New York City Mayor: We Need to Address Mentally Ill Inmates in Jail

Reblogged from: The Epoch Times | November 20, 2014

Written By Annie Wu for The Epoch Times

NEW YORK—At a Thursday press briefing on the Department of Correction’s planned reforms of jail conditions at Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte expressed that their biggest challenge is how to provide for mentally ill inmates.

The mayor said the high proportion of inmates with a mental illness—at 40 percent of the total population at Rikers Island—was a reality that the Corrections Department failed to address, and was at times unwilling to. Half of all violent incidents reported at Rikers involved mentally ill inmates.

“There was no public acknowledgement that the problems on Rikers Island were first and foremost a mental health problem,” the mayor said. “We literally as a city, didn’t diagnose the problem until now.”


He added that a “culture change” was necessary to bring about effective reform in an agency where there existed “practices that were shockingly outmoded, things that went unsaid, things that went unaddressed.”

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Break silence on brutal Florida prisons

This is from the Bradenton Herald, July 12, 2014:

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, suggested this week that, “If there is a problem,” within the Department of Corrections and the prisons and detention centers that it runs, “let’s fix it.”

However, there’s no “if” about it — there is a problem, a huge one.
Inmates are dying in Florida’s prisons, victims of torture and brutality. No one has been charged in these suspicious deaths, much less stood trial, despite the fact that one fatality has caught the public’s attention — the appalling case of Darren Rainey, who was scalded to death in 2012.
The FBI is investigating a prison riot in Suwannee. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also looking into an inmate’s mysterious death there. An inmate in a Panhandle facility died after being gassed repeatedly by corrections officers. And there are others.
Few state authorities, from Gov. Scott’s office to his inspector general to the head of Corrections, have leaped forth to avow that they will get to the bottom of whistleblowers’ and inmates’ credible allegations of institutional cruelty, tacitly tolerated by those in charge.
In fact, the silence has been so shocking that, thankfully, James McDonough, who headed Florida’s DOC under Gov. Jeb Bush, was compelled to go public, spurring long-overdue action:
• Tuesday, Mr. McDonough said in an e-mail: “I am revolted by what I am hearing, just as I am by what I am not hearing.” He added, “These cases did not end tragically last week; they ended in horrific and suspicious deaths some years ago. Where has the leadership been?”
Snoozing, apparently.
• Wednesday, the current chief of DOC, Mike Crews, finally roused, declared himself “outraged” — two years after Rainey’s death and two months after the Herald disclosed that he was strong-armed by prison guards into a shower stall and burned to death under searingly hot water.
• Thursday, a now-energized Mr. Crews suspended Jerry Cummings, the warden of the Florida City facility where Rainey died.
But none of this should be construed as leadership on Mr. Crews’ part. Backing and filling is more like it, unfortunately. Mr. Cummings is on paid administrative leave, but the two correctional officers who are said to have locked Rainey in the shower are still on the job.
Read the rest here, and also in the Huffington Post
lawsuit filed by four prison investigators claims Florida’s prison system is badly mismanaged and the results have been deadly.
The four filed a federal whistle-blower complaint on Monday alleging that state prisoners were beaten and tortured, that guards smuggled in drugs and other contraband in exchange for money and sexual favors, and that guards used gang enforcers to control the prison population. They claim those actions were either tacitly approved or covered up.
One of the most grisly examples of abuse mentioned in the suit, which was filed last week, is the death of 27-year-old inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo in September, 2010.
According to former inspector Aubrey] Land, Jordan-Aparo, serving an 18-month term for credit card fraud and drug charges, was placed in solitary confinement and gassed multiple times by guards after he had begged to be taken to the hospital for a worsening medical condition. Land, who said he stumbled on the death of Jordan-Aparo while investigating other “garden-variety” corruption and abuses at Franklin, said the prison’s medical staff, corrections officers and supervisors later conspired to fabricate reports and lie to law enforcement about the events leading to the inmate’s death.
Another case mentioned in the suit is that of 50-year-old mentally ill inmate, Darren Rainey.
In May, 2014, the suit says, Rainey was put inside a scalding hot shower at Dade Correctional as punishment for defecating on the floor of his cell.
Read more here. and act appropriately to stop these abuses and change the system!

