When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons

This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:

A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamouslegendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

Read the rest of this story here.

Trapped: The Story of the Mentally Ill in Prison

This is an article from: Slate, April 1st 2013, By David Rosenberg

When photographer Jenn Ackerman spent her first day at the Kentucky State Reformatory for what would become the series “Trapped,” she knew she had no choice but to photograph the images in black-and-white.

“When I went on the tour (of the prison), I didn’t see it in color; when I came back, I was trying to remember what it looked like, and I couldn’t remember any of the colors at all. I knew there was something so gritty and raw,” Ackerman recalled.
“My intention was to make the viewer feel what I felt when I was inside the prison.”
Here is an article about this project, in: World of Psychology
Photos of Mental Illness from a Kentucky Prison, By John  M. Grohol, PSYD
Jenn Ackerman has taken some fantastic black-and-white photography in a Kentucky prison. The photos depict the raw life of prisoners who are also dealing with mental illness. Because as the government has repeatedly cut back on funding mental health treatment, guess where the really sick people go?

They end up in prison, usually for repeated petty crimes or drug abuse. And society, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that spending 4x to 5x the cost of keeping the person in prison is “better” than simply getting them into a drug abuse treatment program.

Read the rest here:

Ind. scrambles to address ruling on mentally ill inmates

This article comes from USAToday, Jan. 2nd 2013, written by: Tim Evans:

INDIANAPOLIS — Weeks after a doctor at an Indiana prison determined a suicidal prisoner was experiencing “severe difficulty coping with segregation,” the Indiana Department of Corrections placed the inmate back in a segregation unit.
Isolated for 23 hours a day in a cell not much larger than a closet at New Castle Correctional Facility, the inmate’s mental state continued to deteriorate.
Two weeks later, he was dead — one of at least 11 mentally ill inmates who committed suicide while in IDOC segregation units from 2007 through July 2011.
Now state officials and advocates are scrambling for solutions in the wake of a federal court ruling that found Indiana’s treatment of mentally ill prisoners in segregation units violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
The decision was issued Monday by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission and a group of inmates.
Pratt found “mentally ill prisoners within the IDOC segregation units are not receiving adequate mental health care in terms of scope, intensity, and duration.”
The judge also noted IDOC was aware of concerns about its treatment of mentally ill prisoners and “has been deliberately indifferent.”
Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, hailed the ruling as a win not only for mentally ill inmates, but for all Indiana residents.

Days in Solitary for Not Moving Cup Fast Enough

From Solitarywatch:

Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah currently holds over 91 prisoners in solitary confinement in the Uinta One facility. They have described the facility as “a place of pain and terror” and a place where inmates “expect tragedy.”

While Utah Department of Corrections admits that the facility on occasion houses prisoners diagnosed as “mentally ill”, they also point to the prisons Olympus Mental Health Forensic Facility.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections website:

Prisons and jails have become primary mental health care providers for mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system. The mental health services provided by the Utah Department of Corrections is comprehensive and wide-ranging in its scope. Our mission is to provide comprehensive and cost-effective mental health treatment to those offenders who suffer from a serious mental illness.
The Clinical Services Bureau manages a 155-bed stand-alone housing unit for offenders with the most severe mental illnesses. This facility is designated to provide a therapeutic environment that promotes appropriate stabilization and behavioral change.

Solitary Watch has been in contact with an individual in the Olympus facility.  In his late 50s, he has been routinely transferred between Uinta One and Olympus for a decade. His medical documents indicate diagnoses for “Paranoid States (Delusional Disorders)…Other and Unspecified Protein-Calorie Malnutrition…Self-inflicted Injury By Cutting and Piercing Instrument” and other health issues. He reports constant harassment by the guards, who he says, among other things, falsely accused him of rules violations.
In support of this, he provided documentation indicating that he was accused of a charge of “Abuse/Misuse Medications” based on “Some Evidence.” He was ultimately found not guilty of the charge, despite not participating in the Disciplinary Hearing.

