Oct. 20

    Last pretrial hearing Thursday in Telford Death Penalty Case

    Outstanding motions and other issues were discussed at a hearing Thursday in the case of a Texas prison inmate accused of capital murder in the July 15, 2015, beating death of a Barry Telford Unit correctional officer.

    Billy Joel Tracy, 39, could receive a death sentence or life without the possibility of parole if convicted of killing 47-year-old Timothy Davison during a walk from a prison dayroom to his cell in segregation.

    Opening arguments are scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 23, at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston.

    At a hearing Thursday, Tracy's defense team, Mac Cobb of Mount Pleasant and Jeff Harrelson of Texarkana, said they still want the case moved out of Bowie County. Cobb said he is filing a supplemental change of venue motion and Harrelson said the defense wants its objections to 2 seated jurors put on the record.

    Lockhart said that the average age of the 7 men and 5 women chosen as jurors is 48. 2 women will serve as alternates.

    Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp asked that the defense provide her with information concerning the science and any testing their experts intend to rely on during the trial. Crisp said she believes those experts are expected to take the stand during the punishment phase of trial if Tracy is found guilty.

    Crisp said she would like to review brain scans and other reports before the witnesses are called so that if a hearing to determine whether they are admissible can be held before the jury is in the courthouse.

    According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice report, Tracy was able to slip his left hand free while cuffed and attack Davison, knocking him down. Tracy allegedly grabbed Davison's metal tray slot bar, a tool used to open the slots in cell doors, and beat him to death.

    The Bowie County District Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty for Tracy, who has a long history of violence in prison since he was assessed a life term by a jury in Rockwall County for burglary and assault in 1998.

    Since then Tracy has been a constant disciplinary problem, has repeatedly tried to escape, and has been sentenced to additional 10-year and 45-year terms for assaults on correctional officers.

    Assistant District Attorneys Kelley Crisp and Lauren Richards are prosecuting the case.


    Texas Prisons Eliminate use of Solitary Confinement for Punitive Reasons
    Policy applies to those Inmates being punished

    By Keri Blakinger
    September 21, 2017

    Texas correctional officials this month quietly eliminated the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for jailhouse rule-breakers, positioning the state at the forefront of a nationwide push to end the practice.

    "I'm quite frankly very surprised and very pleased that they've made this move," said Doug Smith, a policy analyst with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    The change effective Sept. 1 only impacts the roughly 75 prisoners in punitive solitary, leaving untouched the nearly 4,000 state prison inmates isolated in so-called "administrative segregation" due to gang affiliation or other security threats. The number of inmates in administrative segregation used to be more than twice that size, but has since been reduced by innovative programs.

    Still, prison reform advocates and elected leaders say there's more work to be done.

    "I've been concerned about their over-using administrative segregation for years," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Texas Senate's criminal justice committee. "I'm convinced that if you're not emotionally disturbed when you go in there, you will be when you get out."

    Before the administrative change was implemented this month, Texas prison officials had made sharp reductions in its solitary confinement population. In August 2013, there were 215 inmates in punitive solitary confinement. By July 2017, that number was down to 76. In the same time frame, the number of inmates placed in administrative segregation decreased from approximately 7,200 to 3,940.

    National trend

    The policy changes have come in response to evolving national dialogue about the use of various types of isolated confinement, a Texas prison spokesman acknowledged.

    "Restrictive housing has been a topic of discussion across the nation for a number of years and as an agency over the last several years we've really looked at ways to reduce it," said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark of the September policy change. "When reviewing solitary confinement as a policy and practice we determined that as a department we can effectively operate without it."

    Although tough-on-crime supporters of isolated confinement have long contended that it's necessary for prison safety, Lance Lowry, who heads the Texas Correctional Employees union in Huntsville, said the change doesn't pose any major security changes.

    "I think it does open up the state to less liability," he said, touting the move as an effort to "modernize" the prison system. "There's never been any factors that show that it positively rehabilitates the individual."

    Now, rule-breakers will face other punishments, such as loss of good time or loss of commissary privileges, Clark said.

    Those who persistently pose safety threats with violent behavior could face administrative segregation, which typically involves at least 22 hours a day alone in a cell.

    "The only time an inmate is released from a cell is for up to an hour a day in 'recreation,' which is essentially a slightly larger cage, and for a shower," said Michele Deitch, an attorney who teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. "They must be shackled any time they leave their cell."

    By another name

    For advocates, the continued use of administrative segregation is troubling, even though it's on the decline.

    "TDCJ still has wide discretion to use solitary confinement - they're just calling it administrative segregation," said Matt Simpson, a senior policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas.

    Since at least 1985, Texas prison officials have assigned members of a number of violent gangs to administrative segregation based on their membership. The population in solitary confinement ballooned, and by 2006 included nearly 10,000 prisoners. Even after reductions the Texas administrative segregation population outpaced most other states by 2011, according to Houston Chronicle archives.

    "I know part of the problem - they overbuilt the damn number of ad seg cells," Whitmire said. "The number for how many we need was just pulled out of the air. But when you build them you gotta use them."

    But in the wake of changing national attitudes concerning incarceration, along with pushes from legislators like Whitmire and a growing awareness of the potential harms of long-term isolation, Texas has shifted away from its reliance on isolation.

    A successful gang renunciation program, administrative segregation diversion and a transition program to help move prisoners back into the general population have all helped eat away at the thousands of restrictive administrative classifications in the Texas system.

    During the same time, there's been no dramatic change in major prison violence, Clark said, though the numbers have crept upward, In 2012, there were 96 serious assaults on staff and 1,242 on other prisoners.

    In 2016, there were 108 serious staff assaults and 1,456 serious inmate assaults.

    In theory, the continued use of administrative segregation might keep the worst of the worst out of the general population.

    "You still need security detention because the Hannibal Lecters of the world are still out there," Lowry said. "There's still some bad actors in prison that will hurt people."

    Reforms take hold

    The changes in Texas come amid a sea change nationwide.

    In California, a class action suit on behalf of inmates who had spent years in extreme isolation netted a sharp decrease in the use of solitary. In Colorado, the chief of corrections made waves by choosing to spend a day in solitary, even as the state worked to cut back its use. And in New York, a lawsuit reformed the use of solitary and isolated populations have since decreased.

    At the latest count, the Empire State had just under 3,000 prisoners in its most restrictive form of punitive solitary confinement, known as SHU, and an unknown additional number in a less-restrictive type of isolation called keep-lock, according to Scott Paltrowitz, an attorney with the advocacy group the Correctional Association of New York.

    But with an inmate population of around 50,000, New York has roughly a third of the 145,000 inmates in the Texas system.

    According to the most recent figures, the Lone Star State is holding just 2.7 percent of inmates in administrative segregation, Clark said.

    And even in light of Texas' nose-diving numbers, some advocates questioned whether the elimination of punitive solitary confinement would just result in a shift back to classifying those same inmates as threats worthy of administrative segregation.

    The state capped punitive solitary stays at 15 days; administrative segregation can last for months or years.

    "This is the highest-risk population and we need to acknowledge that the vast majority of them are coming home one day," Smith said. "You can't write off this population because they're the worst of the worst."

    Gabrielle Banks contributed to this report.

    Read the original article HERE.


    Texas Prisons Violate Internationally Recognized Human Rights Standards: Report

    Prisons in Texas are in violation of international human rights standards and deny civil rights of its prisoners on death row kept in solitary confinement, a report released Monday by the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law concludes.

    Titled "Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas' Death Rows," the 48-page report calls for a sweeping array of changes in the operation of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice centered on policies related to the use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure and access to healthcare.

    Texas death row inmates spend an average of more than 14 years awaiting execution in solitary confinement, posited by UT-Austin researchers as akin to torture, an assessment shared by several human rights organizations.

    The study comes amid a backdrop of prolific capital punishment in Texas, a state that executes more prisoners than any other state - by far. This year alone, 4 people have been put to death through the use of the drug Pentobarbital for various crimes: Christopher Wilkins, 48, executed Jan. 11; Terry Darnell Edwards, 43, executed Jan. 26; Rolando Ruiz, 44, put to death on March 7; and James Bigby, 61, executed March 14 (Source: Death Penalty Information Center).

    The 4 prisoners put to death this year all had been awaiting execution for years, and in once case decades. Wilkins had the shortest wait at 8 years, while Bigby sat on death row for 25 years, according to data collected by the Death Penalty Information Center.

    The prisoner with the longest time on death row is Raymond Riles, who has been sitting on death row for more than 41 years after robbing and killing a Houston used car salesman in 1974. Due to mental illness, he was previously considered ineligible to be executed, but prison officials said he could become eligible given continual testing of his mental state. In 1985, Riles attempted suicide by setting his prison cell on fire.

    The list of prisoners sitting on death row is so great, that even WikiPedia doesn't attempt to list them all: "Due to the high number of Texas death row inmates, only prisoners with Wikipedia pages are listed in this article," WikiPedia reads. "The full list is externally linked."

    According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the number of death row inmates is nearly 250.

    Among recommendations outlined in the University of Texas School of Law report is an end of solitary confinement for prisoners suffering from mental illness or physical disabilities, enhanced healthcare access, provision of religious services and greater access to outdoor recreation.

    "The State of Texas stands today as one of the most extensive utilizers of the death penalty worldwide," the report's author's wrote. "Consequently, inmate living conditions on Texas??? death row are ripe for review. This report demonstrates that the mandatory conditions implemented for death row inmates by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) are harsh and inhumane."

    The upshot: "Conditions on death row at TDCJ's Polunsky Unit must be remedied posthaste," the report's authors concluded.

    Texas re-introduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement - total segregation of individuals confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day - for all prisoners convicted of capital murder. The practice bans recreation or eating with other inmates as death row inmates are confined to cells of average size of 8 feet by 12 feet in size, the report's authors noted.

    The cells consist only of a sink, toilet and 30-inch wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress, according to the findings. Most include a small window, but inmates are only able to see oudoors by rolling up their mattresses to stand on them, according to the report.

    "Every individual on Texas???'death row thus spends approximately 23 hours a day in complete isolation for the entire duration of their sentence, which, on average, lasts more than a decade," researchers found. "This prolonged solitary confinement has overwhelmingly negative effects on inmates' mental health, exacerbating existing mental health conditions and causing many prisoners to develop mental illness for the 1st time."

    Stays of execution, when execution dates are re-set for a variety of reasons, also play havoc on prisoners' psychological state, according to the report: "In addition to the detrimental effects of isolation, the practice of setting multiple execution dates means that many prisoners are subjected to the psychological stress of preparing to die several times during their sentence."

    In 1999, Texas reintroduced the practice of mandatory solitary confinement for every individual convicted of capital murder. Solitary confinement involves total segregation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours per day, with a complete prohibition on recreating or eating with other inmates. An average cell is no bigger than 8 feet by 12 feet, the authors of the report found. Those cells contain only a sink, a toilet, and a 30-inch-wide steel bunk with a thin plastic mattress.

    The report also found death row inmates find access to health care challenging.

    "Inmates on death row experience severe barriers to accessing medical care, in part due to being housed in solitary confinement and being less able to effectively self-advocate. Inmates are not offered regular physical or psychological check-ups, and must rely on the guards to communicate and facilitate any healthcare appointments. Such requests for care are, at best, responded to within a few days, but can go several weeks without a response and are often ignored or forgotten about," researchers found.

    Prison conditions are exacerbated given a lack of access to psychological healthcare, according to the report.

    "In terms of psychological healthcare - an issue of great importance given that a large majority of inmates on death row suffer from some form of psychological illness - only inmates who were already taking psychiatric medication are able to meet regularly with psychiatrists," the report reads. "Of those inmates who are eventually given access to psychological care, they are generally only prescribed some form of psychiatric medication, thus exacerbating the unmet need for some form of counseling or non-pharmaceutical therapy. Inmates with mental illness who do not necessarily want or need prescription drugs are essentially provided with only 2 options: take unwanted medication, or forgo psychological healthcare entirely."

    One prisoner on death row, Andre Thomas, was convicted of stabbing his wife and children to death. 5 days after the killings, he removed 1 of his eyeballs with his bare hands, but his mental illness was deemed to be largely substance-induced thus deeming him fit to stand trial. Originally placed in the Polunsky Unit where the men's death row is located, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat. On Dec. 9, 2008, he removed his remaining left eye and ate it.

    The lack of access to religious services also is covered in the report. Christian Bibles are the only religious materials available from the prison chaplain in Texas, according to the report. But even for Christian inmates needed theological counsel, access to ministers is rarely provided save for the holiday season, according to the findings.

    "For inmates of different faiths, such as Islam or Judaism, the situation is more difficult as they must solely rely on outside sources for their religious materials. They are provided with no access to practice their chosen faith, and are often met with contempt when seeking such access," authors found. "This has created a harsh environment for inmates who do not adhere to Christianity, and has enabled a discriminatory system on the basis of religion on Texas' death row."

    The report prepared by the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law cites other sources echoing their findings, including the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The report's authors cite such safeguards against inhumane conditions as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

    "The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights bodies have repeatedly issued opinions decrying the inhumane conditions present at the Polunsky Unit. Particularly, international human rights bodies had considered that the prolonged and mandatory use of solitary confinement is 'disproportionate, illegitimate, and unnecessary,'" the report's authors wrote.



    July 12, 2016

    Texas Women Prisoners Living in the misery of Ad-Seg

    TDCJ, in particular, Lane Murray Unit, is infamous for their “cross action” ways, in which the prison officials write bogus disciplinary cases, utilize threatening language consumed of epithets, abuse their authority, retaliate by destroying inmates’ personal property, tearing up cells during cell searches, utilize excessive “use of force,” deny inmates release to population even though they meet the requirements, and deny us rank, medical and/or psych assistance. The list goes on and on at the unit unanimously nicknamed “Miserable Murray.”

    These prison officials are corrupt. When we write grievances or have our family contact the warden, we face retribution for our reports of abuse. When we make a staff complaint, we face retribution for our reports of abuse.

    Living in the misery of Ad-Seg causes much psychological damage. Justice needs to be served.

    Investigations and surveillance and/or substantive monitoring needs to begin immediately. Gatesville, Texas, is a prominent area for racism. And the prisons have made it a duty to hire their worst racists. Ninety percent of the prison officials are in fact racist and disrespectful.

    Lane Murray Unit is extremely tainted with corruption and the dire need of an ombudsman is evident. These officers are continually bullying, taunting, ridiculing and humiliating inmates, sexually harassing and underhandedly convicting inmates writing disciplinary cases that are lies. Gatesville, Texas, is an area submerged in evil and hatred that wants inmates to basically die. They’re biased against inmates because of a crime we did or did not commit.

    Living in the misery of Ad-Seg causes much psychological damage. Justice needs to be served.

    I am writing seeking justice, help and assistance, fighting the cause for women in Texas prisons. I suffer daily for the wrongs I have or have not committed along with other women who don’t deserve “double jeopardy” punishment and abuse. Just being in prison is punishment enough.

    We need help! The slavery of prison must end. Women in prison face abuse by the hands of those who are supposed to screen us for security, not inflict harm.

    About me: I am an offender housed in Ad-Seg at Lane Murray Unit for four years and counting. I’m currently a Stat-4 Level One, and I’ve been major case free for two and a half years, meeting all the requirements to be released from Ad-Seg, but yet I’m still held in captivity for unjustifiable reasons.

    Send our sister some love and light:
    Britney Gulley #1601283
    Lane Murray Unit
    1916 North Highway 36-Bypass
    Gatesville, Texas 76596


    Solitary Confinement is terrible for Youth.
    Some senators want to get rid of it.

    Updated by German Lopez
    August 5, 2015

    Solitary confinement is torture. A United Nations report classified it as such in 2011. One teen inmate told the American Civil Liberties Union in 2012 that he "felt like [he] wanted to die" while in solitary confinement.

    Now some senators are pushing to end solitary confinement for youth caught up in the federal system. The MERCY Act — introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Mike Lee (R-UT) — would ban solitary confinement of youth tried in the federal system and held in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention centers, unless it's used temporarily for the juvenile's protection or the safety of others.

    Read the complete article HERE.

    Why The U.S. Won’t Let the U.N. Look Inside Its Prisons

    March 16, 2015
    By prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity

    After a half-decade and a mandate by the U.N. to investigate solitary confinement practices, U.N. torture rapporteur Juan Mendez had to find a backdoor into an American jail. Today, his findings are released in a report.

    Read the Report HERE.

    Seven Days in Solitary

    March 8, 2015
    By Aviva Stahl

    The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

    Read the Article HERE.

    Solitary Confinement in Texas Prisons Does Not Work

    By Octavio Martinez, Jr.
    Executive Director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health
    Published: Feb. 16th

    Of all the statistics that point to an urgent need to reform the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons, there’s one that is most striking: The Texas Department of Criminal Justice released more than 1,200 people directly from solitary confinement back into Texas communities in 2013.

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

    This practice needs to stop.

    If there were evidence that the current use of solitary confinement in Texas was serving to protect law-abiding Texans from harm and make prisons function better, then this scenario would be defensible.

    The truth is that the practice serves no one. It endangers the communities into which they’re released, and it inflicts destabilizing misery on prisoners.

    A report recently published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project found that 4.4 percent of the prison population housed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is held in solitary confinement.

    The average term of solitary is almost four years. And for more than 100 Texas prisoners, solitary confinement has lasted more than 20 years.

    Let me repeat that, with emphasis. The average time spent in solitary is almost four years. For more than 100 Texas prisoners, that isolated cell has been “home” for more than 20 years.

    The cost of this isn’t just borne by the prisoners. It’s shouldered by Texas taxpayers, the communities into which prisoners are released, and prison staffers.

    The cost of putting prisoners in solitary confinement is approximately 50 percent greater than housing them in the general population. People released from solitary confinement are more likely to commit new crimes than people released from the rest of the prison system.

    Even the rates of violence against prison staff members — which solitary confinement is intended in part to reduce — seem to be increasing as a result of the practice.

    In fact, the head of the largest correctional officers’ union in Texas recently testified at a federal hearing that serious assaults on correctional staffers have more than doubled during the past seven years. He attributed this rise in substantial part to the increased use of solitary confinement.

    Prisoners with mental illness are especially ill-served by solitary confinement. As a psychiatrist, and the executive director of a mental health foundation, I find it hard to imagine a worse prescription for those with mental illness than to put them in the most haunting and psychologically oppressive spaces in the already destabilizing context of incarceration. It’s a recipe for further trauma and decompensation.

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

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

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

    In the same spirit, we are overdue for a far-reaching, but entirely common sense, rethinking of the way that solitary confinement is used in our prisons.

    Octavio N. Martinez, Jr. is the executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin and the chair of the Behavioral Health Integration Advisory Committee at the Health and Human Services Commission.

    Solitary Confinement in Texas Prisons Does Not Work

    FEBRUARY 05, 2015

    More Inmates In Solitary Confinement In Texas Than Prison Systems In 12 States

    Check out a new report from ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project assessing the state's use of solitary confinement. Chuck Lindell at the Austin Statesman has an item up (Feb. 5) adumbrating their findings, which opens:

    Texas prisons keep too many inmates in solitary confinement for too long — sometimes years — damaging their mental health and placing communities at risk when the prisoners are eventually released, a study by civil rights groups concluded.

    Released Thursday, the report criticized Texas for keeping 4.4 percent of its inmates in solitary confinement — 6,564 in September 2014, or more than the combined prison population of 12 states.

    “On average, prisoners remain in solitary confinement for almost four years; over 100 Texas prisoners have spent more than 20 years in solitary confinement,” said the report by the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project.

    And although the practice can lead to mental damage, in 2013 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released 1,243 inmates “directly from solitary confinement cells into Texas communities,” said the report, titled A Solitary Failure.



    NOVEMBER 07, 2014

    Solitary Confinement Down 34% In Texas Prisons Since 2006

    The number of Texas prisoners in solitary confinement (known in bureaucratic lingo as "administrative segregation," or "ad seg") has declined by 34 percent since 2006, from 9,600 to about 6,300 today, TDCJ chief Brad Livingston told a Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting on October 28 (see video).

    New programs created in the last few months aim to begin transitioning prisoners out of ad seg before they're released, he said, so fewer will be released directly from ad seg to the streets, he said.

    Roughly 4,500 offenders have completed TDCJ gang renunciation program and been transitioned to the general population, said Livingston. Chairman John Whitmire cautioned Livingston to continue in that direction or else federal litigation could force them to take even stronger steps.



    Will Texas Prisons Dial Back Solitary Confinement?

    Prisons chief suggests that numbers will decline even more, as other states quickly move away from isolation.

    Feb. 25, 2014

    More than three years after he left a Texas prison, Chente Navarro still experienced the night sweats, the depression and the occasional disorientation that came with spending almost five years locked in solitary confinement as a suspected member of a prison gang. “It made me more and more mentally unstable,” he said in December, recounting how he believes his days as a free man are scarred by being locked up in a small, concrete-walled prison cell for 23 hours a day, every day. “I still go back there (mentally), once or twice a month.”

    Just as Navarro became a poster boy three years ago for reforms in the state’s longstanding solitary confinement policy, which reform activists claim was a punitive system that was driving many prisoners crazy, Texas prison officials moved to reduce the number of prisoners in isolation from 9,600 in 2006 to 7,000 now.

    Now, at a time when other states are reducing the number of prisoners they keep in solitary confinement, a new move is underway in Texas that could reduce the numbers even more.

    Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that operates the 109-prison state corrections system, told the American-Statesman that he expects an ongoing review of solitary confinement policies — known as administrative segregation, or ad seg, in prison lingo — could drop the numbers further.

