. Warships of the U.S. from the revolution through WWII; 7. Iron mining, logging, railroads; 3. Something about Upper Peninsula Michigan, 9. Salamanders and amphibians. Thanks for your time,” he wrote. “I hope you have something for me. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Wisconsin Books to Prisoners was able to fulfill requests like this until May 2008, when the Department of Corrections (DOC) banned the project. After months of negotiations with the DOC, we succeeded in overturning the ban on new books, but the project is still barred from sending used books to prisoners.

The department’s justification for the no-used-book policy is that the likelihood of contraband being concealed in used books is greater than that in new books. WBTP thinks this is excessively cautionary, unfairly preventing thousands of prisoners from engaging in much-valued self-education.
Nearly every study on corrections recommends reading in prison as a meaningful way of occupying time behind bars and as a preparation for a successful re-entry into society after incarceration.

The no-used-books policy not only undermines the state’s interest in rehabilitating prisoners, it infringes on the Constitutional rights of prisoners to read. The policy also ignores the fact that all prisons in Wisconsin have stringent security procedures for incoming publications.

Ninety-seven percent of prisoners will eventually return to our communities. A policy that denies them meaningful literature, and provokes frustration and bitterness, just lacks common sense.
Wisconsin is the only state banning used books to prisoners.

Camy Matthay is from Madison.

http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20091116/GPG0602/911160549/1269/GPG06/Keep-books-flowing-to-prisons

Wisconsin Prison Watch Autumn Newsletter

Our friends from Wisconsin Prison Watch produced another important Newsletter, which we copy here below:

SEPTEMBER 2009 NEWSLETTER

Friends,

First, an apology. Personal matters have interrupted my life and drained some of my energy and fight. With every letter I received asking “where’s my May issue?”, I said to myself, well, I’ll get one out soon so the questions will be answered. But, days turned into weeks and weeks into months and the longer I waited the harder it became to get something on paper. Life on the outside is full of distractions and responsibilities and when we don’t see the inhumanity on a daily basis (through letters) we lose our outrage, we become complacent. The Beast never sleeps, it is continually growing stronger while the few of us who care, get tired and weak. That’s how the system works, that’s why we need lots of fighters.

Anyone who understands the prison issues, knows that all the hoopla about releasing nonviolent offenders doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the scheme of things. Over policing, career building prosecutions, and harsh sentencing remain the standard. The problem isn’t that prisoners aren’t being released soon enough (well, that’s a problem too) but rather that too many are being locked up to begin with.

Once in, we face another set of stupid reactionary people who’s ideology determines policy. Alfonzo Graham continues to give lengthy defers to guys who were ready to go home long ago; BOCM and PRC continue to place “program needs” on people and then keep them from entering the programs; Wardens and guards taunt and harass prisoners with write-ups for minor infractions, rotating the seg population to make use of all the beds.

In the meantime, politicians posture and weasel word and pass a John Doe “reform” Bill even though they KNOW the reason prisoners file with the courts is because the ICRS is worthless. The complaint system is fraught with nepotism and cronyism where justice and fair play are totally absent.

Hey, but you guys know all this. These have been constant and repeated themes in this newsletter. In fact, this newsletter has held its tongue and curbed its words lately in light of the “changes” that many perceived taking place in this country and state. Many prisoners believed Barak Obama would set a new standard and bring civility and dignity to the way America does business. They hoped that this new way would trickle down to the bottom of the barrel, the prisons. So many were under the spell of Hope-ium that speaking the truth, that Obama is a corporate salesman intent on maintaining empire abroad and repression at home, was out of bounds.

The same Hope-ium addiction afflicts many prisoners regarding the situation here in Wisconsin. The false hope that weasel-wording politicians will reform the prison system in any meaningful way, keeps prisoners pacified and complacent. Just in case you really don’t get it, things ain’t changin’. Punishment, retribution, and violence are the true values the privileged of this country hold and they ain’t giving in. Things won’t change unless YOU make them change. Sucking on that Hope-ium pipe only prolongs the misery. In the mean time, days and weeks and years slip by and the prisons get fuller and the conditions get worse.

That said, Wisconsin’s financial mess is not resolved and more and bigger cuts in all sorts of spending areas will be needed. Prisons are part of the conversation and that’s a good thing. We only wish the motivation was some sort of enlightened thinking instead of financial reality. Word is, some of the old timers with lots of time in, will be released this October. That’s just a rumor at this point so don’t start packing your bags.

Our brother Warren Lilly won a court order halting his forced feeding. The order is stayed while it runs through the appeal process. For those of you who did not receive our January 2009 issue, it is because we ran a piece written by Warren.

Judge Bissonnette actually had himself strapped into a restraint chair to understand the brutality Warren has been subjected to. Judge Bissonnette said in his order, in part, “Certainly, this Court, nor the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, nor the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, should in any way condone any type of mistreatment or torture of an inmate in a Wisconsin correctional facility. This debate should form no part of a discussion about how medical care is to be delivered to a U.S. citizen over his constitutional objection.” In other words, STOP THE TORTURE!!