“When people do wicked things to you and you complain, that isn’t paranoia, it’s circumstance driven. When you refuse to trust those whose conduct does not improve, that’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of active unremitting threat,” the prisoner writes. He reports having been placed in a wheelchair and being “upended onto my face” when the guard pushing the wheelchair “made a typical fast hard turn.” After the incident, he received “No apology from anyone whatsoever…I was told to wait until a nurse came to check on me…back in this cage I sat unmoving. I couldn’t get off the chair and on the ‘bed’…My ears are ringing incessantly…I can’t sleep more than two-hours…My eyes aren’t properly focusing,” he reports.

A month before this, he was found guilty of “Refuse Order” (see image), because he did not “fully and imediatly[sic] comply” with an order to remove an “empty cup and hand from the cuff slider.” When chastised for his behavior, according to the report, he was “disrepectful” to the staff. For this, he was ordered to 20 days in “Punitive Isolation” and assessed a $150 fine.

When asked to provide the policies that guide such punitive measures, Department Spokesman Stephen Gehrke was unaware that such policies are in writing. “I’m not aware whether there is some sort of document or guideline that lists offenses and punishments or repercussions on a case-by-case basis. I believe the response to each incident is specific to the individual details of each circumstance and takes into account aggravating or mitigating factors, which is why the prison employs hearing officers to listen to the offender’s account, review documents, and take into account all other forms of information,” he wrote via email.
“‘This is prison medicine–we don’t care and we don’t have to!’,” the prisoner in Olympus characterizes the approach of the prisons medical officials.

This kind of treatment of people in prison is all too common in the United States. A 2003 Human Rights Watch report estimated that one-third to one-half of individuals in American isolation units were diagnosed with a mental health problem.

As of September 2011, one-third of Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison supermax population had a mental health diagnosis. The individual in Olympus is among many in isolation units who attempt suicide while in solitary confinement.

In 2006, it was noted that in California and Texas, suicides in prison disproportionately occurred in solitary confinement units.

Click here to read more of Solitary Watch’s reporting on Utah’s use of solitary confinement.
URL to the original article: http://solitarywatch.com/2012/12/13/mentally-ill-utah-prisoner-sentenced-to-20-days-in-solitary-for-not-moving-cup-fast-enough/

From Death Row to Exoneration: Fmr. Texas Prisoner Anthony Graves on Surviving Solitary Confinement

From: DemocracyNow, June 22nd 201:


In a rare interview, former Texas death row prisoner Anthony Graves joins us to recount his experience in solitary confinement and how he was fully exonerated and released from prison in 2010. Graves was convicted in 1994 of assisting Robert Carter, a man he barely knew, in the brutal murders of six people. There was no physical evidence linking Graves to the crime, and his conviction relied primarily on Carter’s testimony. Before he was executed, Carter twice admitted he had lied about Graves’s involvement in the crime. In 2006, an appeals court overturned Graves’s conviction and ordered a new trial, saying prosecutors had elicited false statements and withheld testimony. After 18 years in prison, most of them on death row, Graves was exonerated and reunited with his family after a special prosecutor concluded he was an innocent man. Graves is now an active member of the movement to abolish the death penalty. “My experience was hell,” Graves says. “I always liken it to something that you would consider to be your worst nightmare. I had to go through that experience every day for 18-and-a-half years. And it was just no way to live.” Urging an end to the death penalty, Graves says: “They’re killing in your name. And I say to you, stand up and tell these people, ‘Not in my name anymore.'”


Anthony Graves, former Texas death row prisoner who testified Tuesday at the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. Graves was fully exonerated in 2010 after spending 18 years behind bars, the bulk of that time on death row and in solitary confinement. He is now an active member of the movement to abolish the death penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Jim Ridgeway—he is the co-editor of SolitaryWatch.com. We’re also joined by Anthony Graves, a former Texas death row prisoner who testified Tuesday at the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He was convicted, along with a man named Robert Carter, of killing a Texas woman, her daughter and her four grandchildren. Graves was fully exonerated in 2010 after spending 18 years behind bars, the bulk of that time on death row and in solitary confinement. He’s now an investigator the Texas Defender Service and an active member of the movement to abolish the death penalty.

Anthony Graves, thank you very much for coming to Democracy Now! to talk about your story. In a moment, we’re going to talk about the case and how you ultimately got exonerated. But for now, if you can describe your time on death row and in solitary confinement and what it meant for you to testify in this first-ever hearing in the Senate.

