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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fighting a Drawn-Out Battle Against Solitary Confinement

From The New York Times:

ATWATER, Calif. — Ernesto Lira is not a murderer. He has never participated in a prison riot. The crime that landed him behind bars was carrying three foil-wrapped grams of methamphetamine in his car.

But on the basis of evidence that a federal court later deemed unreliable, prison officials labeled Mr. Lira a gang member and sent him to the super-maximum-security unit at Pelican Bay State Prison, the state’s toughest correctional institution.

There, for eight years, he spent 23 or more hours a day in a windowless 7.6-by-11.6-foot cell, allowed out for showers and exercise. His view through the perforated steel door — there were 2,220 holes; he counted them — was a blank wall, his companions a family of spiders that he watched grow, “season by season, year by year.”

Mr. Lira insisted that he was not a gang member, to no avail. He was eventually vindicated and is now out of prison, but he still struggles with the legacy of his solitary confinement. He suffers from depression and avoids crowds. At night, he puts blankets over the windows to block out any light. “He’s not the same person at all,” said his sister Luzie Harville. “Whatever happened, the experience he had in there changed him.”

California has for decades used long-term segregation to combat gang violence in its prisons — a model also used by states like Arizona with significant gang problems. Thousands of inmates said to have gang ties have been sent to units like that at Pelican Bay, where they remain for years, or in some cases decades. But California corrections officials — prodded by two hunger strikes by inmates at Pelican Bay last year and the advice of national prison experts — this month proposed changes in the state’s gang policy that could decrease the number of inmates in isolation.

Depending on how aggressively California moves forward — critics say that the changes do not go far enough and have enough loopholes that they may have little effect — it could join a small but increasing number of states that are rethinking the use of long-term solitary confinement, a practice that had become common in this country over the past three decades.

The changes in California’s system would represent one of the largest shifts in how it handles prison gangs since officials began pulling gang leaders, known as shot-callers, out of the general population in the late 1970s. Prison reform advocates say that if California, with the largest prison population in the nation, changes its practices, states like Arizona that have similar policies might follow suit.

“California really pioneered the mass segregation of gang members,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “So California could start to show the way out.”
Few dispute the threat posed by prison gangs, or the murders, assaults, drug smuggling and other mayhem they are responsible for. In 2011, there were 1,759 gang-related homicides, attempted homicides and violent attacks on staff members or other inmates inside state prisons, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.

Most states identify inmates who are members of prison gangs, and gang members account for a large percentage of the prisoners held in solitary confinement around the country. But California’s policy has been among the most severe, sending not only full gang members but also inmates found to associate regularly with gangs to one of the state’s three super-maximum-security facilities. More than 3,000 prisoners judged to have gang ties are held in such conditions. Of the inmates sent to the unit at Pelican Bay for gang affiliation, 248 have been there for 5 to 10 years; 218 for 10 to 20 years; and 90 for 20 years or more.

Lt. Dave Barneburg, lead gang investigator at Pelican Bay, said incarcerated gang leaders commanded a vast network in the prisons and in cities like Los Angeles, Salinas and San Francisco, ordering attacks on rivals and running drug rings and other illegal businesses. One gang, Nuestra Familia, at one point identified Pelican Bay as its “White House.” The gang problem is so tough, he said, “No one has the answer. You do the best you can with the tools you have.”

But civil rights lawyers have long been critical of California’s gang policy. The procedures used to identify gang members are flawed and lacking in due process, they say, leading to mistaken identifications like the one that sent Mr. Lira — who was vindicated by a civil rights lawsuit resolved last year, long after he was paroled — to Pelican Bay.

“They base this gang stuff on evidence which would never satisfy any normal legal proceeding,” said Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, which provides legal services for inmates.

He noted that although inmates identified as gang members are granted periodic hearings, under the current policy they are not allowed to confront their accusers — or even to know who their accusers are. Nor can they cross-examine witnesses, present their own evidence or argue their case before a neutral decision maker, all basic rights afforded to defendants in the outside judicial system.

In one case, said Charles Carbone, a prisoner’s rights lawyer in San Francisco, evidence used to validate an inmate included a copy of the ancient Chinese military text “The Art of War,” found in his cell. In another instance, a magazine containing an article about George Jackson, the Black Panther killed during an escape attempt at San Quentin in 1971, was used as evidence of gang membership.

Equally controversial is a process called debriefing, in which inmates in the supermax units are encouraged to renounce their gang ties and provide information about other members in order to be moved to lower-security settings. Because debriefing is sometimes the only way to get out, critics say, the information it yields is often tainted.

David Marcial, a prison consultant and a former official with the Connecticut Department of Corrections, whose gang management program has been a model for other states, said some inmates are so disruptive that they need to be isolated. But locking down all gang members is counterproductive, he said.

“If they’re not a shot-caller and they’re not doing anything violent in the prison, why lock them up?” he said. “My concern is not whether or not you’re a gang member. My concern is that you do not cause a threat to my facility when you’re incarcerated.”

Under the state’s new plan, gang associates — now the largest number of inmates held in the high-security units — would be isolated only for actions judged to be disruptive. But gang members would still be segregated. They would be allowed to work their way out of segregation after a minimum of four years, through a step-down program. Cases of prisoners currently in the units will be reviewed.