    “It’s likely that there will be further reductions as we continue to improve our policies,” Livingston said. “We’re exploring program options that we expect will have that effect. We’re going to continue creating more pathways out of ad seg.”

    On Tuesday, a U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing in Washington on how to reduce the ill effects of solitary confinement nationally, a move that comes after several states — including New York, Mississippi, Washington and Colorado — have recently taken steps to curtail or restrict the use of keeping convicts in isolation. Lawsuits are pending in several states seeking the same end.

    As part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit challenging solitary confinement, New York is now the largest prison system in the country to bar the use of isolation cells for disciplining prisoners under age 18 and limiting the use of such cells for adult convicts, officials said. Other states also have recently banned solitary confinement for juvenile offenders, except for short periods of time.

    Recently, the Colorado prison system’s director spent 20 hours in solitary confinement to test the conditions, and he left reporting that he was “twitchy and paranoid.” He quickly announced that policy changes are planned to limit the use of isolation there.

    With likely the largest number of convicts in solitary confinement, Texas faces increasing questions over its policies.

    Livingston and other prison officials note that more than half of the 7,200 convicts in solitary confinement are housed there because of violent behavior against staff and other prisoners or because they are escape risks. The rest are members of violent crime gangs.

    The average stay in solitary confinement in Texas is just under two years, prison statistics show, longer than those in other states.

    “The intended use of administrative segregation was to reduce violence on staff and inmates. Unfortunately a reduction in violence on staff has not been the case in Texas since the state greatly increased the use of administrative segregation in the 1990s,” Lance Lowry, a correctional officer who is president of a Huntsville union local for guards, said in testimony submitted to the Senate committee.

    “The overreliance on solitary confinement in Texas may be a direct result of lack of trained and experienced staff. … A better-trained and experienced workforce could better manage an increasing mental health population, reducing the overuse of solitary confinement,” he said.

    In addition, Lowry and prisoner-rights advocates agree that Texas’ practice of releasing convicts from administrative segregation directly to the streets isn’t a good idea. Advocates have complained that is a sure recipe for new crimes to be committed.

    Jason Clark, a spokesman for Texas’ prison system, said that in 2013, 1,243 felons were released directly from solitary confinement to the streets — including 500 who served their entire sentence and 743 who were released on various forms of parole supervision. Statistics weren’t immediately available on how many of those convicts had come back to prison for new crimes.

    “When I got out, I had no idea what to do, where to go,” said Navarro, who was freed from solitary confinement and immediately boarded a bus from Huntsville to Houston. “It was a mental shock, a culture shock, man. I was disoriented, unstable, angry. I went from living in a little box to the big, old free world with no programs, no skills, no nothing.

    “Somehow I was able to get back on track,” he said, explaining how he has worked in construction in San Antonio for more than a year without problems. “Many other men don’t make it, can’t make it.”

    That’s the message that Marc Levin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice, delivered in testimony Tuesday to the Senate panel. “Unlike most states, most of Texas’ ad seg prisoners are suspected gang members — and alternative programs could be implemented to graduate inmates from ad seg to the point they are released rather than discharging them to the street,” he told the Statesman.

    Prison officials said improving that transition for the state’s toughest and most violent convicts is a goal of the current review of Texas’ solitary confinement policies.

    “We’re dialed in on this issue to extend the successes of our treatment programs to this population,” Livingston said. “Consistent with our commitment to public safety, I don’t think the current number of 7,000 is the floor. I think we can do better.”

    Solitary Confinement: A Brief History
    Used widely in the 18th and 19th centuries as punishment, the practice was largely abandoned in the early 20th century as rehabilitation and prison reform programs came into vogue. Solitary confinement was used again starting in the 1970s as prisons became overcrowded, as a way to control increasing violence and then to isolate gang members and high-profile offenders such as terrorists and mass killers. Several studies estimate there are as many as 80,000 offenders in solitary confinement in the U.S., many of whom are mentally ill.

    Will Texas Prisons Dial Back Solitary Confinement?

    February 21, 2014

    Reducing Prison Violence by Thinking Outside the Box

    By Lance Lowry
    Huntsville, Texas

    During the last two decades, the United States had an explosion in the use of solitary confinement (Administrative Segregation) for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States and over 153,000 people are incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If Texas were its own country we would have the highest incarceration per capita in the world. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing (Administrative Segregation, Solitary, Super-max). Statistics show in Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.

    Originally the use of segregated (special housing, solitary, transient isolation, protective custody) housing in Texas was reserved for inmates that exhibited the most violent behavior, the practice is now being used more frequently to isolate certain gang members, LBGT inmates, all male death row inmates (regardless of prison conduct), special needs inmates, and inmates exhibiting abnormal mental conditions. Some inmates have been locked up in administrative segregation for decades now.

    The intended use of administrative segregation was to reduce violence on staff and inmates. Unfortunately reductions in violence on staff has not been the case in Texas. Serious staff assaults in Texas has risen with the increased use of administrative segregation. Serious assaults on Texas correctional staff has gradually risen over 104% during the last 7 years. In 2013 over 79% of the 499 reported intentional exposures to bodily fluids occurred in segregated housing areas of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. None of the exposure assaults involved regular general population offenders.

    Most inmates in administrative segregation are often confined to small cells without windows, and little audio / visual stimulation. Such extreme isolation can have serious psychological effects on inmates and can lead to increased aggression towards staff, mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide. Inmates in administrative segregation have little social contact aside from abnormal communications involving yelling at offenders in other cells. Lack of normal social contact breeds increased aggression which increases aggression towards staff who may be the only normal social contact this segment of the offender population has.

    To read the complete article - Reducing Prison Violence by Thinking Outside the Box, click Here.

    Why Solitary Confinement Puts Death Row Guards In Jeopardy

    Feb. 7

    Anyone who lived in Texas in 1998 remembers the sensational headlines: Seven condemned men escaped from death row. 6 were caught before they could leave the prison, but one - Martin Gurule - scaled 2 razor-wire fences and disappeared. 2 days later, he was found dead, having drowned near Huntsville in the Trinity River.

    After that, life for male death row prisoners changed dramatically for the worse. The condemned men were moved to a new, more secure prison, where the prison system imposed permanent solitary confinement. Today, men on death row are locked in their cells 22 hours a day, emerging only under close guard to shower and recreate - alone. They do not work, they worship in their cells alone, they cannot watch television, they cannot have contact visits, nor can they telephone their families or lawyers like other Texas prison inmates.

    Later this month, the prison system will revise its death row procedures. A broad coalition of organizations - including security experts, correctional officers, religious leaders, and lawyers - has called on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to abolish permanent solitary confinement for all death row inmates.

    For some Texans, TDCJ's restrictive procedures may seem only just. After all, death row inmates face execution because they've killed. Why should these men enjoy creature comforts when their victims can't? And doesn't the Gurule escape show the risk of less restrictive custody?

    I began my working life as a correctional officer in the Texas prison system and was assigned periodically to guard death row. After college and law school, I returned to the prison system, eventually becoming general counsel. I therefore believe I am qualified to address why Texas should allow inmates who demonstrate good behavior access to group recreation, work, contact visits and communal religious services. In a word: security.

    The problem with the current system is that death row inmates have no incentive to behave well, and that endangers prison staff. Misbehavior is dealt with by removing commissary and non-legal visitation privileges, along with property like radios. Meanwhile, compliance with existing security rules gets the prisoner nothing: just more of the same solitary confinement.

    When I was at TDCJ, we gave death row prisoners incentives to comply with security regulations, such as the death row work program, which I helped design. Inmates wanted to work; it allowed them to use their time constructively and interact with others. We only let inmates work if they demonstrated good behavior. Those who worked protected that privilege by acting peacefully, while others tried hard to conform to prison regulations so that they would be designated as work eligible.

    The state does not sacrifice or compromise its ultimate authority to punish by managing capital offenders in accord with sound correctional principles. The current conditions of confinement on Texas death row constitute overly harsh and needlessly punitive measures - relentlessly applied 24 hours, a day 365 days a year - that only heighten management problems.

    Prison management thus unwisely produces a substantial number of inmates who view their existence as hopeless. This is especially true for mentally impaired inmates who all too often deteriorate in such settings, becoming violent or suicidal. More important, the situation too often descends into a self-perpetuating cycle of continually escalating and intense actions by both the inmates and staff. This counterproductive culture reinforces itself and leads to inordinate and senseless burdens on both the keepers and the kept.

    Officer mismanagement led to Martin Gurule's escape, but instead of addressing that mismanagement, TDCJ imposed some of the most restrictive death row conditions in the nation. Yet the officers on the death row, not TDCJ executives, are in harm's way because of poor policymaking by TDCJ. Texas correctional officers deserve better. TDCJ should revise its death row policy so that permanent solitary confinement is eliminated and condemned inmates are given greater incentives to follow security regulations.

    (Source: Opinion; Steve J. Martin is a corrections consultant and attorney who served as executive assistant to the director and general counsel for the Texas Department of Corrections, as TDCJ was formerly known--He may be contacted at Morning News)

    Solitary Confinement Study Approved but Lacks Funding

    By Brandi Grissom
    Jan. 7, 2014

    Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that requires a detailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.

    Four months after the measure became law, though, the committee charged with hiring an independent party to study solitary confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn’t met and has no intention to.

    “The oversight committee is not funded or active,” said Larance Coleman, policy director for the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

    Now, advocacy organizations are working to find dollars to pay for the study they say is critical to understanding how often solitary confinement is used, how it affects inmates and how much it costs the state.

    “We haven’t given up,” said Cindy Eigler, policy specialist at the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

    Senate Bill 1003, authored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, requires the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee, “subject to the availability of funds from gifts, grants and donations,” to appoint an independent party to review the use of administrative segregation, also known as solitary confinement, in state juvenile and adult facilities. The independent reviewer is supposed to report to lawmakers in December with recommendations to reduce the use of solitary and to divert inmates with mental illness away from it.

    “Texas has the second-largest administrative segregation population in the country, with over a quarter of the people in there with mental illness,” Eigler said.

    According to a legislative analysis of the bill, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice housed 8,784 inmates in solitary confinement in 2011, or about 5 percent of the total prison population. More than 2,000 of those inmates were diagnosed with either serious mental illness or mental retardation.

    Reducing the administrative segregation population by half could save the state as much as $36 million annually, according to an estimate by Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that advocates for social justice.

    “It’s a very important issue both from a fiscal responsibility sense and also from the perspective of little things like humanity and the Constitution,” said Brian McGiverin, an attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project.

    He said his organization is planning to file a lawsuit against the prison system over the provision of what it argues is inadequate mental health care for inmates.

    The bill also requires the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement in local facilities that house youth offenders.

    Spokesman Jim Hurley said the agency is developing a plan to gather information.

    The problem with studying solitary in the adult prisons is that the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee has no funding to meet or to pay staff to write a request for proposals, much less to hire a third party to conduct the study. Coleman said the committee hasn’t been funded since at least 2009.

    “Nothing can be done without funding,” Coleman said. “I don’t think anybody is going to go around and ask for money.”

    The Legislative Budget Board estimates implementing the law would cost less than $128,000.

    Eigler said she and other advocates are working with lawmakers to search for grant funding opportunities and research organizations to try to get the study done.

    “It’s really silly not to study it,” McGiverin said.

    Solitary Confinement Study Approved but Lacks Funding


    July 16, 2013

    New York Times
    Op-Ed Contributor
    By Wilbert Rideau


    THERE aren’t many protests in prison. In a world where authorities exercise absolute power and demand abject obedience, prisoners are almost always going to be on the losing side, and they know it.

    The typical inmate doesn’t want trouble. He has little to gain and too much to lose: his job, his visits, his recreation time, his phone privileges, his right to buy tuna, ramen and stale bread at inflated prices in the commissary. The ways even a bystander to the most peaceful protest can be punished are limited only by the imagination of the authorities. Besides, logistics are difficult: men from cellblock X can’t just stroll down to see the inmates in cellblock Y. Strategizing must be done furtively, usually through intermediaries, any one of whom might snitch.

    And yet, sometimes things get so bad that prisoners feel compelled to protest, with work stoppages, riots or hunger strikes. On July 8, some 30,000 inmates in the custody of the California Department of Corrections went on a hunger strike to demand improvements in prison conditions. Their biggest complaint was the runaway use of solitary confinement, the fact that thousands of prisoners are consigned to this cruelty indefinitely, some for decades.

    I know something about solitary confinement, because I’ve been there. I spent a total of 12 years in various solitary confinement cells. And I can tell you that isolating a human being for years in a barren cell the size of a small bathroom is the cruelest thing you can do to a person.

    Deprived of all human contact, you lose your feeling of connectedness to the world. You lose your ability to make small talk, even with the guard who shoves your meal through the slot in the door. You live entirely in your head, for there is nothing else. You talk to yourself, answer yourself. You become paranoid, depressed, sleepless. To ward off madness, you must give your mind something to do. In 1970, I counted the 358 rivets that held my steel cell together, over and over. Every time the walls seemed to be closing in on me, I counted them again, to give my mind something to fasten on to.

    There are men like Thomas Silverstein, in the federal prison system, who has been in solitary 30 years, and Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, who have been in Louisiana cells for some 40 years each. These men become examples of abuse of power and sometimes a rallying point for their fellow prisoners, who know they could one day face the same fate.

    The prison protests in California are on an unprecedented scale; amazingly, they involved, at their peak, about two-thirds of the state’s penal facilities. At the beginning of this week, more than 2,500 inmates were still refusing food.

    If prison authorities do not understand why thousands of inmates not directly affected by solitary confinement would join the protests, at great risk to themselves, they have only themselves to blame. They are victims of their own censorship.

    If they were to listen to the inmates, they would understand that protests are almost always the product of what prisoners perceive to be officials’ abuse of arbitrary power. They are generally done by men made desperate by the lack of options to address their grievances. At the heart of the problem is a lack of open communications and freedom of expression.

    As a practical matter this is easy to resolve: institute mechanisms for authorities to meet regularly with inmates to discuss their problems without fear of reprisal. But this goes against entrenched attitudes, and too many officials see it as a surrender of their authority.

    Too bad, because making responsible inmates partners in managing prison problems has worked extremely well in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where the warden and sub-wardens have, for decades, regularly met with inmate leaders to discuss problems. It has gone from being one of the bloodiest to one of the safest maximum security prisons in America.

    And if prison officials actually listened to inmates, they would find that their demands are often reasonable. It goes without saying that some inmates must be isolated for security reasons. And the California protesters acknowledge as much. They don’t demand a total end to the use of solitary confinement, but only reasonable limits to who is locked up and for how long, as well as some simple improvements like more educational and rehabilitative programming for those in solitary.

    Why should you be concerned about the inhumane conditions of prolonged solitary confinement, with all the social, emotional and mental deterioration that it entails? Well, every year men from California’s Pelican Bay and other supermax prisons around the nation are released directly from the vacuum of their cells into free society, to live and work among you and your loved ones. As a matter of self-preservation, maybe we should all join the prisoners’ request for rehabilitative opportunities that will improve the mental health of those in solitary.

    - - - - -
    Wilbert Rideau, who served nearly 44 years for manslaughter, mostly at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is a journalist and the author of the memoir “In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance.”

    When Prisoners Protest

    Long-Term Segregation Fails To Solve Mental Illness Issue

    By Steve J. Martin
    April 24, 2013

    As this is written, Texas prisons have thousands of inmates held in administrative segregation, a practice often referred to as solitary confinement. Almost all of these inmates are locked in their cells 22-23 hours a day. Moreover, some of these inmates have been diagnosed with mental impairments and spend most days in a space roughly equivalent to an area the size of a standard bathroom. Such confinement, when compared with the typical general population prisoner, is very costly in terms of staffing and service delivery.

    Of equal importance, the practice can often have devastating consequences for those inmates unnecessarily confined for years at a time in these solitary-like conditions.

    I have observed segregated offenders in jails, prisons and juvenile facilities in most of the states in the U.S. in a variety of roles as a federal court monitor, court appointed expert and as an expert for both federal and state or local agencies. In virtually all of these settings, I have observed, among other things, the following:

    1 Systems over-use segregated confinement. Once in, it is difficult for a prisoner to get out; consequently, over time these segregated populations constantly increase.

    1 Long-term segregated confinement for people with mental illness is particularly harmful.

    Right now Texas, like many other jurisdictions, is wasting money and undermining public safety with its segregation policies and practices. We simply over-use administrative segregation. Given the lack of human contact and very limited access to treatment programs, inmates are functionally programmed to fail when held for months and years in such confinement. Because the conditions are so harsh, it should be used sparingly as the costs are high - for offenders, taxpayers and public safety.

    It's time for Texas to take a hard look at its use of solitary. The Legislature is considering two important bills:
    House Bill 1266 and Senate Bill 1003.

    Both bills call for the governor to appoint an independent third party to review our prison segregation policies for adults and juveniles and report on the mental health issues and public safety impacts of segregation. The bills also ensure that independent experts make recommendations for diverting individuals from administrative segregation and for reducing the time individuals spend in such extreme isolation.

    Such a study will give our Legislature and all Texans a better idea of who is being held in segregation, why they are segregated, whether they really need to be there and the real costs of the overuse of this type of incarceration.

    A number of other state prison systems have already begun initiatives to address the debilitating aspects of segregation. Indeed, studies from other states that have started tracking the public safety outcomes of segregation have found higher rates of recidivism - especially for those offenders who are directly released to the community from solitary confinement settings without any transition time in the general prison population. As these states ask questions regarding the practice, they are finding answers that clearly call into question the efficacy of holding huge populations in such harsh confinement settings.

    In Texas we have an additional problem: Our state has more persons with mental illness in prison than our state mental health institutions have patients. Our prisons are not well-equipped to deal with persons with mental illness and frequently use administrative segregation, rather than mental or behavioral health alternatives, as the default placement for mentally ill offenders without regard to actual medical needs. Such confinement typically makes their treatment much more difficult and, for some, clearly aggravates their mental impairments.

    These medical needs are real. Years of research have demonstrated that subjecting human beings to long periods of social isolation inflicts pain and suffering on all. For individuals with mental illness, it can be devastating. After 40 years in corrections, I've seen these consequences up close: Frequent suicides; bizarre acts of self-mutilation; and, offenders all but incapacitated by their mental illness are routine problems in administrative segregation.

    It does not have to be that way. States like Mississippi and Colorado have drastically changed their approaches to administrative segregation - saving millions in taxpayer dollars and even closing entire prisons as a result. Our neighbor, New Mexico, is also right now undergoing an independent review of its segregation policies with the same goals of increasing transparency and fairness, providing mentally ill offenders other alternatives and saving taxpayer dollars.

    We can do better with less administrative segregation. And the Legislature should meet this challenge now by passing HB 1266/SB 1003 into law.

    Martin is the former general counsel of the Texas prison system.

    Long-Term Segregation Fails To Solve Mental Illness Issue

    Bill Casts Light on Mental Health Care in Solitary Confinement

    By Veronica Zaragovia,
    KUT News
    April 18, 2013

    An estimated 25 percent of Texas inmates in solitary confinement suffer from mental health issues. A bill in the Legislature would create a task force to find out more about these prisoners and provide them with safer alternatives.

    Click HERE To listen to audio file

    Bill Casts Light on Mental Health Care in Solitary Confinement


    October 10

    Solitary Confinement Closely Examined

    I wanted to point out a couple of recent resources on issues surrounding solitary confinement.

    First, Doug Berman recently pointed out "this new report" coming from the New York Civil Liberties Union titled "Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York's Prisons." This NYCLU webpage, from which the report can be downloaded, provide a summary of its scope and contents."

    Meanwhile, the national ACLU has produced a new report on solitary confinement in the juvenile system titled "Growing up locked down: Youth in solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the United States."

    See a good write-up from Human Rights Watch and coverage from ABC News titled, "Rights groups: Ban solitary confinement of youths."

    As always, James Ridgeway's Solitary Watch is the go-to blog source on these topics, and since his name came up, I'd also recommend Ridgeway's recent essay in Mother Jones, "The other death penalty: Aging and dying in prison.?" You can read the full article here, and view an accompanying photo essay by Tim Gruber, shot inside a Kentucky prison’s nursing unit, here.

    Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

    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.


    SEPTEMBER 05, 2012

    On the perils of reentry following solitary confinement and possible solutions

    In FY 2011, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee was told yesterday, 878 individuals who'd been locked up in administrative segregation (commonly referred to as "ad seg," which is Texas' version of solitary confinement) were released directly to the streets without parole supervision of any type after finishing out their full sentence. Most of these individuals left with $100 in their pocket and a bus voucher - usually to their county of conviction - without so much as a photo ID to help them begin the long, difficult path to reintegration into their home communities. Indeed, for mentally ill inmates in ad seg released after serving their full sentence, there is no continuity of care program to ensure they'll continue to receive medication once they're back in the free world. (Such a program exists for inmates released receiving HIV medications, but not for the mentally ill.)

    Another 469 individuals during FY 2011 were paroled directly from ad-seg, Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) executive director Brad Livingston told the committee. As was pointed out in Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's written testimony, "Inmates on parole have the advantage of being able to participate in a District Reentry Center, which generally offers more robust programming and resources during the transition into the community." The greater number, though, who are released directly from ad seg, leave prison completely unsupervised.

    All told, around 8,100 Texas prison inmates are presently locked up in solitary confinement, down from 9,500 in 1996, said Livingston. According to testimony from Travis Leete of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), "2,060 individuals in administrative segregation were identified with a serious mental health or mental retardation diagnosis in 2011. This is an increase from 1,960 in 2010." Sen. Whitmire said in his opinion TDCJ built "too many" ad seg units during the 1990s prison expansion.