Another comrade, Harlan Richards has submitted an article on the continued ideologically (and politically) driven parole commission. His research is on the status of lifers but the trends he has teased out of the statistics are similar through every category of parole eligible prisoner. A recent report from the Sentencing Project, Life Without Parole, confirms the trends Harlan reports.

We hope this newsletter helps you sort out the conflicting news and dis-information presented by the DOC and the mainstream press. We hope to continue our efforts to bring critical analysis and revolutionary inspiration but make no promises. We always hold out hope that others will join our effort, providing the needed energy and vision. Thousands of prisoners are released every year and a few have offered assistance when released but the pressure of day to day survival along with the heavy and threatening hand of their POs as left us overwhelmed, stressed out, and tired.

We have engaged the Beast in the courts. Our case #09-C-062-C is moving forward in U.S. District Court WDWI. Hopefully the DOC will fund future newsletters. That will relieve some of our stress and invigorate our spirit. We’ll still be overwhelmed and tired but that’s the nature of battle. Onward!

in solidarity,
WPW

Quote to Ponder: “The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X

Doyle’s Legacy
By Harlan Richards

Back in the 1980s a person with a life sentence (lifer) would serve on average 13-15 years before release on parole. In the 1970s it was much shorter because Wisconsin’s governors routinely granted clemency to lifers by commuting their sentences to 50 years or less. This allowed lifers to receive parole hearings far in advance of the statutorily mandated 11 years, 3 months (one lifer had his sentence commuted to “time served” after only 5 years).

It was so rare for a lifer to spend more than 20 consecutive years in prison that in 1980 there were only two prisoners with that distinction. In 1990, it was a newsworthy item when Steve Urban died in prison after serving 47 years on a life sentence. He was released on parole in the early 1970s but by that time he had become institutionalized and quickly demanded that he be allowed to return to prison. When he died, he no longer had any family to claim his body, which was buried in a pauper’s grave outside of Waupun. The Waupun Correctional Institution Lifers Group took up a collection and bought a headstone for his grave.

Times have changed. The constant drum beat of vengeance, retribution and punishment has changed the political landscape. Newly convicted lifers no longer automatically become eligible for parole after 11 years, 3 months. The judge sets the length of time to eligibility and it is not uncommon for lifers to have to serve 30 or more years to their first parole hearing.

Fast forward to 2009, and those same lifers who could have been paroled in 13-15 years are now hoping for release after serving twice that amount of time. In the 1980s, release on parole was virtually assured based on past practice. While there are a few lifers still being released on parole after an average of 30 years, it has become the exception rather than the rule.

From only 2 lifers with 20 or more consecutive years served in 1980, there are now 255. The number is increasing every year. One of those lifers who had already served 20 years in 1980 is still in prison. Garold Rheinschmidt has now served 49 years. He is not alone. There are 6 lifers who have served over 40 years and an additional 37 lifers who have served over 30. There were none in 1980.
When data on lifers is evaluated based on year of admission, the critical year is currently 1979. That is the first year for which there are more lifers still in prison than have been released. The percentage of lifers incarcerated increases until 1989; none of the lifers who entered prison that year have been released.

Curiously, there are some anomalies. Two women came to prison in 1992 and were paroled relatively early. Lashonda Mayhall was released in 2005 after 12.5 years and Mary Leggate. One wonders why these two women were released in such a relatively short period of time while all other lifers spend years, or decades more.

To the lay person, it may seem right that “life means life”; that regardless of what was done in the 1980s and before, murderers belong in prison forever. It may seem that murderers are only now getting their just desserts. Perhaps that is true. Ex-governor Tommy Thompson made being “tough on crime” his mantra and served multiple terms as governor. The prison population was just 3,980 in 1980, grew to 7,362 in 1990 and hit 21,110 in 2005. Thompson made the warehousing of prisoners an established policy and became infamous among prisoners for his 1994 letter where he stated: “The policy of this Administration is to keep violent offenders in prison as long as possible under the law.”

The data reflect this change in attitude as most of the growth in time served to release occurred in the late 1990s and beyond. Dierdra Morgan, chairperson of the parole commission in 2001-02, is the only chairperson with the distinction of having gone an entire calendar year without paroling a single lifer (2002). In 2001, she paroled one lifer. He was housed in maximum security at the time and that generally means he was either paroled to a in prison or was released because he was terminally ill.

Jerry Smith, Ms. Morgan’s predecessor, was not much better. He released only 2 lifers in each of the two years he was chairman.

Lenard Wells was Governor Doyle’s first chairman. He started out slowly but once he gained confidence he began paroling many lifers. In 2005, he released 18 lifers. But he was forced to resign in 2006 due to the public outcry when he paroled two “cop killers.” The news media never did tell the whole story, prefering sensationalism to fair and accurate reporting. Robert Prihoda and LaVern Rogers were convicted in the 1975 shooting death of an off-duty police officer during a tavern robbery. They were both young men who made poor choices and paid the price of over 30 years in prison. Now approaching middle age, they no longer pose a threat to anyone and were appropriately released on parole. Neither one has been involved in any further criminal activity although they have now been free for years.