“It’s designed to be dynamic,” said Terri McDonald, the state corrections department’s under secretary for operations. “We’re interacting with offenders — they know what’s expected of them, and their behavior, based on their own choices, dictates where they are housed.”

Mr. Specter and other civil rights lawyers said that the proposal had benefits, but that four years was too long for inmates to wait to work their way out of solitary and that the criteria for what was considered disruptive were still so broad that it was unclear how large any reduction in numbers would be.
“It’s conceivable that it won’t affect very many, and that’s the main question,” he said. “If it’s just a codification of the status quo, that’s not going to be very effective.”

In Mr. Lira’s case, it took years of legal wrangling to win recognition of the system’s error. Pulled over in 1995 for a hairline crack in the windshield of his blue Mustang, he was charged with transporting methamphetamine and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Arriving at the entry facility in Tracy, he was told that after his last release from prison he had been identified as a member of the Northern Structure, a prison gang. Only later did he learn the evidence against him: a drawing found in his cell that corrections officials claimed contained hidden gang symbols, a report of a jail-yard standoff and information from confidential informer. Held in a segregation cell for nine months, in 1996 he was put on a bus for Pelican Bay, in the far north of the state, where he remained until his parole in 2004.
His first sight of the prison was a series of low-lying buildings without windows, “little cement blocks, like little Lego boxes,” he recalled. “It was quiet. No noise. You could hear the wind outside. You could hear the rain.”

As the months passed, his life dissolved into a series of undifferentiated days. “It would be nice if there was a window to look out,” he wrote in his diary. “I am surrounded by cement and steel.”

Prison officials encouraged him to renounce his gang membership, but he could not do so. He had never been a gang member, he told them.

When his lawsuit finally came to trial, witnesses testified that the drawing found in Mr. Lira’s cell was in fact made by another inmate. In a ruling last year, Judge Susan Illston noted that one witness, a corrections department official “who testified about her extensive training ‘on identifying gang symbols,’ “ was not able to find any symbols in the drawing, even when it was enlarged. The other evidence assembled against Mr. Lira was also called into question. Judge Illston ordered his gang classification expunged and noted that he suffered lasting emotional consequences from his incarceration a Pelican Bay.

Mr. Lira now lives with his mother here in Atwater, an agricultural town in the Central Valley. Since his release, he has been in and out of jail for parole violations and minor offenses. During a recent interview, he circled the living room, picking things up and putting them down, his body in constant motion. He is like this a lot of the time, his sister Irma Lira said, his mind “always on the go, thinking, moving.”

At 48, Mr. Lira has trouble talking about his years in solitary confinement. “You take a person and you just peel back the skin and make him just some raw flesh in a tomb and all he has is his mind,” he said. “Your feelings, your anxieties, your doubts, your health, your happiness, your spirit, who you are, who you think of — that’s the only thing that keeps you going in there.”

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Friday, March 30, 2012

House, Senate approve juvenile justice bills


BY ROBERT SWIFT March 27, 2012
HARRISBURG – House lawmakers approved legislation today to put Pennsylvania in the forefront of states that protect children’s rights to legal counsel in juvenile court.

This unanimous House vote signals an end-game for a two-year effort to require that attorneys representing a juvenile be present at delinquency hearings and end a practice that allowed juveniles to completely waive the right to counsel.

Minutes later, the Senate sent a bill requiring judges to publicly explain their sentencing decisions regarding juvenile offenders to Gov Tom Corbett for signing. This bill will create an open juvenile case disposition record so that it will be easier to determine if sentences are being handed down disproportionate to the offense. Both measures are sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., and address issues raised by the juvenile justice scandal at the Luzerne County Courthouse. Two former county judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, are serving federal prison terms for their role in improperly sentencing juveniles to a for-profit juvenile detention facility.

The House amended the Senate-approved mandatory juvenile counsel bill to have it conform with a state Supreme Court rule that took effect March 1 requiring that juveniles under 14 have legal representation at at all delinquency hearings. This rule allows juveniles 14 and over to waive their right in limited circumstances and only if the court is satisfied the waiver is knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made.

Therefore, the Senate will have to approve the juvenile counsel bill one more time so it agrees with the House amendment, but this concurrence vote is expected soon.

The Supreme Court rule allows very few exceptions for juveniles over 14 to the mandatory counsel requirement and requires counsel for juveniles of all ages for detention, transfer, disposition and probation hearings, said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, a non-profit public interest law firm.

"I think it (rule) protects kids in Pennsylvania probably better than any other state in the country on this issue," he added.

But Schwartz said even with a court rule it’s still important to get a law on the books.

"Both bills improve the rule of law in juvenile court," said Schwarz. "Lawyers help promote accountability. "It’s always important that judges explain why they are doing what they are doing."

Read more:
**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prison closing? Ionia's Michigan Reformatory on chopping block for 2013

From Sentinel Standard Ionia MI:

The House Department of Corrections Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed a bill that would close the Michigan Reformatory, located in Ionia.

The bill, called House Bill 5383, would transfer prisoner beds to a facility operated under a third-party contract in 2013 as part of the Cost-Effective Housing Initiative. The proposal was recommended in the $2 billion Department of Corrections budget.