    Nationwide, "The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates that the number of people in restricted housing settings increased from 57,591 in 1995 to 81,622 in 2005," according to Leete's written testimony for TCJC. In Texas, those in ad seg are locked up in a 6'x9' room for 23 hours per day (Whitmire said they're "being held essentially in a closet") and let out for one hour per day for recreation, though even then they're by kept themselves in small, fenced in areas away from the general population.

    Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman had the only substantive MSM report from the hearing ("Senators push for rehab programs for the state's most violent prisoners," Sept. 5) which conveyed Chairman Whitmire's disgust at the idea that inmates who were deemed to dangerous to be in the general prison population were being released directly to the streets:

    Livingston and Rick Thaler, the agency's assistant director over prisons, said the toughest convicts are the hardest to safely provide programs for. They cannot be included in regular treatment and rehabilitation programs offered to the state's other imprisoned felons "because we can't endanger the offenders in general population," Thaler said.

    "But you can let them discharge onto the street when they finish their sentence, straight from spending every day for 15 years locked up alone in a small cell?" Whitmire asked. "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?"

    Other states offer a variety of programs for felons in administrative segregation, especially for those who are due for release within a year. Several senators questioned whether Texas should consider modifying its isolation policy.

    To Grits, the notion that TDCJ is releasing so many people from ad seg to the streets without giving them the opportunity to go through the gang renunciation program seems especially troubling. Regular readers will recall that Texas prison gangs are responsible for an extraordinary amount of north-to-south "spillover violence" along the Texas-Mexico border, with groups like Barrio Azteca serving as soldiers and hit men for Mexican drug cartels. Death totals attributed to Texas prison gangs in Mexican border towns run into the thousands.

    So to me, encouraging gang renunciation while in prison - right down to providing tattoo removal services and intensive monitoring during reentry - is of critical, immediate importance, particularly as it relates to reducing violence along the border. To learn that many gang members are released while still on the GRAD waiting list - many of them without even being supervised on parole - was particularly discouraging.

    Sen. Joan Huffman asked Brad Livingston if offenders "earn their way into ad seg" and he answered, "for the most part, yes," but it became clear during questioning, as Chairman Whitmire later noted, that a large number of inmates are placed in solitary due solely to TDCJ's classification judgments as opposed to misbehavior once incarcerated.

    There are two ways offenders get into ad seg, Livingston told the committee: Being identified as a member of a "security threat group" (read: "prison gang") or misbehavior, especially violence against staff or other inmates, while locked up. Of those, about 60% are in ad seg because they're members of a security threat group, with the other 40% in ad seg because of their behavior. Those in prison gangs are identified by tattoos, past associations, or their inclusion in the statewide prison and street gang database and may be placed into ad seg from the get-go, sometimes serving their entire sentence start to finish in solitary. Others are identified through gang associations established at their unit, or put there because they're determined to be a threat to prison staff and/or other inmates. According to data provided by TCJC, "about one-third of the individuals currently in administrative segregation in Texas were originally incarcerated for nonviolent offenses." Some of those result from misbehavior once inside, but many are there because of alleged gang affiliations.

    There is a program for gang members to theoretically earn their way off of ad seg called the Gang Renunciation and Disassociation (GRAD) program, but there is a significant waiting list (officials couldn't tell the committee how long it is) and the program's current capacity is only 61 inmates. To enter the program, the inmate must go through a 12-month observation period (until recently it was 24 months) during which it's supposedly determined if the offender has ceased gang-related activity.

    Chairman Whitmire suggested many experts would say such an assessment needn't take even 12 months and asked what I thought was a very good question: Given that ad seg inmates are afforded no human contact except with guards, how can they possibly demonstrate gang renunciation? "What evidence are you looking for?" he asked. The answer was basically monitoring inmate correspondence, in-cell behavior, and assessing their interaction with guards who feed them and take them to their (otherwise solitary) one-hour recreation sessions. That seems like a sparse dataset indeed for making such a judgment.

    That said, there has been some, minor movement toward improving ad-seg corrections policy. This July, TDCJ began to offer programming (mostly via in-cell video) to 67 ad seg inmates in the Estelle unit, and the agency hopes to expand the program going forward, said Livingston. Sen. Huffman asked if the goal was eventually to provide programming for everyone in ad seg, but Livingston hemmed and hawed, saying it might be a long-term goal but wasn't immediately something they were working toward.

    Vikrant Reddy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told the committee about a program in Mississippi launched in 2003 which he said successfully reduced that state's number of prisoners in ad seg from 1,000 to around 150 today, which seems like a remarkable achievement, and saved more than $5 million annually.

    Searching around for more detail on that effort, I ran across this academic paper (pdf) describing the process. Mississippi adjusted its front-end classification system regarding who is placed in ad seg, began holding regular group treatment sessions with four ad-seg offenders each, and created a "step-down unit" where ad seg prisoners go for an average of 3-6 months before being reintegrated into the general population. Prisoners "are considered ready for discharge from the program when their treatment plans have been accomplished and their conditions have become stable. After being discharged, a prisoner may be readmitted [to ad seg] if he experiences a relapse."

    Notably, reducing the number of ad seg prisoners by 85% not only didn't increase prison violence, in fact, "the number of incidents requiring use of force plummeted (e.g., spraying a prisoner with immobilizing gas or taking down a recalcitrant prisoner). Monthly statistics showed an almost 70% drop in serious incidents, both prisoner-on-staff and prisoner-on-prisoner." That's a remarkable achievement, both from a policy and a political perspective. If Mississippi can accomplish that - and they're as red as red states come - one imagines Texas could safely reduce its ad-seg population as well. Presently, about 1% of Mississippi prisoners are in ad seg units, compared to more than 5% in Texas.

    According to recent testimony before Congress from the Vera Institute of Justice, Ohio reduced its ad seg population using similar methods to Mississippi. Their number of ad seg prisoners "went from 800 to 90" as a result of Buckeye-state reforms. The difference between ad seg in Texas compared with Mississippi and Ohio is mainly one of scale. But if they can reduce their ad seg populations so dramatically, Grits sees no good reason why Texas couldn't pull it off.

    For more background on the effects of ad seg when offenders re-enter society, see a report published in August by the American Friends Service Committee titled "Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Reentry" (pdf). And as always, the blog Solitary Watch remains a go-to source on all things ad seg.

    MORE: A reader alerts me to a recent, related NY Times column from philosopher Lisa Guenther titled, "The Living Death of Solitary Confinement." AND MORE: See coverage of the hearing from the Texas Tribune.


    Solitary confinement reform needed

    Editorial Board
    Published: Sept. 5, 2012

    Texas prison officials call it "administrative segregation." You know it as solitary confinement.

    The state has implemented innovative treatment and rehabilitation programs in recent years, and some of those programs have served as a model for criminal justice reforms in other states.

    But when it comes to keeping inmates in indefinite isolation, Texas remains stuck in a get-tough past.

    According to state figures, 8,144 inmates are isolated from the general prison population.

    The good news is, this number is a decrease from the 8,701 inmates held in solitary in 2010, which itself was a decrease from the 9,752 inmates held in isolation in 2005. Texas is at least moving in the right direction when it comes to numbers of inmates in solitary confinement.

    Yet, for all those administratively segregated inmates, the state offers precious few programs to help them prepare for life outside prison. As the American-Statesman's Mike Ward reported in Wednesday's editions, last year 878 convicts were released straight from solitary confinement to the streets.

    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.

    Managing a prison population is no easy task — an understatement, we realize — and the safety of guards, counselors and other inmates must be a priority.

    But solitary confinement is often psychologically damaging. It can make violent criminals more violent, more anti-social.

    Inmates in isolation suffer symptoms ranging from an inability to concentrate to depression to hallucinations. To prison psychiatrists, these are symptoms of SHU syndrome, the SHU standing for Security Housing Units.

    As a result, some states are changing their solitary confinement policies. One potential model of reform comes from one of the least expected places — Mississippi.

    As The New York Times reported in March, Mississippi began changing its treatment of prisoners in solitary following a 2007 outbreak of violence in one of its maximum security units. Rather than cracking down on the violence, state officials began looking for new ways to approach the problems they were having in their isolation units.

    A few years later, the main lesson learned appears to be this: "If you treat people like animals, that's exactly the way they'll behave," Christopher Epps, Mississippi's commissioner of corrections, told The Times.

    Mississippi officials began letting segregated inmates spend more hours outside their cells.

    They allowed some group interaction, and they gave inmates in solitary privileges as certain behavioral goals were met.

    Violence dropped and the number of prisoners kept in isolation went down 70 percent.

    The state was able to close one maximum security unit. Millions of dollars have been saved.

    Mississippi's reforms are worth study and consideration. Letting inmates fester in isolation — with no expectations but to sit and rot — benefits no one.

    Texas prisoners up for release need treatment and educational programs to help them make the transition from life in prison to life outside. After all, reform is a matter of public safety.

    Solitary confinement reform needed

    Lawmakers Revisit Approach to Solitary Confinement

    • By Maurice Chammah
    • September 5, 2012

    Solitary confinement has been referred to by many names, including "special housing units," "lockdown" and "the hole." In Texas, it's called "administrative segregation," and prison administrators reserve it for inmates considered particularly dangerous, including those affiliated with a prison gang.

    While solitary confinement in prisons is rising as a national issue because of concerns about its psychological effect on individual inmates, Texas lawmakers are worried in particular that inmates are released with no transition between solitary confinement and the free world.

    "The longer you leave someone in there without rehabilitation, there is a possibility they will come out more dangerous,” Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Tuesday at a committee hearing.

    Though the U.S. still leads the world in its rate of solitary confinement, Texas has seen a slight decline in its number of inmates held in administrative segregation. There are 8,144 inmates (including roughly 80 women) under the classification in Texas, down from 8,701 in 2010 and 9,752 in 2005. The average stay in administrative segregation is 3.2 years, but some inmates have been there for more than two decades.

    Solitary confinement gained traction nationally in the 1980s, when the federal prison system turned increasingly toward “supermax” prisons in response to the growth of prison gangs. Texas followed, placing inmates deemed members of “security threat groups” into cells for 23 hours a day, letting them out only for recreation and showers.

    According to Jason Clark of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, gang members werethreatening the families of guards if they didn't let drugs into the prison, and strict custody was needed to keep these inmates from communicating with gang members outside the prison. Administrative segregation cells are located in 22 of Texas' more than 100 state prisons.

    Meanwhile, the psychological impact of such conditions continues to become a national issue, and Texas advocates aren't ignoring it. Travis Lee of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition discussed a letter from an inmate who had been in administrative segregation for 18 years. “I have difficulty concentrating while reading and talking and I forget what I was trying to say mid-sentence,” the inmate wrote. “I’ve watched sane men slowly go insane, become a person I’ve never seen before. They lose their ability to rationalize.”

    “This gives you a picture of the conditions people are being removed straight from,” Lee said, “and placed straight into the community.”

    “We're taking people we're mad at and making them into people we're scared of,” says Matt Simpson, a policy strategist with the Texas ACLU. “I think what we need is a better classification system." He says Texas should look to Mississippi, which over the last nine years has drasticallydecreased its population in solitary confinement through graduated incentives, anger management programs and more recreation.

    “I ain’t worried about their comfort level, to be honest,” Whitmire said at Tuesday’s hearing. He is concerned about the release and re-entry of inmates held in these conditions, which mostly do not allow for educational or rehabilitative programs. “Is there something we could be doing with this population,” he asked, “to see if we can make an imprint, a change in their behavior?"

    According to Brad Livingston, the executive director of TDCJ, his department is looking at educational programs for inmates in administrative segregation. At the Estelle Unit near Huntsville, officials have placed television monitors in some of their cells for educational viewing, as part of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative Program. Livingston says there are plans to expand the program if all goes well.

    "I'm looking out for public safety that they're not in Ad Seg their whole sentence and then they come back to the streets,” Livingston said. This year, 878 inmates have finished their sentence and were released directly from administrative segregation.

    According to Livingston, TDCJ is looking to expand opportunities for inmates to get out of administrative segregation by renouncing their gang affiliations. He estimates that 60 percent of inmates have ended up in this classification due to their membership in a gang, and that with more resources these inmates can get back into the general population. "It's not in our interest to have inmates in administrative segregation that could be housed in general population," he said.

    Whitmire recommended a working group be convened to study the best way to rehabilitate these inmates. “Removing people from that, and not providing them with resources or some assistance, is obviously detrimental to public safety,” he said.

    Lawmakers Revisit Approach to Solitary Confinement

    Solitary Confinement Hurts More Than It Helps

    John Elford,
    Local Contributor
    Published: July 13, 2012

    Imagine life in a 50-square-foot room. A bed, a small table and a toilet are your companions. The lights are on all day and all night.

    The noise of huge metal doors banging open and shut and the boom of voices cascading off the metal walls is nonstop.

    You receive your food through a slot in the door.

    Your one window to the outside is opaque. You have one hour outside, time spent without meaningful human contact.

    This is life for thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement in the American prison system.

    Last month, with a group from Texas Impact, I visited the Hughes Unit, a maximum security prison, one of five prisons in Gainesville run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institutions Division. We spent the day touring the prison facility with Warden Edward Smith and heard about all of the programs available for inmates.

    But the image of that small room, the huge doors and the men who languish there stayed with me.

    At the first congressional hearing on solitary confinement last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced that the United States "holds far more prisoners in segregation or solitary confinement than any other democratic nation on Earth."

    The Senate hearing in Washington included testimony from Anthony Graves, wrongly imprisoned for 18 years in Texas (10 years of which he spent in solitary confinement).

    His conviction was overturned, and he was completely exonerated in 2010.

    Many were moved to tears as he described the lasting impact of isolation on himself and fellow inmates.

    "I will have to live with these vivid memories for the rest of my life. I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and, in three years, they don't live in the real world anymore. I know a guy who would sit in the middle of his floor, rip his sheet up, wrap it around himself and light it on fire."

    He concluded that "by its design, (solitary confinement) is driving men insane."

    Proponents of solitary confinement argue that it's a necessary evil.

    If inmates are already in prison, what else can we do when they misbehave but restrict them to even smaller, more isolated detention?

    Prison safety and disciplinary enforcement are typically touted as prime reasons for the use of solitary confinement. One would think, then, that segregating violent prisoners would lower prison violence.

    Not so. As demonstrated by a growing number of states, there are safe alternatives to the use of prolonged solitary confinement.

    Mississippi safely reduced its solitary confinement population by more than 75 percent by critically evaluating and reforming the policies determining how prisoners are classified for placement in isolation.

    Institutional safety was not jeopardized as a result; in fact, it improved. Violence fell by 50 percent, explained Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps in his testimony before the Senate hearing in June.

    "Here we are four years later, it's still working," Epps said.

    The millions of dollars in savings that have resulted from Mississippi's reforms are icing on the cake.

    As a United Methodist pastor, I find the moral price tag of solitary confinement too high to pay.

    Prisoners in prolonged isolation typically suffer from sleep disturbances, compulsive cleaning and pacing, paranoid ideas and free-floating anxiety.

    Those with pre-existing mental illness, which in some facilities is nearly half the population, frequently have psychological breakdowns, self-mutilate or attempt suicide.

    I am encouraged that people of faith are speaking out against this cruel practice. In fact, the day before the Senate hearing, hundreds of people of faith joined a 23-hour fast organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

    Here in Texas, the Sunset Advisory Commission's review of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the State Senate Committee on Criminal Justice's interim charge to study solitary confinement are prime opportunities for all of us to make our voices heard on the overuse of solitary confinement and to advocate for alternatives, like those that have been successfully used in Mississippi and Maine.

    The Rev. Elford is the senior pastor at Austin's University United Methodist Church;

    Solitary Confinement Hurts More Than It Helps

    Senators Start a Review of Solitary Confinement

    Published: June 19, 2012

    WASHINGTON — Solitary confinement “is inhumane and by its design it is driving men insane,” a former inmate who spent 18 years in prison in Texas, a decade of that time in isolation on death row before being exonerated, told a Senate panel in a hearing on Tuesday.

    “I lived behind a steel door that had two small slits in it, the space replaced with iron and wire, which was dirty and filthy,” said Anthony Graves, whose conviction for involvement in multiple murders was overturned in 2006. “I had no television, no telephone and most importantly, I had no physical contact with another human being.”

    The hearing, held before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, represents the first time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have taken up the issue of solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment that many human rights advocates believe violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” and that has drawn increasing scrutiny in recent months in the United States and internationally.

    The practice, which is widespread in American prisons, has also been the target of a growing number of lawsuits, including a class-action suit filed on Monday on behalf of mentally ill inmates held in solitary at ADX, the federal super-maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.

    Last month, civil rights lawyers representing prisoners held for more than 10 years in isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison in California filed suit in federal court, arguing that solitary confinement is unconstitutional.

    Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant majority leader, began the hearing — which he said had the support of both Democratic and Republican committee members — by noting that more prisoners are held in isolation in the United States than in any other democracy and that about half of all prison suicides occur among inmates in solitary confinement.

    “We can have a just society, and we can be humane in the process,” Mr. Durbin said. “We can punish wrongdoers, and they should be punished under our system of justice, but we don’t have to cross that line.” He said he was working on legislation to encourage changes in the way solitary confinement is used.

    With more than 250 people packed into two rooms, the hearing was “one of the best attended of the year,” Mr. Durbin said, an indication “of the fact that the time is due for us to have this conversation about where we’re going.”

    Jonathan Ernst for The New York Times
    Charles E. Samuels Jr., far right, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday
    that included a replica of a solitary confinement cell, rear.

    Over the course of two hours, the senators heard testimony about the effects of solitary confinement and the steps taken in Mississippi and several other states to reduce the number of prisoners kept in isolation.

    But the hearing also included a testy exchange between Mr. Durbin and Charles E. Samuels Jr., director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who defended the use of solitary confinement for inmates who pose a threat to the safety of staff members or other inmates.

    “Do you believe you could live in a box like that 23 hours a day, a person who goes in normal, and it wouldn’t have any negative impact on you?” Mr. Durbin asked, pointing to a life-size replica of a solitary confinement cell that had been set up in the hearing room.

    “Our objective is always to have the individual to freely be in the general population,” Mr. Samuels responded.

    “I’m trying to zero in on a specific question,” Mr. Durbin said, adding, “Do you believe, based on your life experience in this business, that that is going to have a negative impact on an individual?”

    “I would say I don’t believe it is the preferred option,” Mr. Samuels conceded, “and that there would be some concerns with prolonged confinement.”

    Mr. Samuels said that of the 218,000 prisoners the bureau is responsible for, only 7 percent are kept in isolation cells. The ADX supermax — where many inmates spend 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells and are denied visitors and other privileges — houses only 490 prisoners, or 0.2 percent of the total population, he said.

    A version of this article appeared in print on June 20, 2012, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Senators Start a Review Of Solitary Confinement.

    Senators Start a Review of Solitary Confinement


    The Abuse of Solitary Confinement

    Published: June 20, 2012

    Solitary confinement in this country has devolved from a short-term punishment imposed infrequently for violating prison rules into a routine form of prison management. Today, tens of thousands of local, state and federal prisoners are held in prolonged abusive isolation — in tiny, windowless cells for up to 23 hours a day.

    On Tuesday, a Senate judiciary subcommittee met to consider the many costs of this practice — the first time that Congress has even acknowledged the problem.

    More than 80,000 of the nation’s 2.3 million prisoners are held in isolation, noted the subcommittee’s chairman, Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois. While defenders claim that solitary confinement is needed to control the most violent prisoners, prolonged isolation is known to induce suffering and mental illness. About half of prison suicides take place in isolation units.

    A 2006 study of prison safety and abuse led by a former federal court of appeals judge, John Gibbons, and a former attorney general, the late Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, raised concerns about higher recidivism rates when prisoners are released directly from solitary to the community. High rates of security segregation can actually increase incidents of violence.

    Some of the most moving testimony at the hearing came from Anthony Graves, who was wrongly convicted of murder and served a decade of his 18 years in incarceration in brutal solitary confinement in Texas before his exoneration and release from prison in 2010. He described the agony of living in the “worst conditions imaginable” and the continued psychological toll.

    The committee also heard from Christopher Epps, who is the commissioner of the Department of Corrections in Mississippi, one of a growing number of states that have reduced prison violence and reaped millions in budgetary savings by steeply cutting back on solitary confinement. Discouragingly, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons,Charles Samuels Jr., expressed scant interest in pursuing similar reforms even though 15,000 federal prisoners — 7 percent of the total population — are currently serving time in solitary. That compares with just 1.4 percent in Mississippi, a state hardly known for being soft on crime.

    Senator Durbin says he is working on legislation that would require greater transparency about state and federal use of solitary confinement and looking at ways to remove barriers that make it nearly impossible for inmates held in solitary to protect their rights in court. The first step, though, should be clear standards minimizing the use of this form of punishment, including an immediate, strictly enforced bar on holding children and mentally ill inmates in severe conditions of isolation.

    APRIL 05, 2012

    Hogg Foundation Funds Advocacy On Solitary Confinement

    The Austin-based Hogg Foundation for Mental Health recently announced several grant awards, including one to Texas Impact for advocacy work on solitary confinement:

    Solitary Confinement, $130,350: (also called administrative segregation) has gained attention in recent years as a serious mental health concern in the criminal justice system.

    According to Texas Impact, an interfaith public policy network, more than 8,800 Texans were in solitary confinement in 2010.

    The organization will educate faith leaders, faith communities and policy makers about this issue and lead efforts to advocate for changes in state policies.

    Good, it's needed. As always, those interested in ad-seg issues should follow Jim Rideway's Solitary Watch.