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, first of all, thank you, Amy, for having me on your show. I’m a fan of yours. We listen to your show all the time.

My experience was hell. I always liken it to something that you would consider to be your worst nightmare. I had to go through that experience every day for 18-and-a-half years. And it was just no way to live.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Anthony Graves, in terms of—you described to the members of Congress the conditions on death row. The other prisoners in solitary, what did you know about what was going on with them? And you’ve also graphically have described what happened to some of them and drove them to near madness at times.

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, I mean, you know, it’s the culture down there. And what I mean by that is that, for some reason, we feel that we have to punish people. The sentences isn’t enough. So, when I was down there, I mean, I witnessed guys just, you know, going insane. I witnessed officers doing things that they just felt that they had to do; otherwise, they would be considered to be soft with the inmates. So, it’s just a—it’s a culture of madness, and it’s designed to drive those guys totally insane. And, I mean, you know, I used—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip of you, Anthony, testifying at the Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday about the self-mutilation committed by other prisoners. This is a warning to our listeners and to our viewers, this is quite graphic.

ANTHONY GRAVES: I watched men literally self-mutilate themselves. They had to be put on razor restrictions, because if they’re given a razor, they will cut their own throat, their own neck, wherever they could cut at on their own bodies. They just stand there in front of you and cut themselves. And this one man in particular that I watched do this, they took him over to what they call the psychiatric ward. A few days later, he hung himself, all because of the conditions. There’s a man right there sitting on Texas death row right now who’s housed in solitary confinement, pulled his eye out and swallowed it—all because of the conditions. Solitary confinement dehumanizes us all.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to also play a clip from Tuesday’s hearing, when Senator Durbin asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons director, Charles Samuels, about federal prisoners held in solitary confinement who engage in self-mutilation.

SEN. DICK DURBIN: Let me get down to some of the more graphic—and I won’t go into detail here in the hearing, but it’s there on the record. I’ve read stories about federal inmates and inmates at state facilities, in isolation, who have clearly reached a point where they’re self-destructive. They are maiming themselves, mutilating themselves, doing horrible things to themselves. They are creating an environment within that cell which is awful by any human standard. What happens next, in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, when someone has reached that extreme in their personal conduct?

CHARLES SAMUELS: If an individual is exhibiting that type of behavior due to suffering from, you know, serious psychiatric illness, those individuals are not, within our policy, individuals that we would keep at the ADX or in a restrictive housing. These individuals are referred to our psychiatric medical centers for care. And we believe that that’s important. And we would never, under any situation, believe that those individuals should be continued to be housed in that type of setting.

AMY GOODMAN: ADX is the administrative maximum detention facility, the supermax, at Florence, Colorado. Anthony Graves, respond please.

ANTHONY GRAVES: Yeah, he’s speaking about the guidelines that are written on paper. But in actuality, those things are not practiced. As I say, there’s a culture of madness down there. And officers feel that—you know, matter of fact, I spoke with one officer, and I asked him. I said, “Man, why do you treat people the way you treat them down here?” He said, “Man, because I feel like I’m doing society a favor.” You know, so that’s the kind of attitude they have toward the inmates. So this whole notion of them following these guidelines that this guy is talking about on paper is just—it doesn’t exist. You know, it just doesn’t exist.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Jim Ridgeway back into the conversation. Jim, you’ve said that you believe that solitary confinement in our prisons is one of the most pressing domestic human rights problems to which most Americans remain largely oblivious.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, yes. I mean, there are 2.3 million people in prison. There are at least 80,000 people, probably more, in solitary. And, you know, that’s an awful lot of people. It’s not just, you know, incidental examples of torture.

But I wanted to further what Anthony said. I’m not—I have never been a prisoner, but I’m writing to a young man now in upstate New York. He tried to burn his house down when he was five years old. He’s been in and out of mental institutions all his life. He’s in his early twenties. He’s threatened to kill himself. He’s tried to kill himself. And he’s put in a mental ward in—I think it’s Attica prison. And inside this mental ward, he’s continued to try to kill himself. He was put in a solitary cell, so he tried to burn the solitary—burn it down. So what was the response in this mental ward? They sent him back outside to Utica district attorney, and they reindicted him on arson charges and then sent him back to the same place. Now, is it crazy to think that somebody, somewhere, could step in and stop this? I mean, he has a public defender. And this public defender won’t even call his family, won’t talk to his mother. It’s just—it’s incredible.