If the bill passes, the net budgeted savings from the closure of the reformatory and shift to alternate housing is about $7.1 million. Savings estimate about $42.3 million from the proposed closure alone.

Michigan State Representative Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said he is against the closure.

“While I am very concerned that the subcommittee targeted the Ionia prison, I will stress its importance to the Department of Corrections and feel confident the closure will be reconsidered,” said Outman in a press release. “The budgeting process has just started, and at this point the closure is simply one of many proposals to rein in government spending.”

Michigan State Representative Mike Callton, R-Nashville, is also weighing in on the issue.

“I understand the budget constraints the members of the subcommittee are up against, but these jobs are important to a lot of families around here and I will do everything I can to save them,” said Callton.

According to documents from the House Fiscal Agency, the Michigan Reformatory housed roughly 1,200 prisoners classified at security levels IV and II as of March 9. The reformatory is the oldest prison in Michigan and currently employs 339 people in Ionia and the surrounding areas.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

House panel: Closing Ionia corrections facility would save $12.8M a year

From The Detroit News:$12.8M-a-year

March 29, 2012

Lansing — An aging corrections facility in Ionia could be closed to save state taxpayers $12.8 million annually and launch a pilot program for a privately run prison.

The House Appropriations Corrections Subcommittee on Thursday approved a $1.9 billion Department of Corrections budget for the next fiscal year that trims Gov. Rick Snyder's recommended spending plan by $36.7 million and recommends closure of the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Facility in Ionia, northwest of Lansing.

Michigan Reformatory is one of four state prisons in Ionia and was built in the late 1870s.

"It's a dinosaur," said state Rep. Joseph Haveman, a Holland Republican and chair of the budget-writing corrections subcommittee.

Haveman said the committee wants the Department of Corrections to seek bids for a privately-run prison. A former state facility in Baldwin that closed in 2005 and is now owned by Geo Group is a possible location for a pilot program, Haveman said.

Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, a corrections officer union, said closure of the Ionia facility is a "bailout" for Geo Group, which needs inmates to fill the 1,700-bed Baldwin prison after plans to accept out-of-state prisoners never materialized.

"I don't think the citizens, the taxpayers, should bail them out," Grieshaber said.

Geo Group of Boca Raton, Fla., runs private correctional and detention facilities in the U.S., Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Closing the Ionia facility and transferring about 1,300 inmates to a private facility could save $12.8 million annually by trimming daily incarceration costs by $20 per inmate, Haveman said.

"We're not saying we have to privatize the entire system of 44,000 prisoners," Haveman told The Detroit News. "It's not a bailout for anyone. We need to look at new ways of doing things."

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Leading Mental Health Experts Urge Illinois Legislators to Close Tamms Supermax

From Solitary Watch:

When it comes to the psychological effects of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, there are three acknowledged experts: Drs. Stuart Grassian, Craig Haney, and Terry Kupers. The three have collaborated on a joint statement on the closure of Tamms supermax prison, which was proposed last month by Illinois governor Pat Quinn. The statement is directed at the relevant committee of the Illinois state legislature, which will hold hearings on the prison closure next week. We are publishing this important statement in full.

Comments by Dr. Stuart Grassian, Dr. Craig Haney, and Dr. Terry Kupers to the April 2, 2012 Hearing of the Illinois Legislature Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability regarding the proposal to close Tamms Correctional Center

Tamms Correctional Center has been open for over ten years, and some of its resident prisoners have been at the facility since it opened.  We have been informed that the Governor of Illinois has recommended that the Tamms facility be closed. As three long-time researchers and nationally recognized experts on the psychological effects of solitary confinement, we write to express our strong support of that recommendation.

We believe that the Governor’s recommendation is entirely consistent with a growing national trend away from the use of long-term solitary confinement.[1] Of course, there are compelling economic justifications that partially explain this trend. Supermax prisons such as Tamms are very expensive to operate.  In addition, however, there are important mental health concerns and public safety justifications that support this development. Research has shown that long-term solitary confinement places prisoners at grave risk of significant psychological harm.[2] Because this kind of confinement is not only painful but also potentially damaging—and, for some prisoners, perhaps irreversibly so—it can be a cruel and singularly inappropriate form of punishment. Beyond doing more to debilitate than rehabilitate the prisoners who are subjected to it, solitary confinement undermines the ability of many of them to succeed in the community after their eventual release from prison.[3] This evidence—that it appears to increase rather than reduce recidivism—raises public safety concerns.

The structure and operation of supermaximum security units such as Tamms are conducive to the creation of a punitive atmosphere and even a “culture of cruelty” that can harden and dispirit prisoners and correctional officers alike. Aspects of its negative atmosphere and culture may spread to and negatively affect prevailing attitudes and practices in the larger correctional system. Moreover, supermax prisons such as Tamms do not reliably reduce violence or disciplinary infractions within the larger prison systems in which they function; in some instances they appear to make it worse.[4] Nor do they alleviate the problem of prison gangs. The California Department of Corrections has aggressively pursued the use of long-term solitary confinement for more than 20 years and the state prison system is now plagued with perhaps the worst gang problem in the nation.