But Governor Doyle, ever the weather vane of public opinion, was spooked by the press coverage and replaced Wells with someone he could be sure would never make him look bad in the media again. Political expediency took precedence over fair paroling policies. The outcome of the 2010 gubernatorial election is more important than letting rehabilitated prisoners return to society. After all, nobody wants ta be “Willie Hortoned” in an election.

Governor Doyle’s adoption of Thompson’s warehousing policy seems very puzzling considering who Doyle’s father was. Honorable James E. Doyle, Sr., was a federal judge in the Western District of Wisconsin and was instrumental in bringing Wisconsin’s prison system out of the dark ages in the 1960s and 1970s. Gone are the days of bread and water diets, the silent system and a raft of draconian restrictions prison administrators once claimed were necessary to running a prison. It was so-called activist judges like Doyle who brought the cleansing light of judicial scrutiny to a medieval prison system. How ironic that decades later it is his son who is behind the erosion of those principles of justice and fair play upon which Judge Doyle’s legacy stands.

One of the basic constitutional protections our founding fathers guaranteed us was the right to be free from ex post facto laws. This includes not being subjected to increased punish-ment for a crime previously committed. It seems only fair that this principle be respected in our country. Still, many oppose such a basic guarantee.

The problem is that when the constitution was written it only proscribed actual changes in laws, not reinterpretation of existing laws. Although the spirit of the ex post facto Clause would prohibit doubling a prisoner’s time in prison after the fact,
the devil is in the details. In other words, our judges have chosen to rely on a strict literal interpretation rather than a more equitable analysis based on the intent of the constitution.
Many people listen to the controversy over judicial appointments to the federal bench with a yawn. For most citizens it does not matter who becomes a judge because they will never see the inside of a federal courthouse. But for those on the fringes of society – the prisoners and other social outcasts – federal courts are their only hope for justice. After decades of conservative judicial appointments, few judges remain who are willig to stand up for society’s most oppressed people.

Wisconsin’s lifers are trapped in a system which exists solely to perpetuate itself. In 1990, Thompson funded a study which called for the prison population to reach 20,000 by 2000. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The growing population of lifers has contributed to that growth. Those 255 lifers with more than 20 years served have cost taxpayers millions of dollars over the decades of their captivity. The annual cost to house a prisoner in fiscal year 2005 was $44,118. It is easy for Governor Doyle to blame our $6 billion budget shortfall on a bad economy. Much of it, however, appears to be the direct result of ill-considered corrections policies over the last 25 years.

There are hundreds of lifers still in prison under the old sentencing laws who could be safely released on parole. Jesse Derickson is 85 years old, serving double life for shooting 2 men and trying to make it look like they shot each other. Jesse has spent 26 years in prison and is now a doddering old man, wasting away in a prison cell. Wayne Lowe is 81 years old and has spent 21 years in prison on a life sentence for killing his wife’s boyfriend. Wayne weighs about 90 pounds and can best be described as frail. These men have spent decades in prison, are near the end of their lives and no longer pose a threat to anyone. Who would you rather see in a prison cell? One of the many aging, now harmless, lifers or the young gun toting gang member selling crack on a street corner near you? Which one do you have the most to fear from?

The time for vengeance is over. What Wisconsin needs is restorative justice: A system which heals the victim, the community and the offender. Now is the time to restore sanity to the correctional system. The Department of Corrections has numerous programs to help prisoners learn to be good citizens. When prisoners change their thoughts, beliefs and actions, it should be acknowledged and they should be permitted to return to being productive members of society.
Parole decisions should be based on suitability for release rather than the next gubernatorial election. Our elected officials are squandering tens of millions of dollars on misguided corrections policies while children go hungry and schools are
under funded. Isn’t it time that Wisconsin’s citizens speak out on this issue?

About the author:
Harlan Richartds is serving a life sentence for stabbing another man in a fight. He has served 24 years in prison. In April 2008, after 2 1/2 years at a work release center and 19 months on work release, Alfonso Graham increased the length of Richards’ parole defer which resulted in Richards’ transfer back to a prison for additional years of warehousing. Richards is a self-taught jailhouse lawyer who has litigated prison rights issues extensively during his incarceration. He earned a bachelors degree in business administration from UW Platteville in 1997, graduating summa cum laude. He is currently housed in Oakhill Correctional Institution.

All raw data and calculations may be found at: WisconsinLifers.blogspot.com

*****************

Report wants life without parole abolished
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A record 140,610 inmates in state and federal prisons are serving life sentences and nearly one-third of those have no possibility of parole, according to a criminal justice research group that supports alternatives to incarceration.

The Sentencing Project, whose reports are regularly cited in academic and government reviews examining criminal justice policy, concluded that the number of inmates sentenced to life without parole has more than tripled to 41,095 since 1992. The report, citing in part the rising cost of incarceration, urges that life without parole be abolished.

The recommendation was met with strong opposition from some law enforcement officials who said life sentences, including life without parole, help drive down violent crime.

Joseph Cassilly, past president of the National District Attorneys Association, acknowledged that long prison terms are a “huge drain on resources.”