Solitary Confinement in New Mexico

A 3 part series on solitary confinement in New Mexico, by KUNM:

Part 1 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Monday, April 28, 2014

In real life, human rights advocates say New Mexico needs to cut back on using solitary confinement as a punishment method—especially for people coping with mental illnesses. Prison officials agree that it should be used less often, though most take issue with the way it’s portrayed in prison dramas.
Read more here.

Part 2 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Monday, May 5, 2014

Jan Green isn’t sure of cell 135C’s exact dimensions at the Valencia County Detention Center. It was small.

“It was a shower stall, but I couldn’t use the shower,” she said. “It had the steel toilet and sink combination. It had a cement L-shaped bench and two drains. It had a steel door with a window that looked out into the walkway. “

She saw those objects every day all day during her months-long stints in solitary.

She slept on a mat on the floor. She remembers that it was cold in there, the lights were kept on around the clock, and she couldn’t get the water running properly. The out-of-use showerhead dripped. All the time.

“I remember being very ill,” she said. “I would pretend or whatever having a friend there for company.” read more by clicking here.

Part 3 By: Marisa Demarco, Aired: Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nataura Powdrell remembers one inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center who refused to take his meds. When the jail’s mental health staff tried to talk about it, he explained he didn’t want to become stable. Because then he’d be released from jail.

Then, he knew from experience, he would run through the 30-day supply of medication that the jail provides to exiting inmates. He would have a psychotic break. And he’d go find heroin so he could get comfortable with the voices in his head.

“It’s a catch 22 for him,” Powdrell, spokesperson for MDC, explained. “There needs to be somewhere between jail and the street that these people can get the appropriate help.”

Read more here.

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.

Special "SCI Cresson Investigation" Edition of HRC Report

This was reblogged from: Pennsylvania Prison Report

Special “SCI Cresson Investigation” Edition

June 6, 2013
On Friday May 31, the United States Justice Department issued a report on its 18-month investigation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PADOC) prison in Cambria County, State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cresson, finding that the solitary confinement of people with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities is in violation of both the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The announcement came in a findings letter detailing the results of its investigation of SCI Cresson by attorneys with the Justice Department’s Special Litigations Section of the Civil Rights Division, working in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The letter also notified PA governor Corbett that both agencies are expanding their investigation to include all 28 prisons under the control of the PADOC.

The investigation, launched in December 2011, set out to find whether SCI Cresson was violating the constitutional rights of prisoners to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting mentally illl prisoners to the psychologically damaging conditions of long-term solitary confinement and depriving them of mental health care.

SCI Cresson, built in 1987, housed the PA Department of Corrections’ second-largest Secure Special Needs Unit (SSNU), a type of solitary confinement unit used for the isolation (and on paper, the treatment) of mentally ill prisoners. In January 2013, the PA DOC announced its intention to close the prison– three months after members of the investigation team met with PA DOC leadership and Cresson Superintendent Kenneth Cameron to discuss concerns about information received during the investigation. As of April 2013, the SSNU had been emptied and the prison held less than 400 prisoners (down from approx.1600).

Warehousing the Mentally Ill

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) letter, briefly summarized in a press release, catalogs a long list of human rights violations that will be familiar to readers of the Prison Report, centering on conditions of extreme isolation coupled with additional cruel and degrading punishments inflicted by staff, presided over by a prison administration that not only ignored wrongdoing by prison staff, but also actively prevented seriously mentally ill prisoners from receiving treatment.