Our views on these matters are based on a careful review of the existing literature on solitary confinement and our own direct observations and analyses of the effects of long-term solitary confinement in work that we have been engaged in for more than three decades. Each of us has toured and inspected numerous “supermax”-type penal institutions, interviewed and evaluated numerous prisoners confined under these severe conditions, and discussed isolation practices and procedures with correctional staff and officials from around the country. We have sometimes been asked to render expert opinions in legal cases that were focused on whether being housed in supermax facilities such as Tamms constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” One of us (Dr. Haney) is an academic psychologist and two of us (Drs. Grassian & Kupers) are university-affiliated psychiatrists.

More specifically, Dr. Haney is a social psychologist and Professor of Psychology. He began his study of prisons as one of the principal researchers who conducted the well-known “Stanford Prison Experiment” in the early 1970s, and has studied the psychology of imprisonment in actual prisons since then.[5] Dr. Haney’s study of long-term solitary confinement includes a systematic analysis of the effects of confinement inside a “state-of-the-art” supermax prison that housed prisoners who had committed serious disciplinary infractions or were suspected of prison gang activity.[6]  Haney’s use of a random (and therefore representative) sample of prisoners in supermax confinement allowed him to establish prevalence rates (i.e., an estimate of how widespread the psychological reactions were among the group of persons confined in supermax).  This study found extraordinarily high rates of symptoms of psychological trauma. More than four out of five of those evaluated suffered from feelings of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, troubled sleep, and lethargy or chronic tiredness, and over half complained of nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns. Equally high numbers reported specific psychopathological effects of social isolation obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, and social withdrawal. Well over half reported violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, and feelings of overall deterioration, while nearly half suffered from hallucinations and perceptual distortions, and a quarter experienced suicidal ideation.

Dr. Grassian did pioneering work on the harmful psychological effects of solitary confinement and is responsible for drawing heightened attention to its harmful consequences in the early 1980s.  In his initial article on the topic, Dr. Grassian reported on 15 prisoners kept in isolation for varying amounts of time at a Massachusetts prison.[7] Dr. Grassian described a particular psychiatric syndrome resulting from the deprivation of social, perceptual, and occupational stimulation in solitary confinement.  This syndrome has basically the features of a delirium, and among the more vulnerable population, can result in an acute agitated psychosis, and random violence – often directed towards the self, and at times resulting in suicide.  He has also demonstrated in numerous cases that the prisoners who end up in solitary confinement are generally not, as claimed, “the worst of the worse”; they are, instead, the sickest, most emotionally labile, impulse-ridden and psychiatrically vulnerable among the prison population.

Two-thirds of the prisoners Dr. Grassian initially studied had become hypersensitive to external stimuli (noises, smells, etc.) and about the same number experienced “massive free floating anxiety.” About half of the prisoners suffered from perceptual disturbances that for some included hallucinations and perceptual illusions, and another half complained of cognitive difficulties such as confusional states, difficulty concentrating, and memory lapses. About a third also described thought disturbances such as paranoia, aggressive fantasies, and impulse control problems. Three out of the fifteen had cut themselves in suicide attempts while in isolation. In almost all instances the prisoners had not previously experienced any of these psychiatric reactions.

Dr. Terry Kupers has been studying the plight of mentally ill prisoners for decades.[8] In part because of the high prevalence of serious mental illness he discovered in many of the supermax facilities that he toured, he has written extensively about the harm that long-term isolated confinement causes in prisoners, especially those suffering from serious psychiatric conditions. As one stunning index of the magnitude of this harm, national data indicate that fully  half of the suicides that occur in a prison system occur among the 4% to 8% of the prisoners who are consigned to segregation or isolation. Recently, he served as an expert witness, and then as a court-approved monitor, in litigation in Mississippi that required the Department of Corrections (Mississippi DOC) to ameliorate substandard conditions at the super-maximum Unit 32 of Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, remove prisoners with serious mental illness (SMI) from administrative segregation and provide them with adequate treatment, and re-examine the entire classification system.  Pursuant to two federal consent decrees, the MDOC greatly reduced the population in administrative segregation and established a step-down mental health treatment unit for the prisoners excluded from administrative segregation.  After 800 of the approximately 1,000 prisoners in the super-maximum security unit were transferred out of isolated confinement, there was a large reduction in the rates of misconduct and violence, not only among the prisoners transferred out of supermax, but in the entire Mississippi Department of Corrections.[9]
Supermax prisons and the long-term solitary confinement to which they are dedicated represent an unjustified return to a long-discredited 19th century penal practice, one seized upon at a time of dangerous and unprecedented overcrowding that overwhelmed correctional systems across the country in the 1980s and 1990s. Rather than a “best practices” approach to the impending crisis that overcrowding threatened to bring about, correctional administrators turned to supermax isolated confinement because they perceived themselves to have few alternatives.  However, in addition to the substantial psychological risks that they create for prisoners, the promise of supermax—as a last ditch, “stop gap” measure designed to contain the “worst of the worst”—has always exceeded their actual accomplishments.

Thus, as we have noted, long-term solitary confinement places prisoners at grave risk of psychological harm without reliably producing any tangible benefits in return. There is no hard evidence that supermaximum security facilities actually ever reliably reduced system-wide prison violence or enhanced public safety. Fears that a significant reduction in the supermax population or the outright closure of a facility will result in heightened security threats and prison violence have not been born out by experience. In fact, as the example cited above makes clear, recent experience in Mississippi found exactly the opposite—that a drastic reduction in the supermax population was followed by a reduction in prison misconduct and violence.