The situation in state and federal prisons in this solitary confinement is absolutely out of control. Obama says there’s no torture in America. Well, I mean, you just have to go, you know, a mile, three miles; just around—all around you, there’s stuff going on. Now, I’m not saying that all corrections officers, you know, are torturers or anything like that. I’m just saying there are no standards. The wardens can operate at their whim. And this becomes a second sentence. In other words, the judge sentences a guy to three years, and he gets inside the prison; the warden or the guard decides that the guy’s a problem, they throw him in solitary. And he can stay in solitary, like Billy Blake, for example, who’s a murderer. He’s in upstate New York. He’s been in solitary for 22 years. The guys in Louisiana, the Angola Two down there, 40 years in solitary confinement. I mean, doesn’t—doesn’t a judge look at this and say, “Well, what’s going on here?” Apparently not.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney Stuart Andrews also testified at Tuesday’s hearing. He represents a group of South Carolina prisoners with serious mental illnesses, many of whom have been kept in solitary confinement. The prisoners filed suit several years ago against the South Carolina Department of Corrections, alleging violations of the state constitution and seeking adequate mental health services.

STUART ANDREWS: To illustrate some of what we’ve learned about the operation of solitary confinement in our state’s prisons, I would like to call your attention to two individuals who have been members of our class. The first is Theodore Robinson, who is a 50-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia serving a life sentence. Mr. Robinson’s speech is highly disorganized, and he has a history of bizarre behavior, such as drinking his own urine. Like many people with schizophrenia, he suffers hallucinations and delusions. For example, he believes that at night, while he sleeps, doctors secretly enter his cell and perform surgery on him. From 1993 through 2005, a period of 12 consecutive years, Mr. Robinson was kept in solitary confinement.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s attorney Stuart Andrews. He said mentally ill prisoners in South Carolina are actually twice as likely as others to be in solitary confinement and two-and-a-half times as likely to receive a sentence in solitary that exceeds their projected release date from prison and over three times as likely to be assigned to an indefinite period of time in solitary confinement. Jim Ridgeway?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Yes. I mean, that’s—that’s par for the course. I mean, this guy Adam that I’m talking about, this young guy, he wrote me in a letter, OK? He wrote me in a letter, I think last week or the week before. He said, “Don’t tell my mother, but each—every night I’m cutting into my arm. Each night I cut further and further. Last night I reached the muscle. I’m cutting, and I hope pretty soon that I’m going to cut deep enough to bleed out.” In other words, kill himself. You know, this is in a letter to me. You know, and I’m saying, “Please, hang on, Adam. Don’t do this.” And you can’t get his public defender on the telephone? I mean, what in the world? This is New York state.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to former Texas death row prisoner Anthony Graves about his experience in solitary confinement. We want to turn to the story—we heard about how he was in prison for 18 years, now to how he was fully exonerated and released from prison in 2010. Graves was convicted in 1994 of assisting Robert Carter, a man he barely knew, in the brutal murders of six people: Bobbie Davis, her 16-year-old daughter Nicole, and Davis’s four grandchildren. The victims were stabbed, bludgeoned, shot to death. Their house was set on fire. There was no physical evidence linking Graves to the crime. His conviction relied primarily on Carter’s testimony. Two weeks before Robert Carter was scheduled to be executed in 2000, he provided a statement saying he lied about Graves’ involvement in the crime. He repeated that statement minutes before he was executed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Then in 2006, an appeals court overturned Graves’ conviction and ordered a new trial, saying prosecutors had elicited false statements and withheld testimony. After 18 years in prison, most of them on death row, Graves was exonerated and reunited with his family. He’s now an investigator at the Texas Defender Service and an active member of the movement to abolish the death penalty.

Can you tell us, Anthony Graves, when you were first jailed, how—how you were accused of the guy—with the guy who actually committed the crimes and how you knew him and whether you had any hopes, initially, of being judged not guilty?

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, first of all, I’d like to just correct you and say I no longer work with the Texas Defender Service. I’ve started my own foundation, and—AnthonyBelieves.com—and it’s designed to fight for criminal justice reform.