The DOJ found that “Cresson routinely locks prisoners with serious mental illness in their cells for roughly 23 hours per day for months, even years, at a time. At Cresson, the prolonged isolation is all the harder for many prisoners with serious mental illness to endure because it involves harsh and punitive living conditions and, often, unnecessary staff- on-prisoner uses of force.” The report noted that placement of mentally ill prisoners in the prison’s solitary confinement units was intentional; not the consequence of a failure to identify those who are most vulnerable to such psychologically destructive conditions, but as a matter of systematic and deliberate practice.

The resulting harms have been catastrophic: “Cresson’s practice of subjecting prisoners with serious mental illness to prolonged periods of isolation under the conditions described in this letter has resulted in harm, including trauma, bouts of hysteria and extreme paranoia, severe depression, psychosis, serious self-injury and mutilation, and suicide.” Corroborating this conclusion is the fact that although less than 10% of the prison’s total population is held in solitary confinement, during the previous year and-a-half, 2 of the 3 suicides and 14 of the 17 suicide attempts at SCI Cresson occurred in these units. Both of the suicides in the solitary units (which HRC reported on shortly after they happened) occurred after requests for mental health care were ignored by staff.

(Links to HRC reports on the 2 suicides in Cresson’s solitary units: “In Memory of Brandon Palakovic” and “Prison staff scramble to cover up circumstances of suicide at SCI Cresson“)

In one of the more graphic examples of self-harm described in the DOJ report, one prisoner was said to have “tore open his scrotum with his fingernail while housed at the RHU after experiencing isolation and a lack of adequate treatment there for three months. In the three days preceding this incident, BB cut his arm with a staple, smeared feces on himself while complaining of hearing voices, and tore off a fingernail. After the incident involving BB injuring his scrotum, he told staff that ‘mental health won’t listen to me so I’m pulling my nuts out.'”

A prisoner who has spent more than 7 of the last 12 years in solitary confinement in PADOC prisons told the DOJ that “isolation makes me want to rip my face off.” Emphasizing the seemingly endless duration of indefinite isolation, another prisoner stated that confinement in the SSNU “feel[s] like it will last the rest of [your] life.”

Torment and Punishment

Among the most disturbing of the investigation’s findings is the degree to which dehumanizing and harmful treatment of prisoners at Cresson was normalized and incorporated into the routine operations of the prison. Though the SSNU was supposedly intended for the treatment of seriously mentally ill prisoners, by policy and practice unit staff were encouraged to react to behavior symptomatic of severe mental illness with “aversive” measures intended to punish. Shouting, throwing feces, or banging one’s head into the wall were consistently responded to with violence by prison staff. The routine use of full-body restraints for extensive periods of time (avg 10.5 hours), using tasers on prisoners who were already fully restrained, forcing prisoners to sleep on cold concrete without a mattress, denial of food, exercise, visits and reading materials, were all regular tools of SCI Cresson staff.

Readers of the Prison Report, former prisoners, and family members will recognize these as regular tools of staff at most or all PA DOC prisons. Punishment of those with mental health needs results in a predictable cycle of dysfunction wherein psychological decompensation is exacerbated by violent repression. This recurring cycle is a phenomenon that is noted in virtually every human rights report, academic or clinical study, court case, or government report assessing conditions of solitary confinement across the country during the past 30 years. The DOJ report described the cycle of dysfunction as follows:

“At Cresson, prisoners with serious mental illness are often subjected to a toxic combination of conditions that include: prolonged isolation, harsh housing conditions, punitive behavior modification plans, and excessive uses of force. These conditions, intended to control these prisoners’ behavior, serve only to exacerbate their mental illness. Frequently, these conditions combine to do serious harm in the following way: a prisoner with serious mental illness is placed in isolation with inadequate mental health care, causing him to decompensate and behave negatively; staff respond by subjecting the prisoner to harsher living conditions, denying him stimuli, and/or using excessive force against him; the prisoner’s mental health continues to deteriorate, and he begins to engage in self-injurious conduct (e.g., banging his head hard and repeatedly against a concrete wall, ingesting objects, or hurling himself against the metal furnishings of his room) or attempts to kill himself; staff eventually respond by placing him in the MHU – a unit where a limited amount of treatment is provided; as soon as the prisoner begins to stabilize, he is returned to isolation, and the prisoner’s mental health again spirals downward.”