As prison populations slowly decline, and the nation’s correctional system re-dedicates itself to program-oriented approaches to positive prisoner change, the resources expended on long-term solitary confinement should be redirected to more cost-effective solutions. In Mississippi and elsewhere, supermax prisons are beginning to be seen as an expensive anachronism. We agree with the Governor that it is an anachronism that Illinois should do without.

Thank you for considering our comments.

Stuart Grassian, M.D., Clinical Faculty, Harvard Medical School, 1974 through 2002
Craig Haney, Ph.D., J.D., Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
Terry A. Kupers, M.D., M.S.P., Institute Professor, The Wright Institute

[1] Erica Goode, Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity, New York Times, March 10, 2012 [available at:]
[2] Haney, C., and Lynch, M., Regulating Prisons of the Future: A Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement, 23 New York University Review of Law and Social Change 477-570 (1997); Haney, C., Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49 Crime & Delinquency 124 (2003); Cloyes, K., Lovell, D., Allen, D., & Rhodes, L., Assessment of Psychosocial Impairment in a Supermaximum Security Unit Sample, 33 Criminal Justice and Behavior 760-781 (2006).
[3] For example, see: Lovell, D., Johnson, L., & Cain, K., Recidivism of Supermax Prisoners in Washington State, 53 Crime & Delinquency 633-656 (2007); Mears, D., & Bales, W., Supermax Incarceration and Recidivism, 47 Criminology 1131 (2009).
[4] Briggs, C., Sundt, J., & Castellano, T., The Effect of Supermaximum Security Prisons on Aggregate Levels of Institutional Violence, 41 Criminology 1341-1376 (2003).
[5] See, for example: Haney, C., Banks, C., and Zimbardo, P., Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69-97 (1973); and Haney, C., Reforming Punishment: Psychological Limits to the Pains of Imprisonment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books (2006).
[6] Described in detail in Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, supra note 2.
[7] Stuart Grassian, Psychopathological Effects of Solitary Confinement, 140 American Journal of Psychiatry  1450-1454 (1983). See also, Stuart Grassian and Friedman, N., Effects of Sensory  Deprivation in Psychiatric Seclusion and Solitary Confinement, 8 International Journal of Law and Psychiatry  49-65 (1986).
[8] For example, see: T. Kupers, Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (1999).
[9] See T. Kupers, T. Dronet et al, Beyond Supermax Administrative Segregation: Mississippi’s Experience Rethinking Prison Classification and Creating Alternative Mental Health Programs, 36 Criminal Justice and Behavior 1037-1050, October, 2009, attached.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Guest Column: Real Truth in Sentencing Could Save Really Big PRISON DOLLARS

From Bridge Magazine:

29 March 2012
By Richard Stapleton/Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending

Ultimately, the least expensive prisoner is one who isn’t there. While the prison population has dropped by about 8,000 over the last five years, the Michigan Department of Corrections’ projections anticipate no further decline. But the projections assume the status quo on policies.

Those assumptions can be changed.

One big step would be to adopt “presumptive parole,” a statutory requirement that people who have good institutional records and are not currently dangerous be paroled when they have served their minimum sentences. The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending estimates the annual cost savings would be $236 million.

The size of the prisoner population depends on how many people go to prison and how long they stay. In 2005, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan found that, for the period from 1990-2005, Michigan’s average length of stay was 16 months longer than the average of other Great Lakesstates. In 2009, the Council of State Governments explained that Michigan prisoners stay longer because our parole board has uniquely broad discretion. 

In most cases, Michigan courts impose a minimum sentence while a statute sets the maximum. The parole board cannot release someone before the minimum expires, but it can keep the person until the maximum — for any reason it chooses.

Parole guidelines measure a person’s risk of reoffending. When someone scores “high probability of release” on those guidelines, the parole board is not supposed to deny release without “substantial and compelling reasons.” Yet even people with favorable parole scores are routinely kept for an extra year or two or, in many cases, much longer.

Today, nearly 5,500 people have served their minimums and never been granted a parole. Within that group, 1,555 (29 percent) scored high probability of release on the parole guidelines. They were, on average, 2.6 years past their first release date. Another 2,576 (47 percent) scored average probability of release and were 2.8 years past their earliest release date.

Another 550 prisoners have been granted a parole, but not been released. This group is evenly divided between people with high and average parole guidelines scores. On average, they are 1.3 years beyond their first release date.

Research shows there is no relationship between sheer length of time served and success on release. Research also shows that incarcerating people for an additional year or two after they have served their minimum has very little impact on success rates. When thousands of people routinely serve an extra 12, 24 or 36 months, the costs are huge, while the benefits are very small.

Presumptive parole would change the statutory standard so the parole board must grant parole to someone who has served the minimum sentence unless the person has a serious history of institutional misconduct or there is objective, verifiable evidence that the person poses a current threat to the community. Such evidence might be scoring as high risk on a validated assessment instrument or something unique to the person, such as threatening the victim.