    Baddest of the bad' lead solitary lives
    'Baddest of the bad' in Texas prisons lead solitary lives.

    By Dane Schiller
    August 14, 2011

    MIDWAY — 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.

    Lock down. Isolation. Administrative segregation.

    Spread among 22 prisons, Texas has among the most inmates in so-called “ad-seg” of any state.

    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 in cages of about nine by seven 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 Anastacio Garcia, 38, a robber from the Rio Grande Valley who has been in isolation at this prison 35 miles east of Huntsville 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.

    The American Civil Liberties Union and others contend ad-seg is cruel and makes inmates meaner and more dysfunctional by the time they are freed, if they are freed.

    Citing its ineffectiveness as well as cost concerns, Mississippi and Maine have scaled back its use. In California, thousands of inmates recently launched a hunger strike in protest.

    In Texas, members of eight prison gangs, categorized as Security Threat Groups, automatically go straight into isolation regardless of the crime they committed.

    Those include “confirmed” members of the Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood and others. Their only way out: Renounce gang affiliations, which they rarely do out of loyalty or fear of retribution.

    “When I first walked down that run, I seen it was dark and said, ‘What the hell did I put myself into?' ” said inmate Mike Mendoza, serving life for a Baytown murder. “All I did was walk forward. My heart was beating fast. I said, ‘This is for real.'”

    Ad-seg cells are rarely seen by outsiders, but inmates have access to ministers, counselors and medical and mental health specialists.

    Guards sometimes carry shields to protect themselves from being stabbed with home-made spears or pelted with excrement, urine or rotten food — rancid homemade cocktails used for attacks known as “chunking.”

    “Do not have sympathy for these men,” said a retired TDCJ guard who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The former guard noted they are served three meals a day, have medical care, and better lives than law-abiding people who end up living under bridges.

    When inmates are taken out of their cells and walked to showers or recreation (a one-man cage), they are handcuffed. For their part, Texas prison officials contend ad-seg keeps the most dangerous inmates under control.

    If placed in the general population, they will be asked by their gangs to follow orders and even kill.

    Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said gangs, for example, have threatened to harm guards' families if they don't let drugs or other contraband into the prison.

    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.”

    Read more: HERE



    Are Prisons-Segregated/Isolation creating more dangerous, more violent, more mentally ill prisoners and then releasing them straight back onto the streets?

    There is a `People' society fears most and everyday thousands more take the bus ride to become members of the `Behind the bars' populace.

    Thirty years ago America launched a policy and set about to get `tough on a crime' with mandatory sentencing and mass incarceration. It is now drowning in the effects.

    The United States has more people behind bars than any other country on the planet. While 1 out of every 142 Americans is now actually in prison, 1 out of every 32 of us is either in prison or on parole from prison, according to yet another report on Americans behaving badly from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    This means that 6.7 million adult men and women -- about 3.1 percent of the total U.S. adult population -- are now very non-voluntary members of America's "correctional community."

    The United States has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's inmates.

    It is an entire nation behind bars; a prison nation that is faced with crisis.

    Filled beyond capacity overflowing with drugs, mental illness and perdition, struggling with too many repeat offenders and too few programs to turn them around.

    Are prisons making us on the outside safer or are they just turning out even more trouble? 2.5 million Americans are behind bars. Over half of them are young men between the ages of 18 to 35. The criminal justice system has become expert at incarcerating violent and non-violent offenders especially together.

    So now after 30 years of mandatory sentencing and three strikes laws; the state pens are bursting at the seams. America's population behind bars has gone up 1000% in the last three decades. Over half of state prisons are filled beyond capacity. California is one of the most overcrowded States. Prisons at 200% capacity.

    Texas is in the top 5 nationwide.

    The most effective way to turn a non violent person into a violent one is to send them to prison. In most prisons you have to be violent to survive. But also you are treated with violence and abuse. And if it is tolerated it will change non violent offenders into violent offenders defending themselves or retaliation.

    Thousands and thousands of people have been locked up for low level drug offences. 35% of prisoners are drug addicts; 80% of prisoners overall are drug and alcohol users. The reason the percentages have gone up is the 30 years is mandatory sentencing for low level drug users.

    With Prison double and triple capacity breeds violence; it is a world divided on ethnic and racial lines. Encouraged and perpetuated by staff. With 1 guard for every 200 prisoners the racial tension is a form of control. You almost have to stand with your own as there is protection in numbers and faced with violent predators to stand alone.

    The official count is 1600 gangs in prisons across America. An estimated 25% of all inmates are in gangs.

    As much as prisons themselves have grown, the use of segregation within those prisons has grown at an even greater level. It's a much more frequent use now within prisons then its ever been. For many correction authorities Segregation is a critical tool to control racial groups and gang violence but even the administration cannot ignore that as with the cause and effects of the 30 years of mandatory minimum sentences, the locking up a vast majority of offenders in Segregation ( approx. 188,000 nationwide ) experts see long term problems after its been used more and more widely and especially as States are favoring longer and longer stints of isolation where prisoners have little or no contact with others. That kind of segregation, that kind of isolation is torture.

    Intensive segregation from humans essentially all human interaction, makes people go crazy. Angry, paranoid and acting out it makes people who are already mentally ill even crazier. Still society has to cope with the most violent offenders and disruptive inmates. To do so 40 states have built Supermax Prisons. Perfectly normal and healthy people when subjected to conditions of complete isolation of ordinary sensory simulation and social relations will start experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Their mental health after Segregation is generally not good. They become more violent and it increases our security risk when they are returned back to their communities. We've seen some terrible examples: Inmate gets out of isolation/Security Housing Units/Administrative Segregation to the streets on his way home killed a Santa Rosa sheriff. Someone that has been in isolation lockdown for over 5 years and stays there until the end of their sentence is not a person you would want to meet riding next to you on a bus when he gets to come home.

    Are Prisons-Segregated/isolation creating more dangerous, more violent, more mentally ill prisoners and then releasing them straight back onto the streets.

    That's the threat that worries wardens most of all. People think of Control Units (Security Housing/Administrative Segregation) prisons as housing the most dangerous, violent and unsafe but rarely consider the mentally ill it houses or long term isolation (Administrative Segregation) that is creating more mentally ill.

    In fact our prisons have become a breeding ground for mentally ill. If our goal had been to try and create the conditions that would most increase the levels of rage, crime and violence we couldn't have hardly come up with a better method. Some people need to be there as punishment but not for 2,5,7,10, 20+ years.

    A rising suicide rate is linked to increasing use of solitary confinement.

    Nearly 70% of inmate suicides are in isolation. Prisons wrestle with how much Segregation is necessary. Whether it is cool effectiveness or whether it just creates more dangerous inmates in the long run.

    Thousands will be released from long term and extreme isolation/segregation right back onto the streets.

    Many experts believe that this is a serious threat to public safety, a danger to community and the outside world. Programs for violent offenders have varying degrees of success. But there are successes. Experts agree that over the long haul the more training inmates are given, counseling and programs they enter, the more chances they have to give up crime. One program That's cited is education especially higher education. We know from research that the more education you have when you leave prison the better off you'll be to acclimate back into society especially if you can manage any kind of college degree.

    There's almost no college in prison. People don't want their tax dollars to educate prisoners. Why would they want to educate prisoners? Because they'd be safer.

    Only 12 Prisons out of 5500 Nationwide offer higher Education Programs.

    With approximately 700000 released from prison a year more than 2/3rds end up back in prison in 3 years or less.

    34% of drug users return to state prison within a year. No job training, no skills few prospects we know that the revolving door of justice is just revolving faster and faster in the US.

    The indefinite isolation segregation prison is creating a madness that is hazardous to the offenders and to societies health.

    We need to give them the ability to rehabilitate.

    We serve ourselves so much better by preparing them for the world because by warehousing isolation segregation prisoners everyone comes out of prison angrier than when they went in, and we and them, are worse off then when they went in. When kept in isolation endlessly then they are going to commit violence. Why wouldn't they; they have been psychologically trained. They are very angry. Very scared of outside world and most importantly they are very stigmatized. Which means they are much more likely to commit violence and serious crimes.

    If public safety is at risk its because offenders are returned to the streets with no: plan education counseling support housing money job family or prospects.

    We as voters and as the public we have been manipulated by politicians with "tough on crime" and "war on drugs" slogans and rhetoric. To the point of mindless support when in 30 years we can see the effects.

    Low level offenders housed with violent offenders or warehoused in torturous maddening isolation as Security Threat Group affiliates, are producing more violent criminals and a higher victim ratio society.

    -References of Research-


    * Dr .Joan Petersilia - Criminologist UC Irvine, Former RAND corporate fellow and director of criminal justice at RAND She has directed major studies in policing, sentencing, career criminals, juvenile justice, corrections, and racial discrimination. She also has expertise in policy analysis, program evaluation, cost/benefit analysis, and statistical analyses.

    * Professor Michael Jacobson Former NYC Probation and Corrections Commissioner New York Dept. of Corrections

    * Dr. Stuart Grassian

    Board Certified Psychiatrist; faculty of the Harvard Medical School since 1974. very substantial experience in evaluating the psychiatric effects of solitary confined, and have been retained in class action suits concerning this issue in the states of Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, and California, and have also evaluated and testified regarding the effects of such conditions in other lawsuits in Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia, and Florida.

    * Prison Nation: Warehousing of America's Poor by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright Editorial reviews

    * Locked up Prison Nation Documentary-National Geographic Society

    * New York Times March 2008 Editorial "Prison Nation"

    * The Huffington Post April 2009 "Prison Nation"

    Solitary Confinement Poses A Danger To Everyone

    By Terry A. Kupers and David Moltz

    The Maine Legislature is considering a bill to require constitutional safeguards when prisoners are relegated to solitary confinement — Maine’s segregation unit certainly qualifies as solitary confinement — and to preclude solitary confinement for prisoners suffering from serious mental illness.

    It is groundbreaking legislation and goes a long way to correct a historic wrong turn in corrections.

    Back in the 1980s, explosive growth of the prison population combined with the closure — deinstitutionalizat ion — of public mental hospitals resulted in massive overcrowding in the prisons and a large proportion of prisoners suffering from serious mental illness. Prison rehabilitation programs had also been drastically cut back.

    There was good research showing that crowding and idleness result in sharp rises in the rates of violence, psychiatric breakdown and suicide in prisons.

    But instead of alleviating the crowding, re-instituting rehabilitation and finding somewhere that individuals suffering from mental illness could receive needed treatment, authorities took a wrong turn and reacted to the rising violence by locking down prisoners they castigated as “the worst of the worst” in their solitary cells. Recent research suggests that this kind of isolation fails to reduce violence in the prisons.

    But there are some harmful effects.

    In solitary confinement, the prisoner is isolated from others in a cell nearly 24 hours per day. In Maine, the cell doors are solid metal, so the prisoner has to shout merely to be heard by staff or residents of adjacent cells.

    The prisoner eats meals alone in his cell and remains almost entirely idle with no programs to permit him to increase socially desirable skills. This is not “the hole” of yesteryear. Lights are on around the clock and the doors open by remote control.

    The isolation and idleness are near total. Staff pass by the cells and slide food trays through slots in the door, but meaningful communication rarely occurs.

    In the course of work as a forensic psychiatrist, one of us, Dr. Kupers, has interviewed many hundred prisoners around the country in this type of solitary confinement. It is stunning how pervasive a known set of serious symptoms in this population are, including massive free-floating anxiety, incessant cleaning or pacing in the cell, paranoid ideas, sleep disturbances, problems concentrating and remembering — many prisoners said they have given up reading altogether because they cannot remember what they read a few pages back — and mounting anger, along with fear the anger will get out of control and they will get into further trouble.

    The isolation and idleness that cause psychiatric symptoms in relatively healthy prisoners cause psychotic breakdowns, severe affective disorders and suicide crises in prisoners with histories of serious mental illness.

    Stunningly, one half of successful prison suicides today occur among the 3 percent to 10 percent of prisoners in solitary confinement at any time.

    The historic wrong turn of ‘80s penology must be remedied with a reduction of prison crowding (sentencing reform is critical here), enhanced rehabilitation programs to help prisoners succeed at going straight after they are released and an end to long-term solitary confinement. But meanwhile, the pending legislation in Maine begins the process of ending inhumane and psychiatrically devastating prison conditions.

    Terry A. Kupers is a professor at The Wright Institute, author of “Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It,” and a nationally recognized psychiatric expert on the mental health effects of prison conditions. David Moltz is a psychiatrist practicing in Brunswick. He is former chair of the Committee on Persons With Mental Illness Behind Bars of the American Association of Community Psychiatrists.

    Solitary confinement poses a danger to everyone


    Locking Down the Mentally Ill

    By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
    February 17th, 2010

    Solitary Confinement Cells Have Become America’s New Asylums

    “If you want to know where they are all being kept,” said Todd Winstrom, “they’re down in the hole.”

    Winstrom, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, was talking about what happens to mentally ill offenders when they enter his state’s prison system. Without treatment options—and without anyplace else to put them—these prisoners quickly end up in solitary confinement, where they may remain for months or years.

    Since solitary confinement has been shown to cause severe psychological trauma in prisoners without underlying psychiatric conditions, it would be difficult to imagine a more damaging place to incarcerate the mentally ill.

    Winstrom was quoted by Jessica VanEgeren of Madison’s Capital Times as part of her June 10, 2009 investigative report on mentally ill inmates in Wisconsin correctional institutions. VanEgeren, who led a breakout session on “Treatment of Mentally Ill Offenders” at this month’s 5th annual H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, described a destructive cycle in which these prisoners—untreated, unmedicated, and sometimes undiagnosed—were placed in “segregation” and left isolated in their cells for 23 hours a day.

    At three prisons involved in a recent state audit, she reported, between 55 percent and 76 percent of the inmates in segregation were mentally ill.

    Wisconsin is far from alone in these practices. While there are no national statistics to indicate how many mentally ill prisoners end up in lockdown, a 2003 report from Human Rights Watch, based on available data from states around the country, found one-third to one-half of prisoners held in what are usually called “secure housing units” (SHUs) and “special management units” (SMUs) were mentally ill.

    The report concluded that “persons with mental illness often have difficulty complying with strict prison rules, particularly when there is scant assistance to help them manage their disorders….eventually accumulating substantial histories of disciplinary infractions, they land for prolonged periods in disciplinary or administrative segregation.”

    The “Worst of the Worst”

    Investigative reporting has been key in exposing the treatment of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement in several state prison systems. Last year, a series of articles by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer in the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat documented the treatment of mentally ill inmates at Illinois’s Tamms supermax prison.

    At Tamms, prisoners deemed “the worst of the worst” are kept in virtually permanent lockdown, in conditions that “some critics say amounts to torture worse than that experienced by suspected terrorists at the U.S. military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.”

    The News-Democrat chronicles the story of Faygie Fields, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who was in and out of Chicago mental hospitals before he, like so many others, made the short leap from asylum to prison. In prison for murder since 1984, Fields exhibited behavior typical of many inmates with untreated or undertreated mental illness: He was unruly and sometimes violent with guards, and he threw food, urine, and anything else he could get his hands on. When Tamms opened in 1998, Fields became one of its original residents.

    After he had been “held alone and often naked in a segregation cell for nearly six years,” the paper reported, two psychiatrists brought into the prison examined Fields and his medical records and diagnosed him as a schizophrenic in urgent need of treatment. Fields’ schizophrenia diagnosis had been dismissed by two Department of Corrections psychiatrists and Tamms’ supervising psychologist, who thought he was faking his behavior. The latter testified, in a court case on prison conditions, that his self-mutilation was part of something prisoners did to “compete with each other to see who can cut because it’s fun.”

    Faygie Fields was eventually moved to a mental health unit at Tamms, where he receives treatment but still lives in solitary. The 30 years added to his original sentence for offenses committed in prison mean that he will likely die there.

    Pawalczyk and Hundsdorfer’s reporting helped fuel hearings on Tamms by the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, as well as a “ten-point plan” for reforms at the prison, released by the Illinois Department of Corrections in September 2009. (Critics say that while the plan does call for certain improvements, it does not address many of the abuses at Tamms, particularly those concerning treatment of the mentally ill.)

    Media coverage of the issue has been influential in other instances, as well. In a 2007 series for the Portland Phoenix, Lance Tapley described scenes that “might have taken place in Abu Ghraib” and practices that “fit some classic definitions of torture” in the Maine State Prison’s SMU, including spraying mace on unruly mentally ill prisoners and binding them, naked, in “restraint chairs.” Tapley’s reporting helped fuel a campaign that led to the introduction of a bill in the state legislature to limit the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons—and virtually ban it for the mentally ill.

    In 2001 in New York, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, a reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal, began investigating prison suicides, leading to a series of articles exposing the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the state’s SHUs. In subsequent years, a full-fledged movement grew around the issue of mentally ill prisoners in solitary, beginning with a 2002 lawsuit to restrict the practice filed by the advocacy group Disability Advocates.


    The movement’s ammunition came largely from a 2003 report by the non-profit Correctional Association of New York. The group had visited nearly all of New York’s 26 SHUs, where some 5,000 prisoners were held in lockdown for periods that in some cases lasted 23-hours-a-day or more. Its report found that a quarter—and in some units as many as half—of the prisoners were “identified as seriously mentally ill.” The SHUs held about 10 percent of the system’s prisoners, but accounted for nearly half of its suicides.

    A third of the SHU prisoners engaged in cutting or other forms of self-mutilation. “Unthinkable to outside observers,” the Correctional Association said, “the Department [of Corrections] issues misbehavior reports to inmates who attempt to kill or harm themselves”—and the punishment was often more time in lockdown. While the state’s prison population had tripled in the previous 20 years, it still had the same number of places—just 200—in its sole psychiatric center. The Correctional Association’s Executive Director Robert Gangi would later describe placing mentally ill inmates in solitary as “state-inflicted brutality.”

    After the release of the Correctional Association report, the chair of the New York Assembly’s Corrections Committee, Jeffrion Aubry, held hearings and introduced legislation to improve treatment for mentally ill inmates and forbid their placement in SHUs. By the following year, a coalition of advocates for prisoners’ rights and the mentally ill were organizing a “Boot the SHU” campaign, with the slogan “Think Outside the Box.”

    In time, the legislation passed in both houses of the state legislature with broad bipartisan support and was endorsed by newspaper editorial boards across the state and by the New York State Correctional Officers union. But it faced opposition from Department of Corrections leadership. In 2006, then-Governor George Pataki vetoed the bill, saying prisons needed to be able to use solitary confinement to protect inmates and staff “from those who are unwilling to adhere to even the most minimum levels of civilized behavior.”

    Then-Governor Eliot Spitzer finally signed a version of the bill—with some compromises brokered to reduce costs—at the start of 2008. Its sponsor, Assemblyman Aubry, spoke of the legislation as a victory for public safety as well as for mentally ill inmates themselves, who “would complete their entire sentence in SHU and then go back into the commu­nity without being adequately treated. It might have kept the prison system safe, but it wasn’t safe for the public having these people confined and made worse and then sent back into the community without.”

    The legislation came atop a 2007 settlement in the lawsuit by Disability Advocates, which will sunset when the law goes into full effect in 2011. In theory, New York State has made a commitment—within limits—to move existing mentally ill prisoners out of solitary confinement, and keep new ones from being placed in lockdown.

    In practice, this is a complicated task.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the state is now required to provide the mental health screening of all incoming prisoners. This screening is conducted in one of the state prison processing units by a state Office of Mental Health team, usually consisting of clinicians–psychologist, social worker, and/or therapist–and overseen by a psychiatrist. The team has every inmate fill out a questionnaire asking whether they have attempted suicide, thought about doing so, and so on. If the person is judged to be seriously mentally ill, the psychiatrist will make the final diagnosis and prescribe medication—no simple matter, since prescribing psychotropic medications is a highly inexact science, and requires frequent follow-ups to make sure the drugs are working.

    “Most mentally ill people also have individual counseling sessions, on a weekly to monthly basis, plus at least one psychiatric session every three months,” Dianna Goodwin, the staff attorney at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York in Albany who monitors the settlement, said in a telephone interview with the authors. The monitoring includes two visits of the prisons a year, and continual oversight of prison hearings on discipline problems that involve mental health.

    If an inmate is judged to suffer from serious mental illness–conditions that include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, serious depression, and psychotic or delusional disorders–he or she can still be placed in a solitary cell. But according to the settlement, these prisoners must be allowed out every day for one hour of exercise and two hours of treatment. The new law, which is considered by advocates to be stronger than the settlement terms, demands four hours of treatment—two back-to-back, two hour sessions of therapy–plus one hour of exercise each day.

    In some instances inmates will be sent to live in a facility prepared for the mentally ill. In other instances they may stay in other prisons, but in sections especially organized for them–where, for example, some parts of a steel cell door may be replaced with mesh screening. In either setting, the prisoners are supposed to be overseen by mental health clinicians as well as guards who receive training in how to handle mentally ill patients. In December, the state opened the 100-man Residential Mental Health Unit at the upstate Marcy Correctional Center, Goodwin said that the state hopes to increase the unit’s capacity to 200.

    Confining the Mentally Ill

    There are other places for the mentally ill scattered throughout the system. When the Marcy unit opened, the New York State Department of Corrections said that only about 200 prisoners with serious mental illness were in SHUs for disciplinary violations. (The state says it does not use “solitary confinement.”) Of its 58,690 inmates, 7,844 were diagnosed with mental illness, including 2,359 with serious mental illness, a DOC spokesperson told the Associated Press in December. These numbers are different from the 2003 findings of the Corrections Association, which estimated a quarter of the 5,000 inmates in SHUs were seriously mentally ill.