He said life sentences are appropriate for violent offenders and even some repeat drug dealers.

“Sometimes there is no way of getting through to these (criminals,)” said Cassilly, who did not dispute the report’s statistical findings.

In the project’s review, titled “No Exit,” researchers also found “overwhelming” racial and ethnic disparities for those serving life terms: 66% are non-white and 77% of juveniles sentenced to life in prison are non-white.

“Life sentences imposed on juveniles represent a fundamental and unwise shift from the long-standing tradition that juveniles are less culpable than adults … and are capable of change,” said Ashley Nellis, a co-author of the report.

Among other findings:

• In Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New York at least one in 6 prisoners is serving a life sentence.

• California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania each have more than 3,000 people serving life without parole.

• Pennsylvania leads the nation with 345 juveniles serving life without parole.

• The costs of housing an aging prison population also are rising. States should expect to pay $1 million for each prisoner who spends at least 40 years incarcerated, the report concluded.

Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the cost of maintaining a permanent prison population is daunting. The total price tag to keep today’s “lifers” incarcerated for the rest of their lives could cost the nation tens of billions of dollars, he said.

*********************

‘LIFER’ NUMBERS CLIMB

Number of people sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the U.S.:

1992 12,453
2003 33,633
2008 41,095

The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009 – “undertake a top-to-bottom review of our entire criminal justice system” and to offer recommendations for reform.”

Senator Jim Webb of VA has introduced The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009.

Here is a fact sheet on the Bill which according to Senator Webb will be “undertake a top-to-bottom review of our entire criminal justice system” and to offer recommendations for reform.”

Here is part of Webb’s statement:

The National Criminal Justice Act of 2009 that I introduced in the Senate on March 26, 2009 will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:
With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.
Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.
Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.
Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.
Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation’s prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration.

Matlock on a Mission

Our friend Ken Harris is taking it to ‘em. Resistance to the abuse and oppression can take many forms. Some guys refuse to work, some refuse to eat, some stay in the hole, some write to politicians, some write to the press, and some learn the law and use the “tools of the Master” against the master. Our friend Matlock has done the latter, with vigor.

He recently settled his case, similar to Johnson v. Raemisch regarding the violation of his First Amendment rights in the denial of our newsletter.

He also won his Federal civil suit against the guards who abused him. That civil suit arose from the original John Doe filed by Harris in 2005. As we reported, Columbia County DA Bauer (now Judge Bauer) refused to prosecute the two guards and then Sauk Co. DA Barrett refused to interview Harris or his witnesses and asked to be removed from the case.

This case also created quite a stir when the DOC retaliated against a nurse who verified Harris’ claim of abuse.

In June, Judge George closed the case, falsely claiming that the prosecutors determined the case “lacked prosecutorial merit”. This, after 4 years of “investigation” where none of Harris’ witnesses were interviewed.

Harris has filed a Writ of Mandamus in the Court of Appeals forcing the Judge George to subpoena witnesses and documents that will prove the abuse.

The DOC, DAs, and courts want to keep their record intact – no prisoner will ever win a John Doe complaint on the 940.29 statute “Abuse of residents of a penal institution.” Who knows what pressure was applied on Judge George.

If you recall, Harris filed an ICRS against KMCI Deputy Warden Beck for foul-mouthing a group of prisoners. This resulted in Conduct Reports and other retaliation against Harris. He was removed from his program and transferred to a max.

He’s about ready to file suit in Federal Court on a claim of retaliation. You can bet he’ll prove his case. He’s a pit bull and he’s got a good chunk of their ass in his jaws.

He’s suffered a lot of abuse for standing up and fighting, but he’s satisfied and happy that he has done what he can to fight the abusive system. Fight on!

Stanley prison sucks up more state money
Published: August 14, 2009
Paul Snyder

The chorus of anger and resignation gets louder every time the state has to shell out more money for the Stanley Correctional Institution.

“It’s a white elephant,” said David Helbach, administrator for the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of State Facilities and secretary to the state Building Commission. “It was a bad deal, and it never should have happened.”

But it happened and has cost taxpayers ever since.

Construction of the 43-acre prison began in 1998 as a joint venture between the city of Stanley and Dominion Venture Group, Edmond, Okla. The prison was built to state specifications with the understanding the state would buy the prison upon completion.

Helbach, who joined DOA two years ago, said the state negotiated an $82 million deal to buy the prison. But, he said, it was a curious deal considering the state was in the midst of a prison construction boom in the late 1990s.

“We bought it for about 30 percent more than we could have built it for,” Helbach said. “And we could have done it better.”

Since paying the $82 million and opening the prison in 2000, Wisconsin has dumped almost $20 million into upgrades and repairs, Helbach said.

That trend extended Wednesday when state Building Commission members unanimously approved a $313,250 boost to a security upgrade project, increasing the total cost of the security project to $1.4 million.

The project will add new door-locking and monitoring systems and fix defects in the buildings’ security systems, said John Dipko, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

“We’re so far into the hole, we can’t get out,” Risser said.

State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, agreed, saying Wisconsin is stuck with the building.