Presumptive parole has advantages beyond saving money. It would give real meaning to the minimum sentence, which has been imposed by a judge in accordance with legislative sentencing guidelines. Yet it would preserve the parole board’s role in identifying people who are truly too dangerous to release.

By conditionally guaranteeing release after an appropriate term of punishment, presumptive parole would create transparency and certainty for both defendants and victims. It is the ultimate form of truth in sentencing.

Presumptive parole would help depoliticize the parole process. Despite public pressure, the board could rely on its mandate to reach a certain outcome unless specified criteria are met.

Presumptive parole would not conflict with current laws on “truth in sentencing.” Because it just involves enforcing existing minimum sentences, not changing them in any way, it can begin having an effect immediately.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pelican Bay SHU Inmates Respond to California’s Proposed Prisons Reforms

From Solitary Watch:

March 27, 2012 by
In response to reforms recently outlined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation regarding gang validation, a group of inmates held in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) submitted a “counter proposal” to prison activists.

Asserting that the CDCR “is asking law makers and taxpayers to allow them to continue to violate thousands of prisoners human rights” and that the current system is based on “false propaganda scare tactics” the inmates claim that the “proposed changes are not acceptable, because they seek to increase the use of torture units and do not change the manner of dealing with those classified as prison gang members at all.”

Central to their rebuke of the reforms is the controversial debriefing process, which the inmates claim are “arbitrary” and “unfair.”

They describe the negative effects of solitary confinement:
Long term solitary confinement by itself is an irrational, and unjustifiable instrument of corrections and when the state of California allowed the prison-industrial complex (PIC) to implement such sensory deprivation for over five (5) years, they (CDCR) have recklessly modified the genetic features of what are human beings social characteristics, and by suppressing a humans natural social behaviors it changes the thought process of targeted prisoners by removing objective reality. Once deprivation sets-in, the second signal system (subjective reality) of the targeted prisoners thoughts will supersede the first signal system, which then produces: Irrationalism, Cannibalism, Racism, Chauvinism, Terrorism, Conformism and Obscurantism….the targeted prisoners of deprivation believes they’re no longer accountable for their behavior and actions.

Further, they write:

Sensory deprivation has a secondary phenomena, which are social deprivation, cultural deprivation, ethical deprivation, and emotional deprivation. No sane targeted prisoners can escape this type of deprivation that comes from long term internment in a supermax control unit. The science of deprivation has been perfected by the handlers to operate with devastating force.
The inmates, as they have stated before, propose a “Max B Management Control Unit” program as used in San Quentin’s Max B unit decades ago. According to the model proposed by the inmates, the program would be based on a three phase “step program.” Inmates under this model would have access to greater programming and be subject to classification reviews every 90 days. This was previously noted in an Office of the Inspector General Report in October 2011, in which it was asserted, based on the experience of a former CDCR executive that the “Max B program would be considered irresponsible” given the “numerous inmate assaults and prison disruptions associarted with the Max B model.”

It is unclear whether such disagreements may lead to further action by California inmates in solitary, particularly after the death of one hunger striker, Christian Gomez, at California State Prison, Corcoran in February.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The teen brain: Is it ready for adult accountability? Adult punishment?

From The Washington Post:

3/20/12 By

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today for two cases that ask whether juvenile criminals convicted of homicide can be sentenced to life without parole. (The cases’ backgrounds are here and here.)

At the heart of both is the question that parents of teens face constantly: How much accountability should we demand from almost-adults?

Outside of prisons, we tend to ask far less from teens than previous generations. We don’t have to look too far back in history to find examples of teenagers treated as adults in the home, in the workforce, in battle.

Just last week, readers made this point in the comments section of a post about how much we ask of our children. Many wrote of our low expectations of teens. At the same time, parenting experts are increasingly raising alarms that our generation’s tendency to go easy on teens, and kids in general, robs them of the skills and confidence they need to embrace adulthood.

On the flip side, we now know that teen brains are still in development.

Several prominent child advocates have pointed to recent evidence in neuroscience to argue that teenagers should not be considered slighter versions of adults — not in prison, or anywhere else.

One of them is David Fassler, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and director of advocacy and public policy at the Vermont Center for Children, Youth & Families. Earlier this month, for Huffington Post, he wrote:
“Research using functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that adolescents actually use their brains differently than adults when reasoning or solving problems. For example, they tend to rely more on these instinctual structures, like the amygdala, and less on the more advanced areas, like the frontal lobes, which are associated with more goal oriented and rational thinking. They also tend to misread social cues, such as the emotions associated with facial expressions.”
… Based on the stage of their brain development, they are more likely to act on impulse, more likely to misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions, and less likely think twice, change their mind, or pause to consider the consequences of their actions.”

Last fall David Dobbs explored the evolution of teen brains for National Geographic and came to a related conclusion. Dobbs’ piece, titled “Beautiful Brains,” (which might not be the term parents readily use for what drives their teen’s actions) explained why the maturation may be attributed to natural selection:
“Excitement, novelty, risk, the company of peers. These traits may seem to add up to nothing more than doing foolish new stuff with friends. Look deeper, however, and you see that these traits that define adolescence make us more adaptive, both as individuals and as a species. That’s doubtless why these traits, broadly defined, seem to show themselves in virtually all human cultures, modern or tribal.”