Now, as how I came—how they brought me into this whole mess, you know, of course there was the actual crime, and the guy showed up at the funeral with bandages all over his body, so they assumed that he was a person of interest. And after the funeral, they followed him home, so that they can talk to him. Well, when they took him to the DPS office to talk with him, according to Mr. Carter, he thought he’d seen four young men in a jeep coming off the feed of the highway, and he thought one of those men were me. So when they went—they took him and interrogated him for over, like, 14 hours. And according to Mr. Carter, they threatened him, told him that they would look it—make it look like it was an escape and shoot him in the head, and who would care about a baby killer? But that if he named someone that did the crime with him, they would let him go. So, Mr. Carter, feeling this pressure to name someone, named me, because he said he had just seen me in the jeep. And so, he thought that if he gave them a crazy story, that they wouldn’t come and arrest me, but they would also let him go. Well, that led to me losing 18-and-a-half years of my life and two execution dates. I was on death row for 12 and a half of those years.

And when I—I tell people that—I hear everybody try to give a professional opinion about death row and solitary confinement, but I say that you can never, never, ever give it accurate unless you actually lived there. It is hell, it is hell, and it’s hell every day. I mean, I’m telling you, guys—I was there when over 300 men were executed. And I listened to guys who were happy to be executed instead of existing up under those same conditions. One guy told me, he said, “Man, I’m ready to go. You have to live with this madness tomorrow.” I mean, he would rather die than exist up under them inhumane conditions. I mean, what has happened to our country where we’re treating each other like that?

We have definitely crossed the line when it comes to punishment, crime and punishment. The guy gets sentenced at his initial trial, and then he goes and gets sentenced while he’s down there to punishment and torture, you know? And, you know, we laughed when we was down there, would talk—we heard people talking about other countries’ human rights, and you’re sitting here torturing us. I mean, we have an opportunity to educate a mass of people that are behind—that are incarcerated and move this thing to a positiveness, so that when they come out, there’s no recidivism anymore. But yet, we are so ingrained in punishment, because it’s our culture. And it stems from our past, you know? This is the way we was treated before we got any kind of rights in this country. And we’re still being treated like that now. You know, there’s not much difference.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Graves—

ANTHONY GRAVES: This is just modern-day slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about why it was—there were several people who would have testified that you were at your mother’s house the night of these brutal murders. Why didn’t they testify?

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, they were threatened. They were threatened by the prosecutor that if they came forward, then it was highly likely he would seek an indictment of capital murder against them. So, I mean, they were actually at the trial to testify, and he threatened them. And when my brother testified to my whereabouts, because he was at home and my sister was there, well, he made it look like my family were liars, to me, you know. And he was speaking to basically an all-white jury, saying that, you know, basically, you know, his brother was protecting, which my brother was just being honest, you know, because my brother would not protect a murderer. But my brother was trying to tell them the truth. But the prosecutor, he manipulated every aspect of the case for a conviction, you know, and that’s how I ended up losing my freedom. I had a prosecutor that seeked a conviction. And it’s sad because, you know, that’s the culture. You know, we elect them, and they feel that this whole notion of being tough on crime is what’s going to keep them in office, so they start taking shortcuts and become blindsided. And as a result, those without the resources end up losing their freedom for crimes they did not commit. And that happened to me.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how were you able, all those years, day after day, month after month, in solitary, to hold it together, to keep maintaining your innocence? And then, of course, when—your reaction when you heard the news that you’d been exonerated?

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, you know, it wasn’t no magic pill or nothing. I just knew that—when I got down there, you know, I knew that I was—I wasn’t a murderer, and that I was a father, I was a son, I was a brother. You know, I was many things, but I was not a murderer. And so, I said to myself, you know, they have taken my freedom, but the things that they can’t take from me, I’m not going to give them. And they couldn’t take my dignity. They couldn’t take who I was as a man. And I was not going to allow them to define me by their labels. I knew I was Anthony Graves and I was not a murderer. I was my mother’s child, someone that they kidnapped and put on death row and tried to murder. So, I was defiant in not giving something that they couldn’t take from me, and that kept me sane.

AMY GOODMAN: Eighteen years, Anthony. When you were released, your mom did not know. What was your first act when you got out of jail?