“I don’t know if we can throw up our hands and say, ‘Forget it, we’ll build something new,’” he said. “I don’t know where the tipping point is, and I don’t think we can throw in the towel.

Perpetrators and enablers of torture in the U.S.

This article is from the SF Bay View
Posted By blockreportradio On November 1, 2009

by Corey Weinstein, M.D., C.C.H.P

Photo:

Anthony Hall, 18, spends 23 hours per day in this cell in the supermax prison in Boscobel, Wisc. Judging from letters to the Bay View from prisons throughout the country, Boscobel seems to be one of the worst for Black prisoners. Prison officials there have often refused to deliver the Bay View to subscribers on the excuse that it would “incite a riot.” –
Photo: Andy Manis, AP

During the past 25 years I’ve spent a lot of time with survivors of torture, men and women enduring long term solitary confinement in California’s prisons. They are the most urgent victims of U.S. mass incarceration with its overcrowded facilities and policy of incapacitation, not rehabilitation.

Those thousands held in solitary for years on end report the expected classic symptoms of psychic disturbance, mental deterioration and social disruption. As described by various penal psychiatric experts, the symptoms of this syndrome include massive free-floating anxiety, hyperresponsiveness to external stimuli, perceptual distortions and hallucinations, a feeling of unreality, difficulty with concentration and memory, acute confusional states, the emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies, persecutory ideation, motor excitement and violent destructive or self-mutilatory outbursts.

The degrading conditions produce behaviors ranging from fights among prisoners to assaults on staff, assaults by staff, excrement throwing, self mutilation and contract killings. Isolation tears apart family and friendship ties, creating social dislocation.

In California there are about 4,000 men and women held in the state’s supermax facilities, called Security Housing Units, including 600 serving SHU terms in Administrative Segregation. That is 2.5 percent of the total population of 160,000.

The regime in SHU is a 23.5 hour per day lockdown in the 8’ x 10’ cell with no communal activities aside from small group exercise yards for some. There is no work, no school, no communal worship and meals are eaten in cell.

TVs and radios must be purchased, so the poor have none. Visits are noncontact, behind glass and limited to one or two hours on each weekend visit day. Each prisoner must submit to being handcuffed behind the back in order to exit the cell. Leg iron hobble chains are commonly used.
More than 50 percent of the men in SHU are assigned indeterminate terms there because of alleged gang membership or activity. The only program that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) offers to them is to debrief.

The single way offered to earn their way out of SHU is to tell departmental gang investigators everything they know about gang membership and activities, including describing crimes they have committed. The department calls it debriefing. The prisoners call it “snitch, parole or die.” The only ways out are to snitch, finish the prison term or die. The protection against self incrimination is collapsed in the service of anti-gang investigation.

CDCr asserts that the lockdown and snitch policy are required for the safety and security of the institution. Having legitimate penalogical purpose, the SHU program is deemed worth any harm done to the prisoners.

California prisons continue to have a high rate of assaultive incidents among prisoners and from prisoners to staff. There is no proof or even any study that demonstrates that these measures are effective anti-gang measures. They appear to be no more useful than previous brutalities like that unleashed at Corcoran prison more than a decade ago.

Between 1988 and 1995, CDCr ran a program at the Corcoran SHU called the Integrated Yard Policy. Rival gang members were deliberately mixed together in small group exercise yards. The prisoners had to fight, and fight well or be punished by their own gangs.

When the fights occurred, guards were required to fire first anti-riot guns and then assault rifles at the combatants. Seven prisoners were killed and hundreds wounded. The program of beating prisoners down into the concrete with gunfire resulted in bigger, stronger gangs with new martyrs and heroes.
Mayhem and violence was added to the prison social system by departmental policy. No CDCr official has ever been held accountable or even assigned responsibility for what was know at Corcoran as the gladiator days. Line staff brought to trial by the U.S. Department of Justice avoided criminal convictions by proving that they were just following orders.

There are four prisons in California with SHUs: Corcoran, Pelican Bay and Tehachapi for men and Valley State Prison for Women. Only a few women have ever been given a SHU term for gang activity.

All those identified as gang members by the administrative kangaroo court serve SHU terms without end. The only way out is to debrief, to testify against oneself to prison rules violations and crimes.
Prisoners have found it very hard to attack the abuses in the SHU, even though the U.S. is under the jurisdiction of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT). The U.S. states reservations to the treaty asserting that the U.S. Constitution and body of law are all that is required to satisfy the obligations of CAT.

But the 1995 Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) that prohibits a prisoner bringing action for mental or emotional injury without prior showing of physical injury is one law that violates CAT. The U.N. Committee on Torture expressed concern that by disallowing compensation for psychic abuse the PLRA is out of compliance with CAT.

Under CAT, torture includes “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted.” But the U.S. 1990 reservations to CAT were designed specifically to allow solitary confinement, as the reservations state that mental pain and suffering must be prolonged, be tied to infliction or threats of infliction of physical pain, the result of drugging or the result of death threats.