From a parenting perspective, how much does understanding the maturation process make a difference in terms of accountability?

From a societal perspective, how much should it make a difference in terms of punishment?

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Teen with autism handcuffed, detained

From News 8:

Father now plans to pursue legal action

Updated: Friday, 23 Mar 2012, 4:11 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 22 Mar 2012, 10:50 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A Lowell father is threatening to pursue legal action after deputies restrained, handcuffed and took his 19-year-old son with Autism into custody.

John Bessinger took his son, Johnathan, to the courthouse downtown Grand Rapids for a guardianship hearing Wednesday. Before they could make it past the metal detectors, Johnathan began to have a panic attack, his father said.

As the 19-year-old went in, a deputy felt threatened and reacted, according to Kent County Undersheriff Jon Hess. Hess said a gesture from Johnathan made the deputy fear for his safety.

"The one sheriff put his arm against him and threw him down," Bessinger said. "The other two got on and piled on top of him -- knee to the back, put his arms to his back and handcuffed him."

When asked if he felt the force was necessary, Bessinger said 'no'.

Undersheriff Hess told 24 Hour News 8 that the teen kicked an officer while being detained.

"[Johnathan] was pushed up against a wall to intially get control of him," he said. "Then the other officers came to try and handcuff him to take him into custody."

When asked if the force was neccessary, Hess replied, "Yes. The whole event evolved as time went along, so yes, they used the force that they needed to to bring him under control."

Bessinger said he tried to tell the deputies that his son had mental disabilities and just needed to calm down, but no one listened.

"Johnathan sometimes will display aggression but I've never seen him follow through, but they didn't know that," he said. "So did they do anything wrong? I don't think they did. I think they could've handled it better."

Bessinger admitted that he's worried about the long-term effects. In the end, he just wants to see courthouse officials and law enforcement trained in dealing with the mentally disabled.

"Is there going to be a point where every time a police officer comes around him, he's going to get his anxiety attack?" he said. "I don't know. I hope not."

The teen was facing felonious assault charges but the city attorney decided not to press charges, according to Hess.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Michigan Campaign for Justice

A Justice System that Works for All:


Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 5-4 decision that defendants have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel at the plea bargaining stage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for the pair of cases (Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye), saying:

"Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.  The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining takes in securing convictions and determining sentences. รข€¦ In today's criminal justice system, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant."
According to the Department of Justice, 94 percent of convictions in state courts and 97 percent of convictions in federal courts are the result of guilty pleas.

Lafler v. Cooper concerned a 2003 Wayne County case, in which Anthony Cooper rejected a plea bargain that called for a sentence of four to seven years. He is serving 15 to 30 years. Justice Kennedy remarked that "The favorable sentence that eluded the defendant in the criminal proceeding appears to be the sentence he or others in his position would have received in the ordinary course, absent the failings of counsel."

Click here to read the decision in Lafler v. Cooper.

Click here to read the decision in Missouri v. Frye.

Yesterday's court decision reaffirms the fact that the right to effective assistance of counsel has remained elusive for many. The Campaign for Justice will continue to work with our many partners on improvements to Michigan's public defense system.

Peter Cunningham
Executive Director

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mistaken Identity Cases at Heart of Denver Lawsuit Over Wrongful Arrests

From The New York Times:

DENVER — Five years ago, a black man named Bradley Braxton was arrested by the Denver Sheriff’s Department on an outstanding warrant for sexual assault.

There was only one problem. The man the police were searching for was white, and his name was David Eddy.

Despite Mr. Braxton’s repeated protestations that he was not Mr. Eddy, and clearly not white, he was held without bond for nine days before the authorities realized their mistake and released him, according to court filings.

Cases of mistaken identity like Mr. Braxton’s are part of a continuing federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado against the city and county of Denver over what the group claims is a pattern of law enforcement officers’ taking the wrong person into custody.

According to records obtained by the group and detailed in a December legal brief, there were more than 500 cases from 2002 and into 2009 in which Denver authorities, armed with warrants, arrested or jailed the wrong person.

This month the A.C.L.U. received a second trove of records that show about 100 additional such cases since August 2009, the group said.

As described in the suit, similar names, stolen identities and inaccurate records were sometimes the source of errors made by the police and jailers. In other cases, the arrests and detentions seemed inexplicable.

“Denver law enforcement has knowingly tolerated an unjustifiable risk and frequency of these mistaken identity arrests, causing hundreds of innocent persons to be jailed for hours, days, even weeks on warrants for someone else,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the A.C.L.U.’s Colorado affiliate.

In one case, the Denver police mistakenly arrested a man on three different occasions who had a name similar to the actual suspect’s. Even after a warning was inserted into a criminal database, the wrong man was arrested a fourth time and jailed for eight days in 2007, according to the suit.

“The scariest part of it was that they would not even listen to all of the facts that I had,” said Christina FourHorn, who was mistakenly arrested and jailed for five days in 2007. “It made me lose my trust in the justice system.”

In Ms. FourHorn’s case, the police were searching for an American Indian woman named Christin Fourhorn who was wanted in Denver in an aggravated robbery case. Christina FourHorn is white, seven years older and weighed 90 pounds more than the suspect, according to court filings. Like Mr. Braxton, she eventually sued the city and reached a settlement.