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, you know, my mother and I, when I was able to talk to her on the phone, because I was—I was also in isolation for four years when I got back to the local county jail. Imagine why. But we would talk on the phone. I would always ask her what she was cooking. So, when I was released, she didn’t know. You know, no one knew. And they was asking me about, you know, “Do your mom know?” And I said, “No, she doesn’t.” And they was like, “Well, call your mom.” And, of course, they put cellphones in my face, and I didn’t know anything about a cellphone—you know, 18 years, right? So, when I called my mom, and she answered the phone, you know, and I said, “Mom.” And, of course, she is like, “What?” And I said, “What are you cooking?” And she said, “Why?” And I said, you know, “Your son coming home.”

And, you know, it was an emotional moment, but at the same time, what I was saying to her was that, “We are both now off of death row. We can now live again.” You know? And that’s what I was saying to her, when I was telling her I was coming home, because she’d done 18-and-a-half years with me. My children done 18-and-a-half years with me—my siblings and everyone that loved me. This thing has a ripple effect. It affected my family, and they’ll have memories of this here for the rest of their life. And I just say, you know, is it worth it? You know, you put a whole family on death row. You created another set of victims, you know, and is it worth it? I don’t think so. I don’t think my mother would think so, either. You know, my children can never get back their father. You know, I can never raise them. And so, it’s not worth it. And then, on top of that, you’re torturing me. You know, and then my mother had to come see me. And then she looks at me, and she can’t hold me, and she knows that I’m going through a lot. But all she can do is just stare at her child and pray that, you know, someday that justice will prevail and that we’ll stop treating human beings this way. You know, so…

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Anthony Graves, the state of Texas, did they ever apologize to you or compensate you for the injustice that was visited on you?

ANTHONY GRAVES: Well, you know, the state, they compensated me, but you can never compensate it—compensate me enough for what you stole from me. An apology, it’s never been official, but several people higher up in the government has apologized to me. And I—I mean, you know, I thank them for that, you know, but a true apology would to be—would be to really sit down and analyze our system and realize that we have a big, big problem in our system and that we’re sentencing men to death row and just in prison for crimes that they did not commit, because we have gotten so off track with seeking justice, because we’ve placed the politics over it. And I just wish that, you know, if they’re going to be sincere about an apology, then that would be the way to be sincere about it, is to really take in consideration that our system is definitely broken, and we need to reform it.

We need to fix it, because it’s for all of us. It’s not just for those; it’s for all of us, because the minute you start thinking that it doesn’t affect you, next thing you know, your neighbor is going to jail for something he didn’t do, and you realize that, you know, it’s just right next door to you. When does it come to you next? Then that’s when you start to realize that it’s part of us all, and we all have a part in this. I’m talking about from the voters, you know, and to the judge, to the jury. We all have a part in this here. And if it’s going to work, we all have to play our hand. I mean, the citizens of our nation, we have to hold those that we elect accountable. We definitely have to. We have to start being the overseers, because our system has gotten way off track, and it threatens all of us now. And I say to you—

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Graves—


AMY GOODMAN: What do you say?

ANTHONY GRAVES: No, I just tell people to, you know, use your vote as your voice and say—you know, they’re killing in your name. And I say to you, stand up and tell these people, “Not in my name anymore. Not in my name anymore.” I want a system that works for all of us, you know, and you demand that.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Graves, thank you so much for being with us, former Texas death row prisoner, testified Tuesday at the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He was exonerated after 18 years in prison, most of that time on death row in solitary confinement.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.


News from today, June 25th: Lawsuit Challenges Conditions at ADX Federal Supermax

Death, Yes, but Torture at Supermax?

Taken from: The Atlantic, June 4th 2012
Written by Andrew Cohen:

A new federal lawsuit alleges that officials at America’s most famous prison are legally responsible for the suicide of an inmate.

Jose Martin Vega was no saint. Convicted in 1995 of 15 counts of racketeering and armed drug trafficking, he was sentenced, at the age of 20, to four consecutive life sentences. Nine years after his conviction, and after a violent confrontation at another maximum security federal prison, Vega found himself at the United States Penitentiary — Administrative Maximum (“ADMAX” or “ADX”) near Florence, Colorado. As its name suggests, this lonely place is where America sends many of its most troublesome prisoners.