Noting that Cresson views “serious mental illness [as] intentional misbehavior that must be punished rather than treated,” the DOJ found that prison staff responded to “behaviors mostly or entirely derivative of mental illness” by deprivations such as “forcing the prisoner to sleep on cement slabs without a mattress; denying the prisoner access to warm food and instead giving him nothing but “food loaf” to eat; denying access to reading materials; denying the prisoner access to the caged, exercise pens; denying the prisoner access to showers; and restricting or eliminating the prisoner’s already limited ability to make phone calls or engage in non-contact visits with loved ones or friends.”

The culture of abuse on display at Cresson included tasering and pepper-spraying suicidal prisoners and leaving their arms and legs strapped to a concrete slab or bed for more than 10 hours at a time. In one incident, prison guards responded to an act of self-harm by placing the prisoner in four-point restraints, and tasering him with “a handheld electronic body immobilization device” when he requested that a mattress be placed on the metal bed prior to his being strapped down. He remained strapped down for nearly 15 hours. Another prisoner was placed in a restraint chair after slamming head first into his cell door, and was tasered seven times and pepper-sprayed in the face twice during the 24-hour period he was in the restraint chair.

In some instances prisoners were double-celled in the solitary confinement units with violent, predatory prisoners, including one case where a diagnosed schizophrenic poured boiling water on another prisoner, who was himself a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and with an IQ of 48. The boiling water caused blistering of the skin.

The DOJ concluded that Cresson lacks a “functioning residential treatment unit,” and that the SSNU does not “even resemble” a treatment unit. When prisoners in the isolation units are provided out-of-cell therapy, “the therapy is generally provided to the prisoner while he sits in a small cage roughly the size of a telephone booth.” According to the DOJ, one of the major causal factors of these conditions are staffing shortages that make it impossible for mental health professionals to provide necessary care.

Instead of any semblance of the residential treatment unit or programming, the DOJ found a prison where the sick torture the sick, and the endless depths of isolation are punctuated only by guard violence, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, and death.

What’s next?

The impact that the release of the DOJ/US Attorney’s Office investigation findings will have remains unclear. Because conditions at Cresson appear to be indicative of systemic patterns throughout the PA DOC, the DOJ has now taken the unprecedented move of expanding the investigation to include all solitary confinement units of the state’s prison system. However, the office of the DOJ tasked with the investigation- the Special Litigations Section of the Civil Rights Division- does not have the power to prosecute, and under the controlling statute- the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA)- the PA DOC is allowed the opportunity to voluntarily remedy the unconstitutional conditions found by the DOJ. Failure to do so means that the DOJ will be permitted- but not required- to file a lawsuit in federal court to enforce the Constitution.

At this time, it appears that all PA DOC staff complicit in the abuse, torture, and negligent treatment of severely mentally ill prisoners at SCI Cresson have not in any way been held accountable for their actions by either PA DOC or law enforcement agencies– in fact, the opposite has occurred: the prison’s chief psychologist James Harrington, who presided over the atrocities in Cresson’s “treatment units”, was recently promoted to the newly created position of Regional Chief Psychologist, in charge of overseeing the mental health services of seven PA DOC prisons.

***

We end this report with a quote from Renee Palakovic, whose son Brandon committed suicide while caged in SCI Cresson’s isolation units in July 2012 (read Renee’s full statement):

“..On Friday, May 31st (2013) when I read the news articles and eventually the Justice Department report later in the weekend, the pain that I have been fighting to control and manage every minute of every day came flooding back in a real and powerful way that I was not prepared for.

..What psychiatrist does this to a patient? He was ignored. Placed in solitary for extended periods of time and treated like an animal. Taunted by guards who found amusement in toying with his mind and his emotions and given the opportunity to harm himself.

