Thousands of American Prisoners Spend 23 Hours a Day in Solitary Confinement

“If you’re seriously mentally ill and placed in solitary confinement, chances are you’re going to be in there for a long time. Chances are you’re not going to get quality care, and chances are you’re not going to get better. In fact, you’re going to get worse. Why do we consider this rehabilitation? What purpose are we serving? We need to make a decision as to how we’re going to treat prisoners and how we want them to come out when it’s time for them to be released. If we take a population that is sick to begin with, then throw them in a system not equipped to take care of them, they are going to get sicker. And they’re going to die.”

Excerpts, John Hokins Magazine/Spring 2015 – “Gabriel Eber (a senior staff counsel with the ACLU’s National Prison Project) has no shortage of macabre tales of life inside the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, a notoriously violent and chaotic men’s prison on the outskirts of Meridian. Assaults (staff on inmate, inmate on inmate) are frequent. According to accounts, cells are infested with rats that crawl over prisoners; some inmates tie leashes to the rodents and sell them to the mentally ill as pets. Men are kept in small, unsanitary isolation cells with scant human attention for months and years. Self-mutilation and suicide attempts are not uncommon.

But words alone, Eber says, can’t bringhome the facility’s gruesome conditions. “I can show you a video of what I’m talking about, and I have some pictures,” says Eber, dressed in a loose-fitting dark suit as he sits in his cramped Washington office at the American Civil Liberties Union. He clicks open a file to show footage shot by the private corporation that now manages the prison. Two corrections officers stand outside a cell in one of the EMCF’s isolation units. (One such unit is known to inmates as the “dead zone” or “dead man’s zone.”) The officers are here for an unknown reason, perhaps to respond to a medical emergency, but if so, Eber says, they are already too late. One hears garbled shouts from other unit inmates, intermixed with a rhythmic, buzzing cacophony of machinery. The man inside, Eber says, suffers from asthma, which has likely worsened due to pepper spray in the air. Corrections officers routinely spray through a cell door’s tray slot if the inmate refuses to close it. Inmates often leave the slots open as a cry for help to receive medical attention, food, or a shower, and such defiant acts are common. Some inmates flood their cells by cramming whatever they can into a toilet, or use damaged electrical sockets to set fire to their mattresses. Some cut themselves.

Eventually the door opens, revealing a tall, thin 40-year-old African-American man, hunched over with one hand on a wall splattered with blood…”


sentiment that Eber and others in the same fight sometimes hear is: Why should we care about the health and well-being of inmates? These are convicted criminals. Some are serial rapists, murderers. They sell drugs to our children. They concoct fraud to steal money from our grandparents. Prison should be rough. That’s what deters people from breaking the law, right?

Eber argues that we all should care what goes on inside prison walls. The system, he says, is built on a rehabilitation model, not a torture model. He tells people to ask themselves this: What kind of person do you want leaving prison? Someone who is healthy and rehabilitated? Or someone so damaged as to likely be a burden to society? The issue, he says, is clear and serious. In far too many U.S. prison systems, inmates who have serious medical needs are either ignored or get substandard care. The result, he says, can lead to unnecessary amputations, the spread of disease, suicides, and the exacerbation of pre-existing psychiatric disorders. Even basic care for treatable conditions, like diabetes, can be a challenge in prison. “We hear it all,” he says. “It’s heartbreaking. The system is sick.”…

…”A study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law examined administrative segregation involving Colorado prison inmates with and without mental illness. In the longitudinal study, researchers examined whether inmates in segregation showed greater psychological deterioration over time compared to those nonsegregated. The subjects, male inmates in both administrative segregation and the general population, completed a brief symptom inventory at regular intervals for one year. Results showed some differentiation between groups at the outset and small but statistically significant positive change over time across all groups. The study’s findings were inconsistent with the hypothesis that inmates, with or without mental illness, experience significant psychological decline in solitary confinement. This study, however, has since been attacked on methodological grounds. Some critics say it relied too heavily on self-reports by inmates, with only marginal use of records and professional assessments, in circumstances where prisoners have disincentives to report psychiatric symptoms. Reports of psychiatric emergencies and medication changes were apparently not considered and, according to some critics, would have dramatically changed results.”

Full Article on John Hopkins Magazine

About Wyld Chyld

Artist, activist.
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