    What comes into play here, of course, are the methods for classifying prisoners. Critics say that the Office of Mental Health tends to be overly conservative in assessing an inmate as seriously mentally ill, with things like personality disorders, PTSD, or the effect of head trauma often not considered “serious.”

    And the view still lingers—among the public as well as the DOC—that inmates are likely to con them, claiming mental illness to excuse bad behavior or get an easier berth in the prison system. According to Nina Loewenstein, the staff attorney at Disability Advocates in charge of the lawsuit and settlement, mental health professionals do the initial screening and monitor inmate care.

    But decisions about who to put where and for how long are still made by the prison administration. If there is a review—and in many cases there need be no review, Loewenstein says—an inmate’s future is determined by prison officials, which includes doctors, but no outside representatives. In other words, if a prisoner wants to contest a decision, he can’t have his own attorney or psychiatrist present to advocate on his behalf. Still, Loewenstein believes there already are improvements in the overall process, with the prisons sometimes suspending sentences or cutting them back in duration due to recognition of mental illness.

    Even the legislation, which most advocates see as stronger than the court settlement, does not ban the use of solitary confinement for all mentally ill inmates. Prison officials can still segregate such prisoners when they deem it necessary for the safety of staff, other prisoners, or the mentally ill inmates themselves, or when those inmates refuse to participate in treatment. Finally, the law does not apply to prisoners held in local jails.

    Dianna Goodwin of Prisoners’ Legal Services acknowledges these problems, and would like to see the program opened up to more people. One major issue, she said, “is that they don’t do a whole lot with PTSD. Almost everyone in prison has it. It is not part of the lawsuit or the statute, but it is a huge problem.”

    Prison life brings “ongoing trauma,” Goodwin added, “so people with bad PTSD have all kinds of triggers that aren’t being addressed as a mental health issue. I don’t know what kind, if any, of training they have for correctional officers on this issue.”

    Nevertheless, she declared that, overall, “there is a very sincere effort by both Corrections and the Mental Health Office to put everyone who they classify as seriously mentally ill into an appropriate program.” While top officials at the DOC had resisted the legal sanctions and earlier denounced the Correctional Association report, corrections staff who deal with mentally ill inmates on a daily basis tend to welcome the changes. “The correctional staff has told us over and over again that even long time officers are coming on board, since everyone knew they had a problem dealing with these prisoners,” Goodwin said. “Mentally ill people have been incarcerated in unprecedented numbers since the closure of most community mental facilities over the last decades; DOC has had to handle the change but until the settlement did not have the resources or institutional commitment to deal with large numbers of mentally ill inmates.”

    A Step Towards Decency

    While most advocates see the settlement and especially the legislation as what a 2007 New York Times editorial called “a step toward basic human decency,” Few believe that it goes far enough. “Maltreatment of mentally ill prisoners is a national shame,” the Times editorial continued. “The basic problem is that severely ill inmates should not be held in lockdown at all.” In the eyes of some critics, what New York and a handful of other states have done is simply reduce the frequency and severity of a practice they equate with torture.

    The UN Human Rights Committee, European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all, in various terms, deemed long-term solitary confinement cruel and unusual punishment for all prisoners. A 2003 Human Rights Watch report stated: “Even if they have no prior history of mental illness, prisoners subjected to prolonged isolation may experience depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember.”

    When it comes to mentally ill prisoners, several U.S. Courts have joined in denouncing the use of any segregated confinement. In the most famous of the relevant cases, Madrid v. Gomez, a federal judge in California declared that solitary confinement “may press the outer bounds of what most human beings can psychologically tolerate,” while for mentally ill prisoners it is “the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe.”

    No widespread ban on the lockdown of mentally ill prisoners is likely to take place without changes in the trend toward criminalizing the mentally ill, which has been underway for more than 20 years. In 2003, Human Rights Watch concluded that America’s prisons and jails held three times as many mentally ill people as its psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail and New York’s Rikers Island effectively functioned as the nation’s two largest inpatient mental health facilities, and incarceration had become its default treatment for mental illness.

    According to Bureau of Justice Statistics data more than half of all prison and jail inmates self-report that they suffer from mental health problems—five times the rate in the general population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 24 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons and 17 percent of those in local jails have what would be diagnosed as serious mental illness.

    Non-Violent Offenders in Majority

    In the session on mentally ill inmates at last week’s H.F. Guggenheim Symposium, Dr. Fred Osher, Director of Health Services for the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG) , said the majority of mentally ill people in prisons and especially in jails are serving time for non-violent offenses, including minor drug offenses and so-called “quality of life” crimes associated with homelessness and substance abuse, As a report from the CSG’s Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project in 2002 puts it, many “have been incarcerated because they displayed in public the symptoms of untreated mental illness.”

    Osher said that the prison environment—noisy, overcrowded, predatory—inevitably causes these symptoms to get worse.

    While corrections systems need to improve the ways they assess and treat mentally ill people, the fact of their incarceration in large part represents a failure of the mental health system.

    Many end up in jail only because they are overlooked, turned away, or intimidated by an overburdened, underfunded, and inadequate network of mental health services. “People with mental illness,” the project’s report says, “are falling through the cracks of this country’s social safety net and are landing in the criminal justice system at an alarming rate.”

    Also present at the H.F. Guggenheim Symposium was Robert Carolla, Director of Media Relations for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Carolla agreed that the problem of the incarcerated mentally ill has its roots in the American mental health care system. Following widespread de-institutionaliza tion, he said, budget restrictions kept the mentally ill from getting the community-based services that were supposed to replace inpatient psychiatric care.

    “Without state and local mental health services,” said a NAMI fact sheet issued last month, “too many people living with mental illness end up in encounters with police or warehoused unnecessarily in jails and prisons.”

    In other words, the prison became the new asylum. And the money withheld from mental health services, Carolla said, was simply pumped into law enforcement and corrections—along with much more, since the transition from asylum to prison is anything but cost-effective. State corrections spending has more than tripled in the last 20 years, when “what is needed instead,” the NAMI publication argues “is investment in mental health treatment and recovery services to minimize costly criminal justice involvement of persons living with serious mental illness.”

    Such funding for mental health services, as NAMI puts it, “also is an investment in recovery and saving lives of persons who struggle with medical illnesses.” Even more than the modest corrections reforms won in New York and elsewhere, this shift in priorities might serve to reduce the number of tortured, anguished hours lived by people with mental illness, alone in their solitary cells.

    James Ridgeway, a veteran investigative journalist, is senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones. Ridgeway and Jean Casella, a freelance writer and editor, recently launched the web site Solitary Watch News, aimed at providing the first centralized source of information on solitary confinement in the United States.

    Locking down the Mentally-Ill


    Solitary Confinement As Torture


    Torturing? Yes. Not waterboarding. Not stress positions.
    No. I’m talking about long term, unrelenting solitary confinement.

    Solitary confinement not for days, but for years, even for decades.
    Solitary confinement that literally drives prisoners crazy.
    Solitary confinement that is torture plain and simple.

    Read more below...
    Torture In Your Own Backyard


    U.S. Prison Conditions Far Worse Than Guantanamo’s


    By refusing to allow Guantanamo detainees to be transferred anywhere in the United States, including its supermax prisons, those representatives in Congress eagerly fighting to keep the prison in Cuba open may unintentionally be easing the lives of terror suspects.

    Last Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 258-163 to refuse to allow detainees now held at the Guantanamo Bay prison to enter the United States. Even a supermax prison facility isn’t safe enough to contain them, they decided, in a nonbinding resolution.

    But Peter Finn at the Washington Post noted on Sunday that conditions at the United States’ most secure federal prisons are actually far more draconian than they are at Guantanamo Bay.

    “For up to four hours a day, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self- proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, can sit outside in the Caribbean sun and chat through a chain-link fence with the detainee in the neighboring exercise yard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” writes Finn. By contrast, terror suspects in U.S. prisons are usually kept in complete isolation, allowed only one hour a day outside, and never get to speak to anyone.

    The federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado is home to such notorious convicted terrorists as 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef; Teodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber; and Terry Nichols, convicted of the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

    The conditions at Florence are supposedly so bad that terror suspects in Britain appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to prevent their extradition to the United States, arguing that the prison conditions constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In fact, studies have found that such extreme isolation can cause or exacerbate mental illness.

    At Gitmo, meanwhile, KSM gets to work out on the gym’s elliptical machines and stationery bikes, choose his own movies to watch in the media room, read newspapers and books, and play handheld electronic games, reports Finn.

    The Obama administration hasn’t yet revealed how it intends to close the Guantanamo prison, and what it plans to do with the 220 or so detainees that remain there.

    U.S. Prison Conditions Far Worse Than Guantanamo’s

    "Cruel and inhuman treatment causes more mental damage than physical torture"

    New research findings published today by Dr Metin Basllu, Head of Section of Trauma Studies at King's College London and the Istanbul Centre for Behaviour Research and Therapy, examines the psychological impact of war captivity, 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment' (CIDT) and physical torture.

    Findings revealed that being held captive in a hostile and life- threatening environment, deprivation of basic needs, psychological manipulations, humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, isolation, and forced stress positions appear to cause more psychological damage than physical torture. Many people released from prison suffer serious PTS, post-traumatic stress disorder.

    This study at its essence concerns the question of what constitutes cruel punishment and torture, is published on line in the April issue of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

    Basoglu writes that a priori assumptions of a distinction between torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments have led some to argue that the latter are associated with less mental suffering than torture and therefore more acceptable in exceptional circumstances.

    The research looks at the different risk factors associated with PTSD (POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDERS) in former detainees, reporting that captivity experience in a war setting was associated with 2.8 times greater risk of PTSD in comparison to being detained by state authorities in someone's own country, possibly due to the greater perceived threat to life in a war setting.

    Additionally, being held captive by an enemy was a stronger risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the actual experience of torture itself. PTSD was also associated with CIDT and sexual abuse but not with physical torture.

    Background on the study

    Dr Basoglu has examined the psychological impact of the captivity experience in 432 individuals who were held captive and tortured in two different contexts.

    The group included 230 survivors in former Yugoslavia countries who were tortured during the war and 202 survivors who were detained and tortured for political and other reasons after the military coup d'etat in Turkey in the early 1980s.

    Information was taken on 46 different forms of torture, each rated by participants on a 0 to 4 perceived distress scale (where 0 was not all distressing and 4 was extremely distressing) . Participants rated the stressfulness of their overall torture experience using the same scale. They were also assessed for PTSD.

    The survivors reported an average of 21 stressor events during detention or captivity. Survivors who rated CIDT events (deprivation of food, water, sleep, urination/defecatio n, and medical care, forced stress positions, isolation, fear-inducing psychological manipulations, humiliating treatment, exposure to hot/cold temperatures and exposure to extreme sensory discomfort) as more distressing were also likely to report their overall torture experience as more stressful.

    Perceived severity of physical torture (e.g. electrical torture, hanging by the hands, beating the soles of the feet, genital/anal torture and stretching of extremities) on the other hand, was not associated with perceived severity of overall torture experience. Thus, it was CIDT and not physical torture that determined perception of overall torture experience as more distressing. CIDT was also associated with higher rates of PTSD than physical torture.

    In response to views that a broad definition of torture downplays the importance of the problem of torture, the author noted that the definition of torture implied by these findings cannot be deemed overly inclusive without denying the reality of torture as it is practised in real life situations.

    Dr Metin Basoglu of King's College London concludes, "Such views reflect a rather stereotypical image of torture as involving only certain atrocious acts of physical violence.

    While such disturbing images might be useful in channelling public reactions against torture, they also foster a skewed image of torture, reinforcing the perception in some people that 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading' treatments do not amount to torture. Far from downplaying the problem of torture, our studies highlight the fact that the reality of torture is far more serious than people generally believe."

    Next Steps

    The study's researcher will be turning his attention to the implications of these findings for an evidence-based contextual definition of torture taking into account the psychological mechanisms by which torture exerts its impact on people. The findings imply that the distinction between torture and CIDT in international conventions against torture need to be abolished to prevent its abuse. Future research will also focus on the implications of the findings for an effective intervention for torture survivors.

    Dr. Basoglu has already developed a brief and highly effective behavioural intervention for posttraumatic stress, which will be tested in torture survivors.

    Notes to Editors: The paper authored by Dr Metin Basoglu, entitled: "A multivariate contextual analysis of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatments: Implications for an evidence-based definition of torture is published by the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

    The research has been supported by funding from Spunk Fund and the Bromley Trust.

    A commentary by Steven Miles from the Centre for Bioethics and Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School and an editorial on the article by Wanda Mohr, Associate Editor of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, are published in the same volume of the journal.

    This paper leads on from a 2007 study: Basoglu M, Livanou M, Crnobaric C. (2007) Torture versus other cruel, inhuman & degrading treatment: Is the distinction real or apparent? Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 277-285.

    Copies of this article, the editorial, and commentary, can be obtained from the journal website:
    APA ORG.

    The author can be contacted at
    (Tel: +90-212-2510084).


    The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

    By Atul Gawande
    March 30, 2009

    Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.

    Children provide the clearest demonstration of this fact, although it was slow to be accepted. Well into the nineteen-fifties, psychologists were encouraging parents to give children less attention and affection, in order to encourage independence. Then Harry Harlow, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, produced a series of influential studies involving baby rhesus monkeys.

    He happened upon the findings in the mid-fifties, when he decided to save money for his primate-research laboratory by breeding his own lab monkeys instead of importing them from India. Because he didn’t know how to raise infant monkeys, he cared for them the way hospitals of the era cared for human infants—in nurseries, with plenty of food, warm blankets, some toys, and in isolation from other infants to prevent the spread of infection. The monkeys grew up sturdy, disease-free, and larger than those from the wild. Yet they were also profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.

    At first, Harlow and his graduate students couldn’t figure out what the problem was. They considered factors such as diet, patterns of light exposure, even the antibiotics they used. Then, as Deborah Blum recounts in a fascinating biography of Harlow, “Love at Goon Park,” one of his researchers noticed how tightly the monkeys clung to their soft blankets. Harlow wondered whether what the monkeys were missing in their Isolettes was a mother.. So, in an odd experiment, he gave them an artificial one.

    In the studies, one artificial mother was a doll made of terry cloth; the other was made of wire. He placed a warming device inside the dolls to make them seem more comforting. The babies, Harlow discovered, largely ignored the wire mother. But they became deeply attached to the cloth mother. They caressed it. They slept curled up on it. They ran to it when frightened. They refused replacements: they wanted only “their” mother. If sharp spikes were made to randomly thrust out of the mother’s body when the rhesus babies held it, they waited patiently for the spikes to recede and returned to clutching it. No matter how tightly they clung to the surrogate mothers, however, the monkeys remained psychologically abnormal.

    In a later study on the effect of total isolation from birth, the researchers found that the test monkeys, upon being released into a group of ordinary monkeys, “usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by . . . autistic self-clutching and rocking.” Harlow noted, “One of six monkeys isolated for three months refused to eat after release and died five days later.” After several weeks in the company of other monkeys, most of them adjusted—but not those who had been isolated for longer periods.. “Twelve months of isolation almost obliterated the animals socially,” Harlow wrote. They became permanently withdrawn, and they lived as outcasts—regularly set upon, as if inviting abuse.

    The research made Harlow famous (and infamous, too—revulsion at his work helped spur the animal-rights movement). Other psychologists produced evidence of similarly deep and sustained damage in neglected and orphaned children. Hospitals were made to open up their nurseries to parents. And it became widely accepted that children require nurturing human beings not just for food and protection but also for the normal functioning of their brains.

    We have been hesitant to apply these lessons to adults. Adults, after all, are fully formed, independent beings, with internal strengths and knowledge to draw upon. We wouldn’t have anything like a child’s dependence on other people, right? Yet it seems that we do. We don’t have a lot of monkey experiments to call upon here. But mankind has produced tens of thousands of human ones, including in our prison system. And the picture that has emerged is profoundly unsettling.

    Among our most benign experiments are those with people who voluntarily isolate themselves for extended periods. Long-distance solo sailors, for instance, commit themselves to months at sea. They face all manner of physical terrors: thrashing storms, fifty-foot waves, leaks, illness. Yet, for many, the single most overwhelming difficulty they report is the “soul-destroying loneliness,” as one sailor called it. Astronauts have to be screened for their ability to tolerate long stretches in tightly confined isolation, and they come to depend on radio and video communications for social contact.

    The problem of isolation goes beyond ordinary loneliness, however. Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement—from the journalist Terry Anderson, for example, whose extraordinary memoir, “Den of Lions,” recounts his seven years as a hostage of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    Anderson was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press when, on March 16, 1985, three bearded men forced him from his car in Beirut at gunpoint. He was pushed into a Mercedes sedan, covered head to toe with a heavy blanket, and made to crouch head down in the footwell behind the front seat. His captors drove him to a garage, pulled him out of the car, put a hood over his head, and bound his wrists and ankles with tape. For half an hour, they grilled him for the names of other Americans in Beirut, but he gave no names and they did not beat him or press him further. They threw him in the trunk of the car, drove him to another building, and put him in what would be the first of a succession of cells across Lebanon. He was soon placed in what seemed to be a dusty closet, large enough for only a mattress. Blindfolded, he could make out the distant sounds of other hostages. (One was William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief who was kidnapped and tortured repeatedly until he weakened and died.) Peering around his blindfold, Anderson could see a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. He received three unpalatable meals a day—usually a sandwich of bread and cheese, or cold rice with canned vegetables, or soup. He had a bottle to urinate in and was allotted one five- to ten-minute trip each day to a rotting bathroom to empty his bowels and wash with water at a dirty sink. Otherwise, the only reprieve from isolation came when the guards made short visits to bark at him for breaking a rule or to threaten him, sometimes with a gun at his temple.

    He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”

    He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.

    His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion—sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages—and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.

    In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.

    “I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.”

    One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him.

    Some hostages fared worse. Anderson told the story of Frank Reed, a fifty-four-year- old American private-school director who was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for four months before being put in with Anderson. By then, Reed had become severely withdrawn. He lay motionless for hours facing a wall, semi-catatonic. He could not follow the guards’ simplest instructions. This invited abuse from them, in much the same way that once isolated rhesus monkeys seemed to invite abuse from the colony. Released after three and a half years, Reed ultimately required admission to a psychiatric hospital.

    “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen- foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

    And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

    On December 4, 1991, Terry Anderson was released from captivity. He had been the last and the longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. I spoke to Keron Fletcher, a former British military psychiatrist who had been on the receiving team for Anderson and many other hostages, and followed them for years afterward. Initially, Fletcher said, everyone experiences the pure elation of being able to see and talk to people again, especially family and friends. They can’t get enough of other people, and talk almost non-stop for hours. They are optimistic and hopeful. But, afterward, normal sleeping and eating patterns prove difficult to reëstablish. Some have lost their sense of time. For weeks, they have trouble managing the sensations and emotional complexities of their freedom.

    For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when I reached him by phone recently, “it was just kind of a fog.” He had done many television interviews at the time. “And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.”

    Most hostages survived their ordeal, Fletcher said, although relationships, marriages, and careers were often lost. Some found, as John McCain did, that the experience even strengthened them. Yet none saw solitary confinement as anything less than torture. This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?

    Recently, I met a man who had spent more than five years in isolation at a prison in the Boston suburb of Walpole, Massachusetts, not far from my home. Bobby Dellelo was, to say the least, no Terry Anderson or John McCain. Brought up in the run-down neighborhoods of Boston’s West End, in the nineteen-forties, he was caught burglarizing a shoe store at the age of ten. At thirteen, he recalls, he was nabbed while robbing a Jordan Marsh department store. (He and his friends learned to hide out in stores at closing time, steal their merchandise, and then break out during the night.) The remainder of his childhood was spent mostly in the state reform school. That was where he learned how to fight, how to hot-wire a car with a piece of foil, how to pick locks, and how to make a zip gun using a snapped-off automobile radio antenna, which, in those days, was just thick enough to barrel a .22-calibre bullet. Released upon turning eighteen, Dellelo returned to stealing. Usually, he stole from office buildings at night. But some of the people he hung out with did stickups, and, together with one of them, he held up a liquor store in Dorchester.

    “What a disaster that thing was,” he recalls, laughing. They put the store’s owner and the customers in a walk-in refrigerator at gunpoint, took their wallets, and went to rob the register. But more customers came in. So they robbed them and put them in the refrigerator, too. Then still more customers arrived, the refrigerator got full, and the whole thing turned into a circus. Dellelo and his partner finally escaped. But one of the customers identified him to the police. By the time he was caught, Dellelo had been fingered for robbing the Commander Hotel in Cambridge as well. He served a year for the first conviction and two and a half years for the second.

    Three months after his release, in 1963, at the age of twenty, he and a friend tried to rob the Kopelman jewelry store, in downtown Boston. But an alarm went off before they got their hands on anything. They separated and ran. The friend shot and killed an off-duty policeman while trying to escape, then killed himself. Dellelo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He ended up serving forty years. Five years and one month were spent in isolation.

    The criteria for the isolation of prisoners vary by state but typically include not only violent infractions but also violation of prison rules or association with gang members. The imposition of long-term isolation—which can be for months or years—is ultimately at the discretion of prison administrators. One former prisoner I spoke to, for example, recalled being put in solitary confinement for petty annoyances like refusing to get out of the shower quickly enough. Bobby Dellelo was put there for escaping.