..To read the Justice Department’s report and find that his requests for help were ignored, his visits with the psychiatrist skipped and his treatment reduced to ongoing and never-ending confinement in a small cement cell made my heart break all over again and quite frankly, made me mad as hell.

..My son was more than just a prisoner confined to a cell in a state correctional institution. I will keep telling myself this, because it is true. But until state correctional institutions believe it and operate based upon it, more and more sons and daughters will become victims of the callous and irresponsible treatment seen behind the walls of Cresson SCI.”

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If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, call us at 267-293-9169, email info@hrcoalition.org, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./

Pittsburgh area: Write On! – letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh,email hrcfedup@gmail.com or call 412-654-9070.

This is the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.

Keep up the fight!

Copyright © 2013 Human Rights Coalition – FedUp!, All rights reserved.

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:


National interfaith anti-torture group supports Montana State House bill to limit solitary confinement of juveniles and the mentally ill


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 22, 2013

CONTACT: Samantha Friedman, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications
Office: (202) 265-3000 or cell: (202) 215-9260 or samantha@rabinowitz-dorf.com

National interfaith anti-torture group supports Montana State House bill to limit solitary confinement of juveniles and the mentally ill
Interfaith group’s feedback comes in advance of today’s hearing on the bill

WASHINGTON – A national interfaith anti-torture group today sent a letter to Montana House Judiciary Committee Chairman Krayton Kerns and other members of the committee, in support of a bill that would restrict the use of long-term solitary confinement in Montana state prison facilities.  On behalf of its more than 300 diverse faith-based organizational members across the United States, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture issued its support for the bill’s passage.

“The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, whose members represent all faith traditions, care deeply about eliminating prolonged solitary confinement. Research consistently demonstrates that the psychological effects, particularly among children and people with mental illness, are devastating.  We strongly support the passage of House Bill 536, particularly its provisions to end the use of solitary confinement of youth under 18, inmates with serious mental illness, and other prisoners needing special consideration, as well as its support for limiting long-term solitary confinement for all inmates,” said Laura Markle Downton, director of U.S. prisons policy and program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

“The bill also includes a critical public safety measure by limiting the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who are within one year of their release.  As people of faith, we recognize that rehabilitation must include preparation for successful re-entry following incarceration.  Because of the devastating psychological and social impacts of prolonged solitary confinement, re-entry is significantly undermined by an inmate’s immediate release from solitary confinement into the community.”

NRCAT’s support of the bill comes in advance of a hearing scheduled for today, Friday, February 22, convened by the House Judiciary Committee, which will include discussion of House Bill 536, known as the “Montana Solitary Confinement Act.”  The hearing will be live-streamed online at http://leg.mt.gov/css/Video-and-Audio/live.asp?strView_id=84.  A vote on the bill is expected as early as Monday, February 25.

“Prolonged solitary confinement desecrates a person’s inherent dignity, denies the essential human need for community, and impedes genuine rehabilitation,” said Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.  “The damage of solitary confinement upon the most vulnerable including juveniles and the mentally ill is a violation of human dignity and is of grave concern to the faith community.  House Bill 536 presents Montana with a critical opportunity to lead the way nationally in increasing access to rehabilitation and reducing harm.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture advocates for limiting the use of solitary confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons.  More information on NRCAT’s work in the field of solitary confinement is available at nrcat.org, as is the organization’s short documentary film on solitary confinement.  In 2010, NRCAT partnered with a diverse coalition of organizations in Maine to push for the successful passage of a resolve by the state legislature requiring the Department of Corrections to review its solitary confinement policies and procedures.  As a result of the review and its recommendations, the solitary confinement population in Maine has been reduced by more than 70 percent.  Momentum to halt the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons continues to build nationally, with the first-ever Congressional hearing on the use of prolonged solitary confinement convened last June by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.  Following the hearing, in February of this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to the first-ever independent and comprehensive assessment of its use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. federal prisons.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 320 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.

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