Vega first came to ADX on April 5, 2004. Six years and 26 torturous days later he was dead — at the age of 35. On May 1, 2010, using a bed sheet, Vega hanged himself in his cell in the control unit of the prison, an especially isolating part of the facility. Although Vega was not shackled when he hanged himself, the photos contained in the coroner’s report show an unconscious man shackled at the hands and feet while prison officials are administering rescue efforts. At ADX, in the control unit especially, even the dead or dying are shackled.

Fremont County Deputy Coroner Carlette Brocious estimated the time of Vega’s death at 9:10 a.m., but she noted in her report that “the scene of the death was ‘cleaned up’ when I sought to go out to the prison to finish my investigation. Therefore, I was unable to go to the scene of the death, see the cloth utilized as a ligature or talk to anyone other than the attending PA [physician assistant] regarding the decedent.” She had first seen Vega’s body hours later, at a local hospital, where it had been brought, still shackled, by prison officials.

Brocious also noted in her report that she talked with two prison health officials about Vega and was told by Mark Kellar, ADX’s health administrator, “that the decedent had a long psychiatric history. … As to whether or not the decedent had ever attempted suicide previously neither men could tell me.” That “psychiatric history,” and how ADX officials dealt with it in Vega’s case, is at the heart of an important new federal lawsuit that seeks to dig down deeper into ADX’s mental health policies and practices.

Why should we care about how our most difficult prisoners are treated? Why should we interfere with a “prison code,” expressed or implied, that emphasizes both the use of official force and the denial of official help to humiliate and ultimately control inmates? The answers are both simple and complex. Because we tell the world (and each other) that we are an enlightened nation of laws and not a medieval land of barbarism. Because even our harshest prison isn’t supposed to be the Tower of London.


You probably know ADX better by its stage name, “Supermax,” the forbidding place that houses such criminal luminaries as Terry Nichols, Ramzi Yousef, and Ted Kaczynski as well as hundreds of other, less notable prisoners. When I visited the facility in 2007 as part of a media tour that was carefully choreographed by the Bureau of Prisons, I found the place sterile and soulless. But the hard-ass approach to incarceration was obvious, right down to the tiny circus-like cages where some of the men — one at a time, of course — are permitted to briefly exercise.

Today, Supermax is the most famous prison in America, a worthy if far less visible heir to Alcatraz out in California. When 60 Minutes did a memorable piece on ADX in October 2007, Scott Pelley interviewed one of its former wardens, a man named Robert Hood. Pelley asked Hood why he had been so excited to come to Florence when the job opportunity presented itself. “In our system,” Hood answered, “there’s 144 prisons. And there’s only one Supermax. It’s like the Harvard of the system.”

Read the rest here:


New Study: Solitary Confinement Overused in Colorado

From: SolitaryWatch:
November 18, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

A new report on solitary confinement in Colorado’s state prisons concluded that there are far too many inmates in round-the-clock lockdown. A series of relatively modest changes in its classification, review, and mental health treatment practices would “significantly reduce” the number of prisoners in administrative segregation, the report found. The report was funded by the National Institute of Corrections, and its authors, James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman, were involved in the dramatic reduction of solitary confinement in Mississippi’s prisons.

Alan Prendergast, who has spent more than a decade reporting on Colorado prisons for Denver’s weekly Westword, reviewed the report and provided the following summary:

A study by researchers at the National Institute of Corrections has found that Colorado’s approach to locking down its most unruly prisoners in 23-hour-a-day isolation is “basically sound” — but could be used a lot less. Instead, even as the state’s prison population is declining slightly, the use of “administrative segregation,” or solitary confinement, continues to increase.

The Colorado Department of Corrections houses close to 1,500 prisoners in “ad-seg,” about 7 percent of the entire state prison population. That’s significantly above the national average of 2 percent or less — and if you factor in the additional 670 prisoners who are in “punitive segregation” as a result of disciplinary actions, the CDOC figure is closer to 10 percent. And four out of ten of the prisoners in solitary have a diagnosed mental illness, roughly double the proportion in 1999. The state’s heavy reliance on ad-seg, including building a second supermax prison to house the overload, has put Colorado in the center of a growing national controversy over whether isolating prisoners creates more problems in the long run.