Despite SHU confinement without end to attempt to control gangs, prison gangs thrive in California’s prisons. The gang leadership predictably uses the snitch sessions to falsely target their rivals, or just recruit new members. Just as we have seen in U.S. anti-terror investigations, information derived from coercion is often unreliable.

Using indeterminate total lockdown to extract confessions is torture by international standards, as is the use of prolonged solitary confinement. U.S. prison officials order by rule the torture of prisoners. One in 31 adults in the U.S. is under the supervision of the criminal detention system – jail, prison, probation or parole – with 2.5 million behind bars.

Prisons dominate the lives of poor communities and communities of color and are ignored by affluent white America. One in 11 African-Americans and one in 27 Latino-Americans are under penal jurisdiction. Prisoners damaged by incarceration are returning to communities increasingly less able to absorb them.

The 2005 census found that severe poverty increased 26 percent more than the overall growth in poverty. In 2002, 43 percent of the nation’s poor were living in severe poverty, the highest rate since 1975.

Torture has always served more to beat down a population than to extract reliable information. The unstated goal is to incapacitate and marginalize the dangerous poor who are locked out of America’s opportunity and riches. The routine even banal nature of torture in U.S. prisons enables torture to be acceptable, and informs our failing strategies of dealing with any opposition by using brute force.

A more useful way to undermine and blunt prison gangs would be to provide programs and procedures that enliven the community of prisoners with rehabilitative activity making them too busy and too hopeful to become involved. Drug and mental health treatment and education and vocational training rather than enforced idleness and despair will help change the culture of the prison yard from a battleground to a place for personal and social renewal. To be successful at a renewal behind bars, a revitalization of our poor communities is desperately needed.

I’ll never forget my visit to several prisons in the United Kingdom a number of years ago. I toured one of their high security units housing eight of the 40 men out of 75,000 considered too dangerous or disruptive to be in any other facility. The men were out of their cells at exercise or at a computer or with a counselor or teacher.

The goal was to get them back on mainline through rehabilitation, not terror. With embarrassment, the host took us to the one cell holding the single individual who had to be continuously locked down and cuffed and hobbled before exit from his cell. I was equally embarrassed to tell our guide that this is how 2.5 percent of U.S. prisoners are routinely treated.

Corey Weinstein, MD, CCHP, is a physician, a Certified Correctional Health Professional and a renowned advocate for justice behind enemy lines. He can be reached at coreman @ igc.org.

Amendment proposes more accurate census, prison population should not count towards small districts

This Blogpost of the Prison Policy Institute discusses the flaws in the Census (the upcoming one in 2010), and how the pressure is now on the states themselves to solve the problem of gerrymandering:

“The Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. As Census data is used to apportion political power at all levels of government, crediting thousands of disproportionately urban and minority men to other communities has staggering implications for modern American democracy.

In New York State, for example, one out of every three people who moved to upstate New York in the 1990s actually “moved” into a newly constructed prison. The State bars people in prison from voting, but their presence in the Census boosts the population of the upstate districts whose legislators favor prison expansion. Without this phantom population, 7 upstate New York State Senate districts would not meet minimum population requirements and would have to be redrawn.”

Here again is what the PPI says about Wisconsin:

The 23rd decennial Census will again be counting incarcerated people in the wrong place. But if a proposed constitutional amendment in Wisconsin passes, the state’s days of using prison counts to distort districts (and influence elections) will be over.

Currently, one state legislative district is 10% prisoners, giving the residents of that district disproportionate say over state affairs. And because county board and rural city alderman districts are so much smaller, the inclusion of a single state prison in these districts can allow a handful of residents to dominate the county board or city council.

Ideally, the Census Bureau would change where it counts people in prison. But the pace of change has so far been slow, and with time running short before the next Census in April, the number of options are limited. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorialized in 2006:

Congress has asked the Census Bureau to report on how it could change the way it counts inmates, who now number about 1.5 million nationally. The National Academy of Sciences is also doing a study.

Yes, inmates really live in prison, but in no sense are they part of the community in which they are imprisoned. The census must count every U.S. resident, but it needn’t count them this way.
Neither Congress nor the Census Bureau really needs a report here. The bureau should change how it counts inmates, and if it doesn’t, Congress should mandate it.

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau responded with an “obtuse and evasive report” and Congress failed to follow up. The National Academies instructed the Bureau to conduct research on the best way to change how incarcerated people are counted, but there too, the Bureau failed to move forward. By now, the Bureau has squandered too much of the critical planning time to make the change before the next Census in 2010.

“the burden to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering is shifting to the states”
Now, the burden to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering is shifting to the states. In Wisconsin, Rep. Frederick Kessler has introduced a constitutional amendment that would require the state and local governments to ignore the prison populations when drawing districts. This approach would not credit incarcerated people back to their homes in Milwaukee and other urban areas, but it would end the practice of crediting them to the rural districts where they count for as much as a tenth of a state legislative district.

Other states are exploring options that would identify where incarcerated people are from and then adjust the federal Census counts to use the home addresses. The Wisconsin amendment [PDF] takes a simpler approach that will address the majority of the problem.
At 10am tomorrow (September 15th), I’ll be in 300 Northeast at the Wisconsin State Capital to testify in support of the Wisconsin Census Correction amendment which would direct state and local governments to omit the Census Bureau’s incarcerated population when drawing legislative districts.