    It was an elaborate scheme. He had a partner, who picked the lock to a supervisor’s office and got hold of the information manual for the microwave-detection system that patrolled a grassy no man’s land between the prison and the road. They studied the manual long enough to learn how to circumvent the system and returned it. On Halloween Sunday, 1993, they had friends stage a fight in the prison yard. With all the guards in the towers looking at the fight through binoculars, the two men tipped a picnic table up against a twelve-foot wall and climbed it like a ladder. Beyond it, they scaled a sixteen-foot fence. To get over the razor wire on top, they used a Z-shaped tool they’d improvised from locker handles. They dropped down into the no man’s land and followed an invisible path that they’d calculated the microwave system would not detect. No alarm sounded. They went over one more fence, walked around a parking lot, picked their way through some woods, and emerged onto a four-lane road. After a short walk to a convenience store, they called a taxi from a telephone booth and rolled away before anyone knew they were gone.

    They lasted twenty-four days on the outside. Eventually, somebody ratted them out, and the police captured them on the day before Thanksgiving, at the house of a friend in Cambridge. The prison administration gave Dellelo five years in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit of the Walpole prison, its hundred-and- twenty-four- cell super-maximum segregation unit.

    Wearing ankle bracelets, handcuffs, and a belly chain, Dellelo was marched into a thirteen-by- eight-foot off-white cell. A four-inch-thick concrete bed slab jutted out from the wall opposite the door. A smaller slab protruding from a side wall provided a desk. A cylindrical concrete block in the floor served as a seat. On the remaining wall was a toilet and a metal sink. He was given four sheets, four towels, a blanket, a bedroll, a toothbrush, toilet paper, a tall clear plastic cup, a bar of soap, seven white T-shirts, seven pairs of boxer shorts, seven pairs of socks, plastic slippers, a pad of paper, and a ballpoint pen. A speaker with a microphone was mounted on the door. Cells used for solitary confinement are often windowless, but this one had a ribbonlike window that was seven inches wide and five feet tall. The electrically controlled door was solid steel, with a seven-inch-by- twenty-eight- inch aperture and two wickets—little door slots, one at ankle height and one at waist height, for shackling him whenever he was let out and for passing him meal trays.

    As in other supermaxes—facilities designed to isolate prisoners from social contact—Dellelo was confined to his cell for at least twenty-three hours a day and permitted out only for a shower or for recreation in an outdoor cage that he estimated to be fifty feet long and five feet wide, known as “the dog kennel.” He could talk to other prisoners through the steel door of his cell, and during recreation if a prisoner was in an adjacent cage. He made a kind of fishing line for passing notes to adjacent cells by unwinding the elastic from his boxer shorts, though it was contraband and would be confiscated. Prisoners could receive mail and as many as ten reading items. They were allowed one phone call the first month and could earn up to four calls and four visits per month if they followed the rules, but there could be no physical contact with anyone, except when guards forcibly restrained them. Some supermaxes even use food as punishment, serving the prisoners nutra-loaf, an unpalatable food brick that contains just enough nutrition for survival. Dellelo was spared this. The rules also permitted him to have a radio after thirty days, and, after sixty days, a thirteen-inch black-and-white television.

    “This is going to be a piece of cake,” Dellelo recalls thinking when the door closed behind him. Whereas many American supermax prisoners—and most P.O.W.s and hostages—have no idea when they might get out, he knew exactly how long he was going to be there. He drew a calendar on his pad of paper to start counting down the days. He would get a radio and a TV. He could read. No one was going to bother him. And, as his elaborate escape plan showed, he could be patient. “This is their sophisticated security?” he said to himself. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”

    After a few months without regular social contact, however, his experience proved no different from that of the P.O.W.s or hostages, or the majority of isolated prisoners whom researchers have studied: he started to lose his mind. He talked to himself. He paced back and forth compulsively, shuffling along the same six-foot path for hours on end. Soon, he was having panic attacks, screaming for help. He hallucinated that the colors on the walls were changing.

    He became enraged by routine noises—the sound of doors opening as the guards made their hourly checks, the sounds of inmates in nearby cells. After a year or so, he was hearing voices on the television talking directly to him. He put the television under his bed, and rarely took it out again.

    One of the paradoxes of solitary confinement is that, as starved as people become for companionship, the experience typically leaves them unfit for social interaction. Once, Dellelo was allowed to have an in-person meeting with his lawyer, and he simply couldn’t handle it. After so many months in which his primary human contact had been an occasional phone call or brief conversations with an inmate down the tier, shouted through steel doors at the top of their lungs, he found himself unable to carry on a face-to-face conversation. He had trouble following both words and hand gestures and couldn’t generate them himself. When he realized this, he succumbed to a full-blown panic attack.

    Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.

    Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of prisoners in the general population. Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy. Many prisoners in solitary become consumed with revenge fantasies.

    “There were some guards in D.D.U. who were decent guys,” Dellelo told me. They didn’t trash his room when he was let out for a shower, or try to trip him when escorting him in chains, or write him up for contraband if he kept food or a salt packet from a meal in his cell. “But some of them were evil, evil pricks.” One correctional officer became a particular obsession. Dellelo spent hours imagining cutting his head off and rolling it down the tier. “I mean, I know this is insane thinking,” he says now. Even at the time, he added, “I had a fear in the background—like how much of this am I going to be able to let go? How much is this going to affect who I am?”

    He was right to worry. Everyone’s identity is socially created: it’s through your relationships that you understand yourself as a mother or a father, a teacher or an accountant, a hero or a villain. But, after years of isolation, many prisoners change in another way that Haney observed. They begin to see themselves primarily as combatants in the world, people whose identity is rooted in thwarting prison control.

    As a matter of self-preservation, this may not be a bad thing. According to the Navy P.O.W. researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied. Resistance was often their sole means of maintaining a sense of purpose, and so their sanity. Yet resistance is precisely what we wish to destroy in our supermax prisoners. As Haney observed in a review of research findings, prisoners in solitary confinement must be able to withstand the experience in order to be allowed to return to the highly social world of mainline prison or free society. Perversely, then, the prisoners who can’t handle profound isolation are the ones who are forced to remain in it. “And those who have adapted,” Haney writes, “are prime candidates for release to a social world to which they may be incapable of ever fully readjusting.”

    Dellelo eventually found a way to resist that would not prolong his ordeal. He fought his battle through the courts, filing motion after motion in an effort to get his conviction overturned. He became so good at submitting his claims that he obtained a paralegal certificate along the way. And, after forty years in prison, and more than five years in solitary, he got his first-degree- homicide conviction reduced to manslaughter.

    On November 19, 2003, he was freed.

    Bobby Dellelo is sixty-seven years old now. He lives on Social Security in a Cambridge efficiency apartment that is about four times larger than his cell. He still seems to be adjusting to the world outside. He lives alone. To the extent that he is out in society, it is, in large measure, as a combatant. He works for prisoners’ rights at the American Friends Service Committee. He also does occasional work assisting prisoners with their legal cases. Sitting at his kitchen table, he showed me how to pick a padlock—you know, just in case I ever find myself in trouble.

    But it was impossible to talk to him about his time in isolation without seeing that it was fundamentally no different from the isolation that Terry Anderson and John McCain had endured. Whether in Walpole or Beirut or Hanoi, all human beings experience isolation as torture.

    The main argument for using long-term isolation in prisons is that it provides discipline and prevents violence. When inmates refuse to follow the rules—when they escape, deal drugs, or attack other inmates and corrections officers—wardens must be able to punish and contain the misconduct. Presumably, less stringent measures haven’t worked, or the behavior would not have occurred. And it’s legitimate to incapacitate violent aggressors for the safety of others. So, advocates say, isolation is a necessary evil, and those who don’t recognize this are dangerously naïve.

    The argument makes intuitive sense. If the worst of the worst are removed from the general prison population and put in isolation, you’d expect there to be markedly fewer inmate shankings and attacks on corrections officers. But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Perhaps the most careful inquiry into whether supermax prisons decrease violence and disorder was a 2003 analysis examining the experience in three states—Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota—following the opening of their supermax prisons. The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and that levels of inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably, rising in Arizona, falling in Illinois, and holding steady in Minnesota.

    Prison violence, it turns out, is not simply an issue of a few belligerents. In the past thirty years, the United States has quadrupled its incarceration rate but not its prison space. Work and education programs have been cancelled, out of a belief that the pursuit of rehabilitation is pointless. The result has been unprecedented overcrowding, along with unprecedented idleness—a nice formula for violence. Remove a few prisoners to solitary confinement, and the violence doesn’t change. So you remove some more, and still nothing happens. Before long, you find yourself in the position we are in today. The United States now has five per cent of the world’s population, twenty-five per cent of its prisoners, and probably the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement.

    It wasn’t always like this. The wide-scale use of isolation is, almost exclusively, a phenomenon of the past twenty years. In 1890, the United States Supreme Court came close to declaring the punishment to be unconstitutional. Writing for the majority in the case of a Colorado murderer who had been held in isolation for a month, Justice Samuel Miller noted that experience had revealed “serious objections” to solitary confinement:

    A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover suffcient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.

    Prolonged isolation was used sparingly, if at all, by most American prisons for almost a century. Our first supermax—our first institution specifically designed for mass solitary confinement—was not established until 1983, in Marion, Illinois. In 1995, a federal court reviewing California’s first supermax admitted that the conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience.” But it did not rule them to be unconstitutionally cruel or unusual, except in cases of mental illness. The prison’s supermax conditions, the court stated, did not pose “a sufficiently high risk to all inmates of incurring a serious mental illness.” In other words, there could be no legal objection to its routine use, given that the isolation didn’t make everyone crazy. The ruling seemed to fit the public mood. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, some sixty supermax institutions had opened across the country. And new solitary-confinemen t units were established within nearly all of our ordinary maximum-security prisons.

    The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels. America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons. An additional fifty to eighty thousand are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures. By 1999, the practice had grown to the point that Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia kept between five and eight per cent of their prison population in isolation, and, by 2003, New York had joined them as well. Mississippi alone held eighteen hundred prisoners in supermax—twelve per cent of its prisoners over all. At the same time, other states had just a tiny fraction of their inmates in solitary confinement. In 1999, for example, Indiana had eighty-five supermax beds; Georgia had only ten. Neither of these two states can be described as being soft on crime.

    Advocates of solitary confinement are left with a single argument for subjecting thousands of people to years of isolation: What else are we supposed to do? How else are we to deal with the violent, the disruptive, the prisoners who are just too dangerous to be housed with others?

    As it happens, only a subset of prisoners currently locked away for long periods of isolation would be considered truly dangerous. Many are escapees or suspected gang members; many others are in solitary for nonviolent breaches of prison rules. Still, there are some highly dangerous and violent prisoners who pose a serious challenge to prison discipline and safety. In August, I met a man named Robert Felton, who had spent fourteen and a half years in isolation in the Illinois state correctional system. He is now thirty-six years old. He grew up in the predominantly black housing projects of Danville, Illinois, and had been a force of mayhem from the time he was a child.

    His crimes were mainly impulsive, rather than planned. The first time he was arrested was at the age of eleven, when he and a relative broke into a house to steal some Atari video games. A year later, he was sent to state reform school after he and a friend broke into an abandoned building and made off with paint cans, irons, and other property that they hardly knew what to do with. In reform school, he got into fights and screamed obscenities at the staff. When the staff tried to discipline him by taking away his recreation or his television privileges, his behavior worsened. He tore a pillar out of the ceiling, a sink and mirrors off the wall, doors off their hinges. He was put in a special cell, stripped of nearly everything. When he began attacking counsellors, the authorities transferred him to the maximum-security juvenile facility at Joliet, where he continued to misbehave.

    Felton wasn’t a sociopath. He made friends easily. He was close to his family, and missed them deeply. He took no pleasure in hurting others. Psychiatric evaluations turned up little more than attention-deficit disorder. But he had a terrible temper, a tendency to escalate rather than to defuse confrontations, and, by the time he was released, just before turning eighteen, he had achieved only a ninth-grade education.

    Within months of returning home, he was arrested again. He had walked into a Danville sports bar and ordered a beer. The barman took his ten-dollar bill.

    “Then he says, ‘Naw, man, you can’t get no beer. You’re underage,’ ”Felton recounts. “I says, ‘Well, give me my ten dollars back.’ He says, ‘You ain’t getting shit. Get the hell out of here.’”

    Felton stood his ground. The bartender had a pocket knife on the counter. “And, when he went for it, I went for it,” Felton told me. “When I grabbed the knife first, I turned around and spinned on him. I said, ‘You think you’re gonna cut me, man? You gotta be fucked up.’”

    The barman had put the ten-dollar bill in a Royal Crown bag behind the counter. Felton grabbed the bag and ran out the back door. He forgot his car keys on the counter, though. So he went back to get the keys—“the stupid keys,” he now says ruefully—and in the fight that ensued he left the barman severely injured and bleeding. The police caught Felton fleeing in his car. He was convicted of armed robbery, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery, and served fifteen years in prison.

    He was eventually sent to the Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security facility in Joliet. Inside the overflowing prison, he got into vicious fights over insults and the like. About three months into his term, during a shakedown following the murder of an inmate, prison officials turned up a makeshift knife in his cell. (He denies that it was his.) They gave him a year in isolation. He was a danger, and he had to be taught a lesson. But it was a lesson that he seemed incapable of learning.

    Felton’s Stateville isolation cell had gray walls, a solid steel door, no window, no clock, and a light that was kept on twenty-four hours a day. As soon as he was shut in, he became claustrophobic and had a panic attack. Like Dellelo, Anderson, and McCain, he was soon pacing back and forth, talking to himself, studying the insects crawling around his cell, reliving past events from childhood, sleeping for as much as sixteen hours a day. But, unlike them, he lacked the inner resources to cope with his situation.

    Many prisoners find survival in physical exercise, prayer, or plans for escape. Many carry out elaborate mental exercises, building entire houses in their heads, board by board, nail by nail, from the ground up, or memorizing team rosters for a baseball season. McCain recreated in his mind movies he’d seen. Anderson reconstructed complete novels from memory. Yuri Nosenko, a K..G.B. defector whom the C.I.A. wrongly accused of being a double agent and held for three years in total isolation (no reading material, no news, no human contact except with interrogators) in a closet-size concrete cell near Williamsburg, Virginia, made chess sets from threads and a calendar from lint (only to have them discovered and swept away).

    But Felton would just yell, “Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard!,” or bang his cup on the toilet, for hours. He could spend whole days hallucinating that he was in another world, that he was a child at home in Danville, playing in the streets, having conversations with imaginary people. Small cruelties that others somehow bore in quiet fury—getting no meal tray, for example—sent him into a rage. Despite being restrained with handcuffs, ankle shackles, and a belly chain whenever he was taken out, he managed to assault the staff at least three times. He threw his food through the door slot. He set his cell on fire by tearing his mattress apart, wrapping the stuffing in a sheet, popping his light bulb, and using the exposed wires to set the whole thing ablaze. He did this so many times that the walls of his cell were black with soot.

    After each offense, prison officials extended his sentence in isolation. Still, he wouldn’t stop. He began flooding his cell, by stuffing the door crack with socks, plugging the toilet, and flushing until the water was a couple of feet deep. Then he’d pull out the socks and the whole wing would flood with wastewater.

    “Flooding the cell was the last option for me,” Felton told me. “It was when I had nothing else I could do. You know, they took everything out of my cell, and all I had left was toilet water. I’d sit there and I’d say, ‘Well, let me see what I can do with this toilet water.’”

    Felton was not allowed out again for fourteen and a half years. He spent almost his entire prison term, from 1990 to 2005, in isolation. In March, 1998, he was among the first inmates to be moved to Tamms, a new, high-tech supermax facility in southern Illinois.

    “At Tamms, man, it was like a lab,” he says. Contact even with guards was tightly reduced. Cutoff valves meant that he couldn’t flood his cell. He had little ability to force a response—negative or positive—from a human being. And, with that gone, he began to deteriorate further. He ceased showering, changing his clothes, brushing his teeth. His teeth rotted and ten had to be pulled. He began throwing his feces around his cell. He became psychotic.

    It is unclear how many prisoners in solitary confinement become psychotic. Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist, has interviewed more than two hundred prisoners in solitary confinement. In one in-depth study, prepared for a legal challenge of prisoner-isolation practices, he concluded that about a third developed acute psychosis with hallucinations. The markers of vulnerability that he observed in his interviews were signs of cognitive dysfunction—a history of seizures, serious mental illness, mental retardation, illiteracy, or, as in Felton’s case, a diagnosis such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, signalling difficulty with impulse control.. In the prisoners Grassian saw, about a third had these vulnerabilities, and these were the prisoners whom solitary confinement had made psychotic. They were simply not cognitively equipped to endure it without mental breakdowns.

    A psychiatrist tried giving Felton anti-psychotic medication. Mostly, it made him sleep—sometimes twenty-four hours at a stretch, he said. Twice he attempted suicide. The first time, he hanged himself in a noose made from a sheet. The second time, he took a single staple from a legal newspaper and managed to slash the radial artery in his left wrist with it. In both instances, he was taken to a local emergency room for a few hours, patched up, and sent back to prison.

    Is there an alternative? Consider what other countries do. Britain, for example, has had its share of serial killers, homicidal rapists, and prisoners who have taken hostages and repeatedly assaulted staff. The British also fought a seemingly unending war in Northern Ireland, which brought them hundreds of Irish Republican Army prisoners committed to violent resistance. The authorities resorted to a harshly punitive approach to control, including, in the mid-seventies, extensive use of solitary confinement. But the violence in prisons remained unchanged, the costs were phenomenal (in the United States, they reach more than fifty thousand dollars a year per inmate), and the public outcry became intolerable. British authorities therefore looked for another approach.

    Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focussed on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

    So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.

    The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in “extreme custody” than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.

    In this country, in June of 2006, a bipartisan national task force, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, released its recommendations after a yearlong investigation. It called for ending long-term isolation of prisoners. Beyond about ten days, the report noted, practically no benefits can be found and the harm is clear—not just for inmates but for the public as well. Most prisoners in long-term isolation are returned to society, after all. And evidence from a number of studies has shown that supermax conditions—in which prisoners have virtually no social interactions and are given no programmatic support—make it highly likely that they will commit more crimes when they are released. Instead, the report said, we should follow the preventive approaches used in European countries.

    The recommendations went nowhere, of course. Whatever the evidence in its favor, people simply did not believe in the treatment.

    I spoke to a state-prison commissioner who wished to remain unidentified.. He was a veteran of the system, having been either a prison warden or a commissioner in several states across the country for more than twenty years.. He has publicly defended the use of long-term isolation everywhere that he has worked. Nonetheless, he said, he would remove most prisoners from long-term isolation units if he could and provide programming for the mental illnesses that many of them have.

    “Prolonged isolation is not going to serve anyone’s best interest,” he told me. He still thought that prisons needed the option of isolation. “A bad violation should, I think, land you there for about ninety days, but it should not go beyond that.”

    He is apparently not alone among prison officials. Over the years, he has come to know commissioners in nearly every state in the country. “I believe that today you’ll probably find that two-thirds or three-fourths of the heads of correctional agencies will largely share the position that I articulated with you,” he said.

    Commissioners are not powerless. They could eliminate prolonged isolation with the stroke of a pen. So, I asked, why haven’t they? He told me what happened when he tried to move just one prisoner out of isolation. Legislators called for him to be fired and threatened to withhold basic funding. Corrections officers called members of the crime victim’s family and told them that he’d gone soft on crime. Hostile stories appeared in the tabloids. It is pointless for commissioners to act unilaterally, he said, without a change in public opinion.

    This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. For a Presidential candidate, no less than for the prison commissioner, this would have been political suicide.

    The simple truth is that public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.

    Robert Felton drifted in and out of acute psychosis for much of his solitary confinement. Eventually, however, he found an unexpected resource. One day, while he was at Tamms, he was given a new defense lawyer, and, whatever expertise this lawyer provided, the more important thing was genuine human contact. He visited regularly, and sent Felton books. Although some were rejected by the authorities and Felton was restricted to a few at a time, he devoured those he was permitted. “I liked political books,” he says. “ ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem,’ Winston Churchill, Noam Chomsky.”

    That small amount of contact was a lifeline. Felton corresponded with the lawyer about what he was reading. The lawyer helped him get his G.E.D. and a paralegal certificate through a correspondence course, and he taught Felton how to advocate for himself. Felton began writing letters to politicians and prison officials explaining the misery of his situation, opposing supermax isolation, and asking for a chance to return to the general prison population. (The Illinois Department of Corrections would not comment on Felton’s case, but a spokesman stated that “Tamms houses the most disruptive, violent, and problematic inmates.”) Felton was persuasive enough that Senator Paul Simon, of Illinois, wrote him back and, one day, even visited him. Simon asked the director of the State Department of Corrections, Donald Snyder, Jr., to give consideration to Felton’s objections. But Snyder didn’t budge. If there was anyone whom Felton fantasized about taking revenge upon, it was Snyder. Felton continued to file request after request. But the answer was always no.

    On July 12, 2005, at the age of thirty-three, Felton was finally released. He hadn’t socialized with another person since entering Tamms, at the age of twenty-five. Before his release, he was given one month in the general prison population to get used to people. It wasn’t enough. Upon returning to society, he found that he had trouble in crowds. At a party of well-wishers, the volume of social stimulation overwhelmed him and he panicked, headed for a bathroom, and locked himself in. He stayed at his mother’s house and kept mostly to himself.

    For the first year, he had to wear an ankle bracelet and was allowed to leave home only for work. His first job was at a Papa John’s restaurant, delivering pizzas. He next found work at the Model Star Laundry Service, doing pressing. This was a steady job, and he began to settle down. He fell in love with a waitress named Brittany. They moved into a three-room house that her grandmother lent them, and got engaged. Brittany became pregnant.