NIC researchers James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman were invited by DOC to prepare an external review of its ad-seg policies and classification system. Among other points, the pair found that the decision to send prisoners to lockdown has little review by headquarters; that “there is considerable confusion in the operational memorandums and regulations on how the administrative segregation units are to function;” that the average length of stay in isolation is about two years; and that 40 percent of the ad-seg prisoners are released directly to the community from lockdown, with no time spent in general population first.

Austin and Sparkman urge the DOC to require a mental health review before a prisoner is placed in ad-seg and to simplify the programs and phases inmates are required to complete before returning to a less restrictive prison. Even modest administrative changes would “significantly reduce” the state’s lockdown population, they claim, freeing up cells for other uses and saving the state money, since supermax prisons are more costly to operate than lower-security facilities.

For more on solitary confinement in Colorado, read our article Fortresses of Solitude.

Top Ten Things to Know About Illinois’ Prisons

Reblogged from:  John Maki, Coordinating Director, John Howard Association of Illinois

 Dec 13, 2010, Huffington Post

 The John Howard Association is the only organization in Illinois–and one of a very few in the country–that monitors its state’s prison conditions. 

In 2010, we visited almost 20 of Illinois’ prisons, communicated with thousands of inmates, and met with dozens of prison administrators and government officials.
Based on our work, we compiled a top-ten list of things Illinois citizens should know about their prison system in 2010.

1. Will Reform Continue?
In September 2010, Michael Randle resigned as the director of IDOC. During his 14-month tenure, Randle put the department on the path to reform, bringing in outside evaluators to assess policies and procedures, working with community groups to reduce recidivism, and exploring cost-effective alternatives to incarceration. Acting Director Gladyse Taylor has adopted many of these reforms. JHA hopes this continues.

2. The State Can’t Pay Its Bills On Time
Due to the state’s fiscal crisis, IDOC has operated under onerous budget cuts. More recently, the state comptroller has been unable to pay for goods and services needed by IDOC, leaving prison administrators scrambling to secure essentials like clothing and ammunition.

3. Too Many People In Prison
While states across the country are reducing their prison populations, Illinois has added more than 3,000 inmates, the equivalent of a large prison. This recent growth stems from the suspension of Meritorious Good Time, but the problem of prison overcrowding is rooted in ineffective and costly decades of tough on crime legislation, the war on drugs, and harsh sentencing practices.

4. Reform In The Works
In 2010, Illinois took significant steps to bring sweeping reform mandated by the Crime Reduction Act. Counties implemented Adult Redeploy, a program that funds local, cost-effective alternatives to incarceration; the state submitted a proposal for an assessment tool that will help better determine which offenders should be in prison; and the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council gathered and analyzed criminal justice information to help make the system less costly and more efficient.

5. Health Suffers
Medical, mental health and dental care remain chronic problems in the state’s prisons. JHA staff almost always discover personnel shortages in its inspection of prisons. Preventive care needed to prevent serious illness is often deferred, with predictable results.

6. Better, But Not Enough

The state has made progress in reducing the number of men held at Tamms, the state’s supermax prison. Yet the prison remains dedicated to solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Forty inmates have been held in solitary since the prison opened in 1998.

7. A Good Idea
Video visitation is an innovative idea, and correctional issues want to make it available around the state. Video kiosks at half-way houses and other state facilities will make it possible for inmates in isolated prisons to stay in touch with loved ones and friends.

8. A Terrible Idea
Education, known to combat recidivism, is growing increasingly scarce in Illinois prisons because of budget cuts. Community colleges have been forced to cut programs, while prison policy means inmates serving long sentences may never get a chance to earn a GED.

9. It Is Expensive
An Illinois inmate costs the state about $25,000 a year. Because the state has eliminated an early release program, the prison population has risen by 3,000 this year to nearly 49,000 men and women. With longer sentences, we can expect the prison population to rise in coming years.

10. Important To Keep In Mind
Research shows that when low-level non-violent offenders are incarcerated instead of given supervised release, they are more likely to commit new crimes once they get out of prison. Almost 70 percent of all Illinois inmates are in prison for non-violent crimes and about 50 percent of all offenders serve six months or less.