Literature:
http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AJR-63.pdf

Instead of treatment, it’s torture

This article reflects what has also become custom in Wisconsin, and we should all be very critical about how our prisoners, fellow human beings, are treated.

Street News Service

TOP STORY – Instead of treatment, it’s torture (Streetvibes)
Eli Braun, September 7, 2009
During 70 days of solitary confinement at Toledo Correctional Institution, Sean Swain spent 23 hours a day locked in his cell. His only opportunity for social interaction and “recreation,” consisted of the one hour spent out-with his cell each day going through the prisons routine process of invasive searches. As Eli Braun reports, the rise of solitary-confinement units at U.S. prisons indicates a disturbing trend in the development of the penal system, especially for prisoners suffering from mental illness or drug abuse, for whom such treatment can further exacerbate existing conditions. Instead of treatment, it’s torture
CINCINATTI, USA – During his 70 days of solitary confinement at Toledo Correctional Institution, Sean Swain spent 23 hours a day locked in his cell. He spent the 24th hour, his only opportunity for social interaction and “recreation,” being strip-searched, including a “visual body-cavity search.” By comparison, inmates in “general population” spend 11 hours a day locked in their cells.Solitary confinement cripples prisoners’ capacity for social interaction and can exacerbate or even cause mental-health crises. The rise of solitary-confinement units at U.S. prisons indicates a disturbing trend, especially for prisoners suffering from mental illness or drug abuse. Studies find that solitary confinement is not just ineffective at promoting good behavior, but is a full-fledged form of torture, breaking down the healthy and further enfeebling the ill.
Since 1991, Swain, now 49, has been sent to solitary confinement “seven or eight times,” including a 144-day stint from May to October 2003. Most recently, he violated rules by “encourage(ing) prisoners to partake in a 30-day work stoppage,” according to the official conduct report.
During his 70 days in isolation, Swain didn’t know when he would be returned to general population. He remains in prison.
“Cage without a curtain”
Swain details the conditions in solitary confinement, also known as “segregation.” “The tube lighting in segregation cells is never shut off,” Swain says. “Insects were breeding in the mops, which had not been exchanged for months. Those same insect-infested mops were provided to us for cell-cleaning.”As he cleaned, insects would swarm around the cell’s lighting fixture.
Prisoners in solitary confinement had access to showers and recreation only Monday to Friday. Weekends were spent entirely locked in, though Swain believes that policy might have changed.
At times he lacked soap and toothpaste. In his final week in segregation, as solitary confinement is known, the cellblock ran out of toilet paper, he says.
Reports from Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) and correspondence with other prisoners confirm unsanitary conditions at some prisons. The CIIC is authorized by the Ohio Legislature to regularly inspect prisons and provide oversight.
For showers, “I was issued a single state towel upon entering segregation” and never had the opportunity “to exchange it for clean,” Swain says. But he considered himself fortunate to have been issued a towel at all, as some inmates in segregation never got one.“Or maybe I wasn’t so lucky, since I ended up with bacteria and fungus on my feet,” he says.
Prisoners who didn’t receive towels instead used bed sheets. The shower stall was “a cage without a curtain,” Swain says. Even though prisoners tried to arrange their clothing across the shower bars for privacy, prisoners were subject to public view. Some mentally disturbed prisoners, informally labeled “serial jackers,” would watch through the bars of their cells “as if enjoying a personal peep-show.” The water would last approximately five to 10 minutes, then stop without warning for 10 minutes. “If someone has soap on his face or in her eyes, he must stand naked and wet for 10 minutes. … In some of the showers, hitting the button before the 10-minute waiting duration resets the timer and causes the 10-minute duration to start over,” Swain says.
Isolation cells might no longer be strictly isolated. Due to overcrowding, some prisons now double-bunk their segregation cells. Some prisoners spend 23 hours a day locked in with another person, in a cell designed for single occupancy.
System-wide, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections operates at 134 percent of capacity, with 11 of the 32 institutions operating above 150 percent capacity. According to one CIIC report, “One had to stand sideways to walk through the rows of bunk beds.” Overcrowding might also result in long waits “for those in segregation who are being transferred to other prisons, all due to the need to wait for an open bed,” the CIIC reported. The result, it appears, is extended periods of isolation. Swain attributes the length of his 144-day-term in isolation in 2003 not to the severity of his infraction but to the wait for an open bed.‘The hole’ by any other name. Although he spent 23 hours a day alone in his cell, in another sense, Swain wasn’t alone.
Some 25,000 U.S. prisoners reside in solitary confinement at “supermax prisons.” An additional 50,000 to 80,000 prisoners reside in restrictive and isolated “segregation” or “special housing” units at non-supermax prisons, according to a recent New Yorker article. In Ohio at mid-year 2007, 1,869 men and 90 women lived in isolation, whether through formal segregation or security levels 4 or 5, according to the American Correctional Association. It’s not known how many prisoners reside in solitary confinement at some point during their stay. Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville and Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown can hold prisoners in lockdown for years at a time, including for their entire sentences.