    This is not a story with a happy ending. Felton lost his job with the laundry service. He went to work for a tree-cutting business; a few months later, it went under. Meanwhile, he and Brittany had had a second child. She had found work as a certified nursing assistant, but her income wasn’t nearly enough. So he took a job forty miles away, at Plastipak, the plastics manufacturer, where he made seven-fifty an hour inspecting Gatorade bottles and Crisco containers as they came out of the stamping machines. Then his twenty-year- old Firebird died. The bus he had to take ran erratically, and he was fired for repeated tardiness.

    When I visited Felton in Danville last August, he and Brittany were upbeat about their prospects. She was working extra shifts at a nursing home, and he was taking care of their children, ages one and two. He had also applied to a six-month training program for heating and air-conditioning technicians.

    “I could make twenty dollars an hour after graduation,” he said.

    “He’s a good man,” Brittany told me, taking his arm and giving him a kiss.

    But he was out of work. They were chronically short of money. It was hard to be optimistic about Felton’s prospects. And, indeed, six weeks after we met, he was arrested for breaking into a car dealership and stealing a Dodge Charger. He pleaded guilty and, in January, began serving a seven-year sentence.

    Before I left town—when there was still a glimmer of hope for him—we went out for lunch at his favorite place, a Mexican restaurant called La Potosina. Over enchiladas and Cokes, we talked about his family, Danville, the economy, and, of course, his time in prison. The strangest story had turned up in the news, he said. Donald Snyder, Jr., the state prison director who had refused to let him out of solitary confinement, had been arrested, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison for taking fifty thousand dollars in payoffs from lobbyists.

    “Two years in prison,” Felton marvelled. “He could end up right where I used to be.”

    I asked him, “If he wrote to you, asking if you would release him from solitary, what would you do?”

    Felton didn’t hesitate for a second. “If he wrote to me to let him out, I’d let him out,” he said.

    This surprised me. I expected anger, vindictiveness, a desire for retribution. “You’d let him out?” I said.

    “I’d let him out,” he said, and he put his fork down to make the point. “I wouldn’t wish solitary confinement on anybody. Not even him.” ♦

    Nora Callahan
    Executive Director
    November Coalition Foundation
    282 West Astor
    Colville, WA 99114
    (509) 684-1550

    Working to end drug war injustice, the November Coalition is nonprofit educational foundation -- donations are tax deductible.

    Visit us on the web at

    Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons Making Thousands Psychotic

    March 24 2009
    By Sherwood Ross

    The United States today is housing tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement, a form of numbing mental torture that drives about one-third of them psychotic, induces irrational anger in 90 percent, and ups the likelihood they will commit violent crimes upon release.

    “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” U.S. Senator John McCain once wrote of his two years spent in a fifteen by fifteen foot prison cell in Viet Nam. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” Testimony from other notables that have endured long stretches in solitary have elicited like comments.

    Yet, the U.S. today has the dubious distinction of incarcerating “the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement” around the world, according to an article in the March 30th The New Yorker magazine. And they make up a growing portion of our 2.3 million inmates, a shameful statistic that ranks America first among all nations. Gawande’s article is titled “Hellhole.”

    The first supermax built anywhere was Sydney, Australia’s “Katingal” unit at Long Bay Correctional Centre in 1975. Dubbed the “electronic zoo,” it lasted a brief two years before it was closed down over human rights concerns, according to Wikipedia.

    In the 17 years beginning with the construction of the first U.S. “supermax” prison in Marion, Ill., in 1983, 60 such prisons have sprouted---prisons specifically designed for mass solitary confinement, reports Atul Gawande in the The New Yorker. The Federal Bureau of Prisons euphemistically refers to its solitary cells as “Special Housing Units.” Most of the supermax prisons have been erected by State governments and two-thirds of all states have them.

    “The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels,” Gawande writes. “America now holds at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax facilities. An additional 50,000 to 80,000 are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures.”

    The Urban Institute found the per cell cost for confining one prisoner in solitary for one year is $75,000. Taxpayers could put a dozen students through community college for the same bucks and society would get a better return. From every indication, money spent on a supermax is money poorly spent.

    Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, who interviewed more than 200 prisoners kept in solitary, concluded that about one in three of them had developed acute psychosis with hallucinations. Prisoners so confined spend their time talking to themselves, pacing back and forth like animals in cages, and blank out mentally. Some beat their heads against the walls until blood flows. Others lapse into catatonic states, utterly destroyed as functioning human beings. “EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement,” Gawande writes.

    Often, prisoners can be confined in solitary for minor infractions of prison rules, such as taking too much time in the shower or associating with a gang member. By denying an inmate social interaction, “the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury,” Gawande points out. After all, he notes, “Human beings are social creatures.” The writer quotes Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz allowed to study inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, as finding many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind---to organize their own lives around activity and purpose. Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result.” Additionally, many of the solitary inmates become consumed with revenge fantasies. We need to ask, “What is the cost to society in treasure and blood after their release?” “How many go straight to mental hospitals?” “How many wind up right back in prison?”

    There are defenders of the supermax model, however. One inmate wrote the Denver Post he was not affected by the boredom and considered the silence “wonderful.” He said, “I still have a relatively intact mind. It could be infinitely worse.” And in Forbes magazine, author Ian Ross (no kin), wrote, “It’s worth considering that the Supermax model--which includes prisoner isolation for 23 out of every 24 hours a day--may be serving as a deterrent to some violent criminals, a kind of brightly lit billboard that advertises the life of rather extreme measures they are facing. There’s no way to quantify that, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.” (It may be, indeed!)

    In June, 2006, after a year-long study, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons called for an end to long-term isolation of prisoners. It said there were no benefits to the practice beyond 10 days of punishment. What’s more, Gawande writes, “evidence from a number of studies has shown that supermax conditions---in which prisoners have virtually no social interactions and are given no programmatic support---make it highly likely that they will commit more crimes when they are released.”

    The writer says our willingness to confine our own citizens to solitary made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war. “In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement---on our own people….” Since prolonged solitary is little more than the sadistic crucifixion of thousands of human beings, where, oh where, is the public outrage?

    Sherwood Ross worker as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and
    as a columnist for wire services.
    He currently operates a public relations company for worthy causes.
    Reach him at;

    Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons Making Thousands Psychotic

    Art Review | 'Performance 1: Tehching Hsieh'

    A Year in a Cage: A Life Shrunk to Expand Art

    Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

    Performance 1: Tehching Hsieh, at the Museum of Modern Art, displays a wooden cage like one in which the artist spent a year, doing nothing.

    Published: February 18, 2009

    Art takes total commitment, but few artists maintain it around the clock.

    An exception is the Taiwanese-born performance artist Tehching Hsieh (pronounced dur-ching shay), specifically, the five, grueling one-year pieces he executed, mostly in New York, from 1978 to 1986. Their subject and material was time itself.

    Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
    Tehching Hsieh on Day 1, left, and Day 365, locked up for art.

    The Museum of Modern Art is devoting a small, gripping exhibition to the documentation of “Cage Piece” (1978-79), the first of Mr. Hsieh’s One Year Performances. It entailed spending a year in near-solitary confinement in a cell-like cage doing absolutely nothing. The show makes an altogether apt debut for the Modern’s new series of project exhibitions devoted to performance art.

    Few pieces communicate the medium’s potential and its demands in such a basic, resonant way. All of Mr. Hsieh’s One Year Performances were 24/7 artworks.

    This sounds easy enough. Ever since Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, countless artists have claimed that their lives are their art. It’s a tired genre.

    The catch is that for each piece Mr. Hsieh also established very particular living conditions that required absolute focus, discipline and dedication.

    These conditions give each piece a stripped down, shocking clarity — a single, obdurate form.

    This form was extreme deprivation. For “Cage Piece” Mr. Hsieh deprived himself of nearly all contact with the world. In the next four pieces he eliminated, in succession, concentration, shelter, privacy and finally art itself.

    In each case he altered the nature of time radically for himself and, retrospectively, us. For “Cage Piece” Mr. Hsieh built a cage from pine dowels and two-by-fours in a corner of his TriBeCa studio, furnishing it with a bed, a blanket, a sink (no toilet) and a pail, as well as some personal hygiene items.

    He entered the cell on Sept. 30, 1978. Robert Projansky, his lawyer, locked the door and affixed it and each dowel with paper seals that he signed. Every day a friend delivered food and dealt with the artist’s refuse. And each day the friend took a photograph of Mr. Hsieh, who had shaved his head at the beginning.

    For the next year Mr. Hsieh was mostly alone with his thoughts: no talking, reading or writing; no radio or television. On designated days once or twice a month his loft was open to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; people could visit it like a gallery and see the work in progress.

    On Sept. 29, 1979, Mr. Projansky returned, verified that none of the seals had been broken, and Mr. Hsieh left his cell. At the Modern the small black-and-white daily photographs of the artist are displayed in a single line wrapping around the walls, measuring the days in lengthening hair. Giving each image a cursory look seems to take forever. The cage itself is on display in a shadowy interior gallery, complete with bed, sink and pail.

    It is like the jail cell in an American western, only dainty. There’s the temptation to see Mr. Hsieh as a political prisoner (all those mug shots) or as a fanatical devotee of some religion. But mainly his work fits squarely within performance art’s peculiar and extreme explorations of the human condition.

    His One Year pieces have the shock value of Chris Burden’s early daredevil performances, those brief, sensational actions that included having himself shot in the arm and crucified atop a Volkswagen. These works were performed in private and publicized after the fact.

    Whether conveyed by photographs, videos, statements or simple word of mouth, they made unforgettable impressions.

    Still, the extended duration of Mr. Hsieh’s pieces aligns him with more peace-loving meditative artists who measure time through calm, unvarying repetition.

    Examples include Hanne Darboven’s journal-like scrawls; Roman Opalka’s gray number paintings; Jonathan Borofsky’s 1969-70 “Counting from 1 to 2,740,321,” a waist-high stack of typing paper covered with handwritten numbers held down by a large plastic ruby; and just about anything by On Kawara, best known for his date paintings. It is the compression of these two strains that gives Mr. Hsieh’s work its impact. You comprehend their extent in an instant; thinking them through makes them expand in your mind. What’s most tangible about the “Cage Piece” is the almost palpable immensity and emptiness of time, nothing but time, of life as the filling of time. Mr. Hsieh carved a notch for each day in the wall. (He didn’t consider it writing.)

    He said he spent the time staying alive and thinking about his art.

    His subsequent One Year Performances had their own demands, but they also stand as extreme reactions to the hardships of “Cage Piece.”

    Mr. Hsieh’s second year long piece required him to punch a time-clock in his studio every hour — or 8,760 times — dividing time into increments, destroying concentration with the constant interruption. (The piece, a combination of time cards and photographs, is on view at the Guggenheim in “The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989.”)

    His third piece was a year spent living entirely outdoors, mostly in downtown New York, filling his time with the basic act of surviving and charting his movements.

    His fourth piece was a year devoid of privacy or solitude, spent tied by an eight-foot rope to another person whom he never touched (the performance artist Linda Montano).

    Finally Mr. Hsieh spent a fifth year without making, looking at, talking or reading about art.

    This piece seems most abstract and hardest to detect or document.

    Tellingly, he found that the easiest way to execute it was to leave New York.

    In the One Year Performances, especially the first four, Mr. Hsieh did not make his life his art. Instead, with Classical precision and unquestionable monstrousness, he expanded his art until it fully occupied, consumed and suspended his life.

    “Performance 1: Tehching Hsieh” is at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, (212) 708-9400,, through May 18.

    A version of this article appeared in print on February 19, 2009, on page C1 of the New York edition.

    A Year in a Cage


    Torture conditions in U.S. prisons

    October 17, 2008

    Gabriel Gonzalez was 21 years old when he was sentenced to die for the murder of a pawnshop owner, a crime that he insists he did not commit.

    Along with Kenneth Foster Jr. and Rob Will, Gabriel co-founded the Death Row Inner-communalist Vanguard Engagement (DRIVE) Movement, which engages in nonviolent, direct action protest to fight for better conditions on death row and in opposition to capital punishment.

    Here, Gabriel describes the effects of isolation and segregation on prisoners.

    THE U.S. criminal justice system is remarkably ineffective, absurdly expensive, grossly inhumane and riddled with racism.

    The slaughter of youth of color characterizes many big city police departments.

    Sentencing practices have led to the imprisonment of over 2 million people in state and federal facilities, with another 3.5 million under other forms of social control.

    The use of sensory deprivation as a form of behavior modification began as an experiment with the political prisoners--members of the Young Lords Party, Puerto Rican independence activists, the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, white members of the Plowshares, the Black Liberation Army, Muslims, jailhouse lawyers and prison activists were suddenly removed from the general population and placed in isolation. They were placed there for who they are and what they believe.

    The former warden of Marion Penitentiary has been quoted as saying that the purpose of a control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and society at large.

    There is no way to articulate the excruciating torture of sensory deprivation.

    Picture living in a cage, about the size of a bathroom.

    You are there 23 hours a day, day in and day out, year in and year out.

    You are allowed one hour a day out in a cage the size of a tiny living room.

    ou are allowed one five-minute phone call every six months, which is monitored.

    Your mail and reading material is maliciously scrutinized and censored.

    When leaving your cage, you are subjected to a dehumanizing strip search which includes a genital and anal probe, and then handcuffed.

    You are completely under the control of prison guards who carry pepper gas and long, black batons that some refer to as "spic and nigger beaters."

    Sensory deprivation and isolation are brainwashing techniques. The world of control units and super-max prisons is a world in which isolation and segregation for long, indefinite periods of time (or permanently) has led to a psychological brutality of ugly proportions.

    The expanded use of these units has led Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture/USA to cite the U.S. with their concerns.

    The use of isolation units breaks the United Nations Covenant Against Torture and the United Nations Covenant for the Treatment of Prisoner, both of which the United States has signed.

    The political function that sensory deprivation and brainwashing serve is inescapable.

    The police, the courts and the prison system all serve as social control mechanisms.

    The economic function they serve is equally as chilling.

    America is enchanted with this form of neo-lynching and slavery.

    The wall of silence that has been built around death row and prisons in general, as well as prisoners has got to be broken down.

    We need organizers for public demonstration and education;

    Community groups, churches and mosques; grassroots organizations to help the community mobilize against this torture and dehumanization;

    Attorneys to litigate unjust and inhumane prison conditions and policies;

    Letter writers and media campaigns;

    People who will become a nation-wide emergency response network for phone calls, faxes and e-mails;

    And intervention by people seeking to meet with prison committees and administrations when we protest conditions, treatment and brutality.

    Prisons are one of the largest growth industries in the U.S.

    The expansion of the prison system in America has been a boom to everyone from architects, to plumbers, electricians and food vendors, all with one thing in common--a paycheck earned off the backs of free prisoner labor and execution.

    With the full cooperation of politicians and media, the public is being sold a "war on crime" and a "war on drugs" as the cure for the constantly hawked, yet non-existing rising rate of crime.

    Prison issues are class issues--the rich exploiting the poor for economic gain. The insidious crippling of our poor, young people on death rows and prisons is expanding, and none of this is about the rate of crime. It is about capitalism, it is about racism and classism.

    Support the DRIVE Movement to end the death penalty and the torture of sensory deprivation, inhumane conditions and prison abuse.

    Inaction in the face of injustice is acceptance and collusion with state oppression and state-sanctioned murder.

    Say no to the death penalty.

    Say no to control and isolation units and the torture of sensory deprivation!


    Another Idaho Death in a GEO Group Prison in Texas

    Last month saw another tragic death of an Idaho prisoner held in a Texas prison operated by Florida-based private prison corporation GEO Group.

    Reports have indicated that the inmate, 37 year-old Randall McCullough, apparently took his own life after spending more than a year in a solitary confinement at GEO Group's Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.

    According to media reports, McCullough was placed in the solitary confinement cell, which measured 7.5 feet by 12 feet by 8 feet, after allegedly assaulting a staff member, though no charges against McCullough were ever filed in Idaho or Texas court.

    The case brings to memory the tragic suicide of Idaho inmate Scot Noble Payne in 2007 at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center.

    The fallout from Noble Payne's death lead to the closure of Dickens and the transfer of Idaho inmates to other GEO facilities across the state.

    Meanwhile, Nicole reports that GEO Group continues to expand capacity in Texas, adding opening several new prisons in the state this year.

    Another Idaho Death

    Inmate suicides linked to solitary

    Posted 12/27/2006
    By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

    The number of suicides in the nation's two largest state prison systems is ticking upward, and authorities in California and Texas are linking the increase to the rising number of inmates kept in solitary confinement.

    In California, which has the largest state prison system with about 170,000 inmates, there have been 41 suicides this year, the most in at least six years and a 17% increase from 2005. Although an estimated 5% of California's inmates are ! housed in solitary confinement — also known as "administrative segregation" — 69% of last year's suicides occurred in units where inmates are isolated for 23 hours a day, according to state Department of Corrections records. About half the suicides this year were in such units.

    In Texas' prison system, which has 169,000 inmates, there have been 24 suicides this year, up from 22 in 2005. Most of the inmates who killed themselves were in some form of solitary confinement, says John Moriarty, inspector general for the prison system.

    Texas prisons also are reporting a 17% increase in attempted suicides: 652 so far this year, compared with 559 in 2005. The number of attempted suicides this year is the most in nearly a decade, according to state prison records. Statistics on attempted suicides in California prisons were not immediately available.

    The figures from California and Texas are fueling a debate over whether solitary confinement is the best way to control or punish violent or dangerous inmates, particularly those who are mentally ill.

    More than 70,000 of the 1.5 million inmates in state and federal prisons are kept in isolation, a reflection of get-tough policies designed to separate rival gang members and those who have gotten into fights while behind bars.

    Isolated inmates typically have significant restrictions on visitors and get little help in dealing with the psychological problems that can be caused by isolation. They usually are allowed out of their cells for no more than an hour a day to exercise alone; their exposure to TV and reading material also is limited.

    "Are we housing the mentally ill in prison facilities?" Moriarty asks. "I think the answer is yes. But I don't know if that's the best place for them to be."

    Moriarty, whose office investigates every inmate death in Texas, says stress from isolation and increasing numbers of inmates with long sentences have contributed to the rise in suicides. "Length of sentence is a big factor. There is despair about not getting out."

    The increase in inmate suicides in California has triggered recent changes in segregation units. In October, guards began checking inmates housed in solitary confinement every 30 minutes, rather than every hour, says Shama Chaiken, the state prison system's chief psychologist for mental health policy.

    Some segregation cells also will be modified to remove shelving, vent openings and other features that offenders could use in hangings, the most common form of suicide in California prisons, Chaiken says. This month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $1 billion plan that includes 10,000 new beds in prison medical and mental health units.

    A few jurisdictions have credited expanded mental health programs with reducing prisoner suicides. After Kentucky set up a mental health program for those in the state's 83 county jails in 2004, suicides in the jails fell 47%, according to The (Louisville) Courier- Journal.

    There have been 13 suicides this year in the 188,000-inmate federal prison system, the same total as in 2005. Florida, the third-largest state system with 90,000 inmates, has had nine prison suicides this year; it had eight last year.

    Inmate suicides linked to solitary

    Commission warns of harm isolation can do to prisoners

    Posted 6/7/2006 10:42 PM ET
    By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

    WASHINGTON A group that conducted a yearlong study of the treatment of inmates in U.S. prisons called Wednesday for an end to some forms of severe isolation and a halt to releasing prisoners directly to the streets after long terms in solitary confinement. A report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons said the use of solitary confinement is on the rise in the USA, where 2.2 million inmates are incarcerated.

    From 1995 to 2000, the number of offenders assigned to solitary confinement increased by 40%, surpassing the 28% rise in overall prison population growth, according to the group.

    The commission also said 300,000 to 400,000 mentally ill offenders suffer from disease and neglect.

    The group, which took testimony from prisoner advocates and corrections officials in several states over a yearlong period, will present its findings today to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation.

    The Vera Institute of Justice, a group that advocates for prisoner rights, initiated and organized the study. Vera also provided staff.

    "If there was ever a time when the public consequences of confinement did not matter, that time is long gone," the report concluded.

    Among the findings:
    State prison homicides have declined dramatically since 1980, from 54 murders per 100,000 prisoners to four murders per 100,000 prisoners in 2002.

    Data on some other forms of violence are not reliable, the commission said.

    "Perhaps the biggest blind spot," the report said, is that "there are no national measures of physical violence and excessive use of force by staff against prisoners, including the inappropriate use of restraints and non-lethal weapons."

    Prisons and jails are ill-equipped to provide proper care to up to 400,000 offenders suffering from mental illness.

    Nicholas Katzenbach, co-chairman of the commission and former attorney general to President Lyndon Johnson, said the number of mentally ill prisoners was "particularly shocking."

    "The need for mental health care is enormous," the report said.

    Former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction director Reginald Wilkinson said in the report that prisons have become "the new asylums."

    Most prisons are isolated from meaningful public accountability.

    "Most correctional facilities are surrounded by more than physical walls," the report said. "They are walled off from external monitoring and public scrutiny to a degree inconsistent with the responsibility of public institutions."

    Alexander Busansky, the commission's executive director, said the rapidly expanding use of segregation to control problem inmates "concerned the commission."

    The group referred to a USA TODAY report last year that chronicled the struggles and failure of some Texas inmates to adjust to life on the outside after years spent in solitary confinement.

    Up to 1,300 Texas inmates per year are released directly from solitary confinement to the streets, and the state recently adopted a pilot program to assist the transition for some of them.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said the program is not big enough to accommodate all of the exiting inmates.