Lt. Matt Murray, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, said that some of these more “egregious” instances of mistaken identity do occur, but only in a small minority of cases.

Since 2009, the Denver police and the sheriff’s department here have set up a system in which claims of wrongful arrest and detention are investigated immediately; fewer than 10 officers are either disciplined or retrained each year because of such mistakes, Lieutenant Murray said.

The issue is challenging, he added, because it is common for suspects to give false names to the police that are then entered into criminal databases and that can eventually lead the authorities to the wrong person.
“Some of these problems are very difficult to tackle,” Lieutenant Murray said. “We are all over this when a mistake is made. It should not happen. There is no excuse.”

A group of local police experts who specialize in the process of identifying criminals is studying how to reduce the problem, said David Edinger, chief performance officer for the city. The findings are expected within the next three weeks. 

Denver’s city attorney, Doug Friednash, said he did not believe any constitutional violations had resulted from the cases outlined in the lawsuit.

“There is no specific national law enforcement standard with regards to matching identification of suspects with warrants,” he said. “Denver is in the mainstream of how other jurisdictions handle this matter.”
While it is unclear how pervasive the problem is nationwide, Denver is not the only city grappling with the issue. A Los Angeles Times report last year found that hundreds of people had been wrongfully detained in sheriff’s department jails over a period of five years.

And Donald W. Cook, a lawyer who handles police abuse cases in Los Angeles, pointed to another potential problem: when a person is wrongfully arrested on a warrant, the real suspect “gets a free pass” as the warrant is removed from the system.

“It is not so much a malicious thing,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s a bureaucracy that is way behind the times.”

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

How New York Practices Solitary Confinement

From the New York Times:

Rethinking Solitary Confinement” (front page, March 11) reports on the Mississippi prisons’ drastic reduction in the use of solitary confinement. Similar successful efforts are under way in other states, including Maine and Colorado.

In contrast, New York City is going backward: the Department of Correction is carrying out a drastic increase in solitary confinement cells (pretrial detainees held in 23-hour lock-in, with only an hour a day for exercise and showers).

The jail population has been falling for years, yet the department plans an expansion that will give New York City one of the highest rates of punitive segregation in the country.

New York City’s jails — notoriously chaotic, unruly and brutal — need reform, but simply locking up more and more prisoners is not the solution. New York should follow Mississippi’s lead.

New York, March 12, 2012

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King

Thursday, March 22, 2012

California Prisoners in Solitary Confinement Petition the UN to Intervene

From Solitary Watch:

Comparing their conditions to a “living coffin,” a group of lawyers for hundreds of California prisoners placed in long-term or indefinite solitary confinement petitioned the United Nations yesterday to intervene on their behalf.

The petition, drawn up by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, names 22 main inmate petitioners and refers to hundreds more held in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in California’s Security Housing Units (SHUs) and Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs). The prisoners have been joined in their petition by a coalition of state and national advocacy groups.

These petitioners accuse California’s prisons of subjecting inmates in its  to “cruel, degrading and extreme punishment prohibited by international human rights norms and obligations of the United States of America, including the State of California.” It describes their conditions as follows:
[N]ot only do California prisoners face cruel and dehumanzing long-term and indefinite confinement in small concrete cells with no windows, no natural light, and no furniture, they also endure frequent episodes of cruelty by guards, inadequate medical care, entirely inadequate mental health services, inadequate access to the outdoors and sunshine, inadequate food, inadequate access to legal counsel, inadequate visitation with friends and family and no opportunities to work or engage in productive activities of any type. They are effectively locked in a concrete small space that becomes a “living coffin” in which many have been confined for many year, even decades.
The prisoners in question, the petition asserts, “are being detained in isolated segregated units for indefinite periods or determinate periods of many years solely because they have been identified as members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang. The policy that has resulted in their prolonged detention does not require that they have actually engaged in any misconduct of illegal activity, or that they even planned to” do so.

The petition calls upon the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to take a number of actions in response, including conducting site visits to California’s SHUs to investigate conditions and interview prisoners. It also suggests visits by the Red Cross and by an independent panel that would review inmates’ medical records and medical care. It wants the UN to issue a report holding that solitary confinement as practiced in California’s SHUs violates international law, and then “call upon the Government of the United States to insure that California terminates its policy of placing prisoners in isolated segregation for periods of several years merely based upon their alleged membership in or association with a gang.”

Describing the genesis of the petition, prisoner advocate Kendra Castaneda writes in the San Francisco Bay View: “After the first Pelican Bay State Prison SHU statewide hunger strike in July 2011, Peter Schey, president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, reached out to men being held in isolation in solitary confinement units across the state.” The group secured  the collaboration of ”22 main plaintiffs of different races at different California prisons, ranging from one year in segregation up to 39 years in complete isolation based solely on a process of prison gang ‘validation’ by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”

The petition itself is a notable document for anyone concerned with solitary confinement in the United States. It runs to 63 pages and includes case studies of each of the named plaintiffs, along with extensive discussion and documentation of how their confinement violates both U.S. and international law.

**This information is being shared by Citizens for Prison Reform for purely informational purposes.

Citizens for Prison Reform
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
-Martin Luther King