Prison administrators and correctional officers refer to the various forms of these 23-hour-a-day cells as “administrative segregation.” Prisoners prefer a less euphemistic name: “the hole” or “the box.” Besides those names, there are several bureaucratic others. After an alleged infraction, an inmate might first be placed in “security control” for one to 15 days while an investigation unfolds. If deemed guilty, the inmate might spend an additional one to 15 days in “disciplinary control,” which can be extended to 30 days for subsequent infractions. An inmate can be referred to “local control” for up to six months if his presence in general population is a security threat or if he’s “failed to adjust to population.” “Those criteria are “broad and subject to wide interpretation,” says Shirley Pope, executive director of the CIIC. If an inmate’s own security is threatened, he can be kept in solitary confinement in local control even though he might not be the cause of the potential disturbance. After “local control,” an inmate can be transferred to 4B, a long-term lockdown where some people spend years in extreme isolation. These lockdown units aren’t technically considered “segregation,” as prisoners in 4B aren’t being punished for particular infractions. But it’s “segregation under a different name, the same conditions, the same lockdown,” Pope says.
Unlike segregation units, 4B units don’t have regular mental-health rounds. Pope is concerned that mentally ill prisoners in 4B aren’t properly cared for. The CIIC recently identified 218 mentally ill prisoners in 4B at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, “in spite of the known mental-health deterioration stemming from long-term isolation.”‘Psychological warfare’“It is widely accepted among mental-health professionals that long-term isolation of the mentally ill results in deterioration, not recovery,” the CIIC noted in a 2008 report. Nevertheless, the mentally ill seem propelled toward solitary confinement. Swain says he was surrounded by people “who attempted suicide, some multiple times; who threw feces and food; who engaged in rattling their doors and pounding; who yelled from cell to cell or screamed incoherently at all hours.”
Prisoners suffered sleep deprivation from the constant noise. Many suicide attempts happen in segregation units. Inmates attempt to hang themselves with sheets, overdose with stockpiled medications or cut themselves with blades from safety razors. Cruelly, segregation disproportionately houses those prisoners least able to endure the psychological impact of isolation. Advocates point out that the mentally ill rarely belong in prison in the first place, much less in solitary confinement. The mentally ill might be targeted under the “failure to adjust” criterion and then sent to punitive solitary units for behavioral problems related to their illness. Mentally ill state prisoners are nearly twice as likely to physically or verbally assault staff or other prisoners, according to a 2006 study by the U.S. Department of Justice.The solution is not to stiffen penalties. For mentally ill “feces throwers” at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, the CIIC reported that “prosecution for harassment does little if anything in deterrence.” Instead, state prisons should improve mental-health services. The bipartisan Council of State Governments found that inadequacies in mental-health services “can lead to inmate-on-staff assaults, inmate-on-inmate assaults and other use-of-force incidents.”Meanwhile, for the mentally ill in solitary confinement, their health deteriorates, their behavior worsens and their security level rises. They might be transferred to higher-security institutions.
“If they had a mental health advocate, that wouldn’t happen,” Pope says. “They require therapeutic interventions before they’re “bumped up in security status and end up at Lucasville.” In a sense, the mentally ill are trapped. “Their behavior is destined to deteriorate under those conditions,” Pope says. “Then their poor behavior is used to justify why they should be there.” Unsurprisingly, many drug offenders continue to abuse substances during their incarceration. They can be sent to segregation after they’re caught with illegal substances. But solitary confinement does nothing to mitigate or heal their addiction. A report by Human Rights Watch held that New York State was inflicting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by isolating drug offenders while also denying them treatment during lock-up. “I’ve had 15, 16 drug tickets, no assaults or anything like that,” said Peter G., a prisoner quoted in the report. “I’ve never been in a treatment program. Now I’m in the box till 2012. I’m a drug addict. If you know I’m a drug addict, why are you putting me in a box?” Ohio offers some substance-abuse treatment to those in isolation, with programs varying by institution, according to CIIC.
Advocates question the segregation of drug offenders in the first place. To the extent their infraction stems from an underlying addiction, they should be treated instead of punished. Some administrators, say solitary confinement reduces violence and helps maintain order. But the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons found the very opposite. “The increasing use of high-security segregation is counter-productive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release,” the commission said. The commission called for ending long-term isolation in U.S. prisons. It determined that after 10 days, solitary confinement was seriously detrimental to prisoners’ well-being.
Some administrators maintain that they have no alternative to locking dangerous prisoners in solitary units. But correctional policies in other nations undermine that claim. The British provide their most dangerous prisoners with opportunities for work, education and programming intended to increase social skills, according to The New Yorker. The Missouri Division of Youth Services recently reduced its use of solitary confinement for juveniles.Swain calls segregation “psychological warfare.” “The use of isolation not only escalates the inmate’s sense of alienation, but also further serves to remove the individual from proper staff supervision,” the CIIC found.To be rehabilitative, prisons must promote integration over isolation, therapy over torture.
By Eli Braun
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