    Last year, nearly 10,000 of the state's 150,000 inmates were in some form of solitary confinement in which offenders are kept in small cells for up to 23 hours a day with little or no contact with other inmates.

    Lyons said isolating inmates has become necessary to protect both prisoners and prison staff from particularly violent offenders.

    "These (isolated) inmates are those who have proven to be a problem," she said.

    The commission found that even the most difficult offenders needed some human contact to guard against extreme conditions "that cause lasting harm."

    Find this article at:
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    After years in solitary, freedom hard to grasp; Ex-cons face long odds on release from isolation

    By Kevin Johnson, USA Today
    EDINBURG, Texas --

    It's not unusual to find Angel Coronado outside his family's trailer here a few miles north of the Mexican border, staring blankly at a nearby hayfield. When he's among family and friends, he often recoils from physical contact. Conversations with him usually are brief, and then fade into an awkward silence.

    Coronado was always quiet, says his mother, Trinidad. But since he spent nearly two years in solitary confinement in a Texas state prison for an assault conviction, Coronado, 22, seems to have lost touch with much of the world around him, his mother says.

    Unemployed, addicted to cocaine and once again hanging out with members of a violent street gang, Coronado shows little of the optimism he had on a chilly day in November 2002 when he was released from a state prison in Huntsville and talked about getting a job in construction. A USA TODAY reporter joined Coronado that day on a 13-hour bus trip from prison to his South Texas home to begin chronicling how he would adjust to freedom after being in the extreme isolation of a windowless, 6-by-10-foot cell.

    Coronado is among tens of thousands of felons who have been released from U.S. prisons during the past decade after spending years in solitary confinement and receiving little or no rehabilitation. They make up less than 10% of the more than 600,000 felons released from state prisons each year, but they often are the most dangerous or troubled prisoners to be freed: murderers, rapists, gang members and others who have been kept in tiny cells for 23 hours a day with restrictions on visitors and little help in dealing with the psychological problems that can be caused by extreme isolation.

    This stream of felons is part of the legacy of get-tough policies that have become increasingly common in prisons in Texas and across the nation.

    During the past decade, state prisons determined to reduce violence among gang members and inmates who have gotten into fights behind bars have put record numbers of them in solitary confinement, or "administrative segregation," as it is called in Texas.

    The inmates typically are allowed out of their cells for no more than an hour a day to exercise alone; their exposure to TV and reading material also is limited.

    In the Justice Department's last census of U.S. jails and prisons in 2000, there were roughly 70,000 inmates in some form of isolation, up from about 48,000 in 1995. In Texas, the number of inmates in isolation has risen from 9,681 in 2001 to 9,867 this year. Each year, Texas releases 1,200 to 1,300 inmates directly from solitary confinement.

    Justice Department studies have indicated that about 67% of all felons who are released from state prisons commit new crimes within three years. No national studies have been done on the return-to- crime rate for those released from solitary confinement, but anecdotal evidence suggests the rate is higher among those felons.

    That was the case for Coronado and the eight other felons who were released from solitary confinement in Texas on Nov. 15, 2002. Thirty-one months later, seven of the nine -- including Coronado, who was caught breaking into a city-owned garage in the nearby border town of Donna, Texas -- have gotten into trouble again:

    *Five are back in prison, including Adam Morales, 33, a gang member and convicted burglar who served 10 years in solitary confinement before his release in 2002. He now faces 35 more years in solitary for an incident last year in which he shot up his apartment while drunk, then tried to escape from a local jail the next day.

    Convicted killer Bruce Neil Butler was sent back to prison this year for violating the terms of his parole. He will be eligible for release in 2019.

    *Coronado and another offender released from isolation on that November day have served additional prison time for additional crimes. They now are free again.

    *Two of the released felons have avoided return trips to prison, including Silvestre Segovia, a convicted robber who spent 10 years in isolation because of his association with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Segovia is barely beating the odds. He has been arrested twice on misdemeanor charges, but he has stayed out of serious trouble and has a job in construction in the central Texas town of Kerrville.

    Crime analysts say they're not surprised that most of the felons released from solitary confinement with Coronado have returned to crime.

    "When they do get out, they don't survive on the outside for very long," says Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has interviewed hundreds of prisoners held in isolation in Texas, Florida and California. "These environments require people to develop survival strategies to get them through the days, weeks and years" in isolation. "They are utterly dysfunctional when they get out."

    Haney says family members of just-released felons have asked him to treat relatives having difficulty adjusting to life outside prison. He says some of the ex-inmates had reconfigured their new living spaces at home to "recreate" the look and feel of their tiny cells.

    "The rooms were always small and dark," Haney says. "The beds were made in the same way. Shoes were always stacked by their bed, just like in prison." One of his clients slept in a bathtub during his first few nights out of prison, Haney says, because the "cold, solid tub felt most like his cell."

    Government help limited

    Government efforts to help released felons adjust to freedom were rare until 1999, when the Clinton administration formed "re-entry courts" to help thousands of felons each year get housing, jobs and mental health services.

    The program was created as the number of released felons nationwide topped 500,000 for the first time, largely because many offenders began completing long mandatory sentences imposed during the 1980s and early 1990s. The release of violent felons is widely thought to have helped to push national crime rates up slightly in three out of the past four years.

    Little of the federal assistance has been available to those in isolation and following their releases; states routinely ban rehabilitation services for such inmates as an additional punishment.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials believe that isolation "continues to be the best way" to prevent violence among gang members who make up an estimated 10,000 of the state system's 150,000 inmates, department spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says. She says solitary confinement helped to reduce homicides in state prisons from 25 in 1985 to fewer than 10 in every year since.

    But Stuart Grassian, a Harvard University psychiatrist who has studied the long-term effects of isolation on offenders, says that "if the public understood what kind of condition these people are in when they (are freed), they would be appalled. It's set up for these folks to fail" and "create new victims."

    Texas officials realize that freeing felons from isolation can present "some difficulty" for the felons and the communities where they end up living, Lyons says.

    In a $1.9 million pilot project funded by the Justice Department, Texas is tracking 46 offenders who have been released from isolation since October. As part of the project, prisoners are shown instructional videos in their cells. The lessons in the videos include reacquainting prisoners with basic current events and hygiene.

    The program, which director Donna Gilbert says is the first of its kind in the nation, also provides felons freed from solitary confinement with mentors and case managers to help the felons find housing and jobs. An evaluation of the program is not scheduled until next year, but so far none of the offenders in it has returned to prison or been arrested again, Gilbert says.

    "Because of the extreme isolation, these people have a lot of basic needs," she says. "Computer technology and cellphones have passed them by. Some have been in segregation 10 to 15 years. It's like they walked into the mountains and suddenly returned years later."

    'I thought it would be easier'

    After 10 years in solitary confinement, Silvestre Segovia was beginning to think that his release date would never come. When it finally did in November 2002, he couldn't get enough of the outside world.

    On his way home from prison, he stopped in a Houston convenience store and discovered something that had become popular during his years in isolation: wine coolers. He guzzled two bottles in the parking lot. At home in Edinburg, there was more alcohol and marijuana.

    "When I saw him (after his release), it was party, party, party," says Ortencia Rosales, 38, who married Segovia after he got out of prison. "It was like he was trying to catch up for all the time he lost."

    When the partying finally stopped, Segovia, 32, says he no longer could run from reality: He was broke, he had no prospects for a job, and the local police, aware of his criminal history, were watching him closely. He says he applied for at least 25 jobs, including cleanup work at Dairy Queen and McDonald's. He was rejected each time.

    Many of the rejections, Segovia believes, were because of his criminal record, which also included a separate conviction for involuntary manslaughter before his robbery conviction. "I wrote a note on one of the applications, saying the person who went into prison is not the same person now," he says. "I guess I thought it would be easier when I got out."

    Eventually, he says, he started "lying on the applications" to have a better chance of landing a job. He found construction work with a salary and health benefits last year with a firm in Kerrville, about 300 miles north of Edinburg.

    Segovia's employer knows about his past. "I knew he did some time," says Herb Jackson, one of Segovia's supervisors. "But the guy works hard."

    Steady employment is helping provide for Segovia's family, which now includes a 5-month-old daughter, Destinee. But he's still struggling with the effects of his decade in isolation.

    "I spent a long time in a room half the size of this living room," he says, gesturing to the modestly furnished space before him. "Sometimes, I have to leave the house just to remind myself I'm still free."

    Segovia says police have stopped him at least 10 times since he was released from prison, mostly for traffic violations. He has spent two nights in jail but hasn't been ordered back to prison.

    "I know I'm not going to do anything that will give (authorities) reason to send me back," Segovia says.

    His wife is wary. "I'm afraid," she says, that "he's gonna be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

    Released into the unknown

    When he was freed from solitary confinement that November day in 2002, Adam Morales planned a new life in the "free world."

    His goals: work hard and stay clean. What he did not anticipate, he says now, was his inability to adjust to life outside his cramped cell.

    "It was like being released to a dark room, knowing that there are steps in front of you and waiting to fall," Morales says.

    At a Wal-Mart store near his home in the West Texas town of Big Spring, Morales' niece noticed him walking with his back to the walls and avoiding other customers.

    "Being in isolation so long, it's hard to explain the feeling," Morales says. "When people get close to you in prison, it's usually because they want to hurt you."

    A string of failed jobs and a confrontation with his father set Morales on a path back to prison.

    In the spring of 2004, he got drunk and began firing a gun in his apartment. After he woke up in the local jail the next morning and learned that he had been charged with a new felony, Morales says he panicked and tried to escape from the jail's exercise yard.

    Convictions on the gun and escape charges earned him 35 more years in prison. He expects to serve all that time in solitary confinement because of his past association with a gang in prison.

    "I wake up today, and I can't believe it," Morales says during an interview at a state prison in Gatesville. "I had so many plans, but I guess it's all over now."

    Morales, whose most serious offense may have been the weapons case in which no one was injured, will be 68 when he is scheduled to be released in 2040. Counting his previous prison term, he will have spent 45 years in isolation.

    A mother's growing concern

    Like Morales, Coronado vowed to stay clean after he was released in 2002. At the time, Coronado had the look of an immature but well- meaning kid who had made some bad decisions.

    Now, he just looks tired. He perks up only when he offers to show the still-healing stab wounds to his chest and stomach that he suffered during his most recent time behind bars, a six-month term for burglary that ended in February.

    Coronado hasn't found work. His cocaine habit is "as bad as it gets," says Rosa Perez, his girlfriend.

    Coronado's slip into addiction, and his renewed association with a Rio Grande Valley gang known as the Tri-City Bombers, is no surprise to Fernando Mancias.

    Mancias, a lawyer in Mission, Texas, southwest of Edinburg, was the local judge who initially sent Coronado to state prison in 1999. When Coronado was released from isolation in 2002, Mancias said that without drug treatment or any other rehabilitation, Coronado was virtually assured of failure.

    Trinidad Coronado fears that things could get worse for her son. She believes he has begun to steal from her to get money to support his cocaine addiction.

    Recently, she noticed that the rifle she kept for protection had disappeared. She also says that her son is beginning to show "flashes of temper" when he doesn't get his way.

    Asked about his mother's concerns, Angel Coronado yawns. He routinely stays out most of the night and sleeps well past noon.

    "If he doesn't get help soon," Trinidad Coronado says, "there's no question he's gonna end up back in prison. Or someone's gonna kill him."


    Sunday, April 26, 1998

    By Tanya Eiserer/Abilene Reporter-News

    For nearly a decade, Gary Frank Drinkard Jr. has lived in a prison within a prison. Drinkard, a Robertson Unit inmate, was put in administrative segregation, the most restrictive level of housing, in 1989 after assaulting a guard in a gang-related fight at the Ferguson Unit in East Texas. "I wonder how anyone can survive in the situation he's been in," said his uncle, Jerry Dickey, who lives in Amarillo. "I don't think I could do that."

    Drinkard, allowed out of his cell one hour a day for recreation, sees the same four walls 23 hours a day in Building 12, Wing D. He is strip-searched, handcuffed and escorted by two correctional officers anytime he leaves his cell.

    "At first, it bothers you (to strip)," Drinkard said. "It's degrading, man, especially if there's a woman standing there."

    The 32-year-old Amarillo native, who went to prison on an aggravated robbery conviction in 1986, can't tell night from day inside the cellblock. His door includes just a tiny window, which looks out into the hall. The cell, with whitewashed walls, has a toilet and a bed. Drinkard is permitted only the most basic personal necessities, including a small radio. A television is not allowed.

    This is life for nearly 500 inmates in Robertson's administrative segregation. "This will make you or break you," said the tattoo-covered Drinkard, a Level 1 inmate, the least restrictive of ad seg's three levels. "It's been one hell of an experience. I guess you have to be a little bit crazy to keep from going insane."

    In Texas, 22 of the state's 107 prison units have facilities to house ad seg and close custody inmates. Robertson is being remodeled to add about 215 seg beds because of an increased need for maximum-security beds.

    "It's the jail within the jail," said Wayne Scott, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    The ad seg concept was started in 1985, a turbulent year in which there were 27 gang-related homicides in the prison system.

    "Since we've done that," Scott said, "some years we've had none or very few (homicides) even though our population has vastly increased."

    The Estelle Unit in Huntsville, recently featured on "Nightline," is a "super ad seg" facility. TDCJ is building four more 660-bed units like it, Scott said.

    The main difference between ad seg at Robertson and Estelle is technology, he said. Everything is handled electronically instead of with keys.

    "The concept is the same," Scott said. "They're still locked in their cell, except for when they come out for recreation. They're just more technologically advanced."

    Of the state's 143,000 inmates, about 5 to 7 percent are confined to administrative segregation, said Glen Castlebury, a TDCJ spokesman in Austin. Another 5 to 7 percent are held in close custody, a level of confinement just one step above ad seg in which the inmates still work, he said.

    Eighty-five percent of the prison population is in medium or minimum custody, and most of them work, he said.

    "This is the population we can work with on rehabilitation and education," Castlebury said. The state spends about $39.50 per day to house a general population inmate and $53-$54, the national average, to house a maximum security prisoner.

    Restrictive parole policies and lengthy prison sentences have led to a hardening of the system, and consequently, to an increased need for administrative segregation, Castlebury said. "The Legislature has been on a 10-year pattern of increasing the mandatory minimum time of incarceration," Castlebury said. "Murder or life has marched from 20 to 40 years.

    "On this 10-year inexorable march to longer sentences, you have lost that incentive for good behavior. You have created additional dangers. We call it the hardening of the population."
    Dr. Tony Fabelo, director of the state's Criminal Justice Policy Council, agreed.

    "The only way to control inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults is by isolating the most dangerous inmates," Fabelo said. "It's just necessary. It's just a fact."

    An inmate will land in ag seg if he's staff- or inmate-assaultive, a confirmed member of a "security threat group," such as a gang, has extensive disciplinary violations or is an escape risk.

    "It's a further loss of liberty within the prison system that is itself a loss of liberty," Castlebury said. "They have proven that they are antisocial," he said. "When they were in a group, they assaulted other inmates or guards. These people are being denied rehabilitation programs. "They are getting their own needed rehabilitation. You have to learn not to stick knives in guards or to throw urine on guards. They've got their own level of rehab; it's just a crude level." "The ad seg inmates are the worst the prison system has to offer," said Major D.C. Cole, who oversees Robertson's maximum security areas. "The ones that are causing the most problems in here are the ones causing the most problems out there. "They were predators in free society and they are predators in here. That's why we went ahead and segregated them."

    John Castillo, Robertson's security threat group coordinator, said generally the top gang leaders are the individuals put in administrative segregation. "The gangs usually deal in extortion and strong arming the weaker inmates," Castillo said. "Usually, we take out their rank." "It's hard to be one when you're locked up 24 hours a day," said Asst. Warden James Mayfield. While some may complain that those inmates put in ad seg will only be that much worse when they get out, "it's a necessary evil," Cole said. "To provide the safety for inmates who want to do right and to provide safety for my staff members, it's very necessary," he said. Castlebury added, "When these people get in there, their psychology is already so extreme and so violent, why the hell are people worrying about their psyche?"

    Robertson currently has six wings of ad seg, each of which can hold up to 84 prisoners. Level 1 inmates are housed in wings A-D, Level 2 in E and Level 3 in F. A large peg board in the main office denotes all the inmates in ad seg -- white tag for white inmates, blue for black inmates, orange for Hispanic inmates, primarily for identification purposes. Stickers on the tags also indicate gang affiliation, prison officials said.

    In ad seg, metal doors are opened and closed from the wing's "picket control," an elevated station where an officer can see nearly everything happening on the cellblock. "Everything is separated by a door," said Capt. David Pizzuto, Robertson spokesman. "You can't go 30 feet without going through a door. That way if something happens it's isolated to one area." Correctional officers working the floor check cells about every 15 minutes though they're only required to do so every half hour, said Martha Gonzales, a guard. "We have to make sure they're not hanging themselves or cutting their wrists," Gonzales said. Inmates communicate in an improvised sign language and by shouting back and forth across the cellblock. There's an almost constant din, caused by inmates beating on cells. "That's how they keep themselves busy -- yelling at each other and using sign language," Gonzales said. "We don't know half of what they're saying." "There's a lot of idiots out here," inmate Drinkard said of his fellow habitants. "They disrespect women when they walk by. They masturbate." In the picket, officers have a peg board, almost like a chess game, that helps them keep track of the inmates whether they're in the day room, the yard, off wing, the showers or in cell. Guards begin moving inmates about 6 a.m. and continue until about 9 p.m.

    Level 1 inmates are allowed one hour of recreation seven days a week, Level 2 get an hour four days a week and Level 3 get an hour three days a week. Level 1 inmates also are permitted to have more property, such as a radio, than Level 2 and Level 3 inmates. Ad seg inmates are also not allowed contact visits with their friends and families. All visits are conducted through the glass over a telephone.

    "Every time, they're removed from the cell they're stripsearched," said Sgt. Mike Moore, a supervisor. "They're handcuffed and escorted by two officers. There's never more than one inmate in one area at a time. They are also searched at least once a week for contraband."

    Ad seg inmates eat meals in their cells. Food is brought in from the chow hall and served up on trays. "They eat the same food as the inmates out in population," Cole said. "Level 2 and 3 inmates get the same nutrition, but they don't get the dessert." Dessert is used as a "little carrot" aimed at improving behavior, he said. A strip search is conducted each time a general population inmate enters or leaves the cellblock. "We have people that attempt to bring things in," Cole said. "There's no real privacy in the penitentiary They have their private areas, but it's still open to my staff members." If an inmate refuses to leave an area or obey an order, or tries to hurt himself or an officer, a team of five correctional officers will suit up in riot gear with protective Plexiglass shields to regain control of the situation, Cole said, even if only one inmate is involved.

    "We try to go down there with a show of force so that you don't have a problem," he said. "There's a consequence for everything that happens in here. If they're going to cause a problem, we're going to cause a resolution."

    Inmates can work their way out of ad seg, said Robertson Warden Tim Morgan. "If they want to abide by the rules and regulations, they can work back into general population," Morgan said, adding it takes six months to move to a higher level in administrative segregation and eventually back into general population.

    Confirmed security threat group members, however, must prove sufficiently to prison officials that they have quit the gang before they will be released from ad seg, Castillo said. "The only way to get out is to cut off all contact," Mayfield said. "If they're a gang member, their chances of ever getting out (of ad seg) are very slim," Cole added. A state classification commission acts as a checks and balances system, reviewing each inmate's file every six months, he said.

    On April 2, a two-man team from Huntsville reviewed 185 Robertson inmate files, releasing about five back into general population.

    J.D. Norm, a Level 1 inmate, passes the time writing letters and working crosswords. "Some people go crazy," said Norm, who was put in administrative segregation about one year ago. "You're stuck behind this door all day. It's not too much fun." Norm, 33, admits his temper landed him in ad seg. Prison records show that he was put in administrative segregation after assaulting another inmate with a deadly weapon. "(Time's) going to go by whether I'm here or in general population," the inmate said. "I feel like I'm about 50. I'll walk back out when I'm about 40."

    Drinkard, housed in a cell near Norm, hasn't had a major disciplinary problem since 1994. "I wasn't always like that," Drinkard said. "I was a radical. I would not listen to any type of authority. I was a mixed up young man." Yet he remains in ad seg because of a past affiliation with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. "Drinkard's gone a long time without having any major problems," Mayfield said. "He's doing well. He's doing better than most of them back there."

    But, he said, Drinkard has not sufficiently proven he's quit the gang. "He's trying to play both sides against the fence," he said. "He's not out, in my personal opinion." "It's hard to get them to release you back to general population," said Drinkard. "They don't believe that you are really out."

    Drinkard, who quit school in the seventh grade, said he joined the Aryan Brotherhood in the late 1980s. "A white person was the minority," Drinkard said. "It's either fight or be somebody's homosexual. I chose to fight. It's all racial based. You're the underdog here."

    Drinkard was given an additional 12 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the 1989 gang-related attack involving a correctional officer.

    "I just want to go back to my family," Drinkard said. "That's one of the main things that bothers you. You can't touch your mother. I'm not a murderer, a rapist or a child molester, but I've spent most of my life in the penitentiary."

    Drinkard's got one person in his corner, however. His uncle, Jerry Dickey, has hired an attorney in an attempt to allow him to serve both sentences concurrently.

    "Gary didn't have no idea what stacked sentences meant," said Dickey, a rancher and used car lot owner. "He went for the deal. If they would run the sentences concurrent, I would bring him up here and provide him a place to live.

    "I think this young man is worth saving and I'm doing everything I can to give him another chance. I'm doing everything that I can to see that he gets it."

    ©Abilene Reporter-News


Life in administrative segregation can make, break a prisoner

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