State prisons rethink solitary confinement

This is an article from the Seattle Times:

Washington’s prisons are at the forefront of a new approach to solitary confinement, finding that a new focus on rehabilitation may calm some inmates’ behavior in prison and prevent violence once they are back on the street.

By Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times, January 7, 2013

CLALLAM BAY CORRECTIONS CENTER — Being alone in your own head 23 hours a day in a 48-square-foot poured-concrete cell makes, inmates say, the mad madder and the bad even worse.

“One guy told me he had, like, 15 faces on tissue paper, and he had names on them,” said inmate Michael Richards, who spent about seven of the last 11 years in solitary confinement at Clallam Bay Corrections Center. “He’d say, ‘Hey Bob, good morning.’ He’d talk to them through the day, just to keep that contact, because he couldn’t talk to anyone else.”

For centuries, solitary confinement has been the big stick of prisons, the harshest means to deter rule-breaking.

But the benefits are being reconsidered, and Washington state is at the forefront of a national re-examination. Instead of facing nothing but forced solitude, Washington inmates in solitary units — called Intensive Management Units, or IMUs — are increasingly being let out for hours to attend classes, see counselors or hit the gym.

It is a clear move to the left in prison management, but one that Washington prison managers say is rooted in data. More emphasis on rehabilitation appears to calm behavior in the prison, and cuts violent recidivism on the streets, experts say. It is also a cost-saver: Solitary confinement costs about three times as much as keeping a prisoner in general custody.

At Walla Walla, hard-core gang members assigned to isolation units are chained to classroom desks for nine hours a week. At the Monroe Correctional Complex, a special unit for inmates with mental illness and traumatic brain injuries — who often end up in solitary confinement — is in the works.

At Clallam Bay, once the so-called gladiator ground of the state prison system, the new approach has slowed a revolving door of hardened inmates who returned, again and again, to isolation.

“Now that we’ve got it up and running, to look at it through the rearview mirror, we wonder why didn’t we do this 10 years ago,” said Assistant Secretary Dan Pacholke, a 30-year Department of Corrections (DOC) veteran.

A failed notion

Solitary confinement’s history is a pendulum swing between concepts of punishment and rehabilitation. It was pioneered in the early 1800s so inmates, alone with just a Bible, could repent. It fell out of favor when the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890 found inmates, unreformed, instead grew “violently insane” or suicidal.

It returned to wider use in the 1990s as states, drifting from rehabilitation, built “Supermax” prisons; by 2005, 40 states had at least 25,000 prisoners on lockdown 23 hours a day. A series of recent lawsuits, alleging the practice violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, led to court orders curtailing its use.

Washington avoided such lawsuits but began reconsidering solitary after violent clashes in IMU units at Shelton in the mid-1990s. About 400 of the state’s 17,500 inmates are in such units, which also house death-row prisoners and those in protective custody.

University of Washington professor David Lovell studied solitary confinement in the state under a DOC contract, and found the isolated inmates were most often gang members serving long sentences for violent crimes. Up to 45 percent were mentally ill or had traumatic brain injuries.

And once in solitary, they stayed in — for nearly a year, on average — because prison staff were reluctant to send likely violent inmates back into the general population.

Those who were released often returned, after committing new assaults on corrections officers or other inmates.

Most disturbing, Lovell found a quarter of inmates were released to the streets directly from solitary confinement. Unaccustomed to human contact, they were more prone to quickly commit new violence.

Despite those findings, Lovell, now a criminal-justice analyst in California, said inmates in isolation “are not permanently dangerous.”

“What we found most surprising was how intact many of them were” even after months of solitude, said Lovell. “It shows you that people can get used to anything. I’m not sure how heartwarming that conclusion is.”

“Time to jump”

Roy Marchand, serving 10 years for manslaughter, did 27 months in isolation, but lasted just 30 days before getting into a fight and going right back.

“The minute you think it’s disrespect time or what not, it’s time to jump, because usually the one who jumps first gets on top,” he said.

Life in solitary is spare: no personal effects except what can be posted within a 12- by 18-inch space on the wall; meals slid through a door; and one hour a day for showering or for exercise in a small, walled yard, with two officers in escort.

At Clallam Bay, the path out of isolation runs through the color-coded tiers of the Intensive Transition Program (ITP), housed since 2006 in a unit originally built for juveniles.

About 30 inmates, all volunteers, agree to a nine-month program stocked with coursework such as “moral recognition therapy” and “self-repair,” gradually earning more freedoms.

“Someone needs to say, “I want this,’ ” said IMU supervisor Steve Blakeman, bald and weathered, a corrections officer out of central casting. “The novelty of living in a box has worn off.”

Isolation has a purpose, Blakeman said, comparing it to the “adult version of having to stand in the corner.” But Lovell’s data — especially on the recidivism for those released directly to the street — was important, Blakeman said.

“These are the guys who are going to be in the grocery-store line next to your daughter one day,” he said. “This is an ethic and legal responsibility we have to the community.”

The four-step program starts in an unusual classroom: a row of steel cages, inmates chained to floor-mounted chain hooks beneath metal desks. Earnest Collins, a 24-year-old serving a life sentence for murdering a SeaTac cabdriver, volunteered after two fights earned him trips to solitary.

The program, he acknowledged, also would allow him more visits with his toddler-aged son. Family visits are highly restricted while an inmate is in isolation.

Collins insists he is “open” to change, reading, at Blakeman’s suggestion, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

“I wish life were like ‘The Butterfly Effect,’ ” said Collins, recalling a 2004 movie about a man using supernatural power to alter past events. “I wish I could go back.”

Before the program started, inmates released from isolation returned more than 50 percent of the time. Since then, 131 inmates have graduated; 107 have not returned.

“It works because it’s rational for someone to choose to live in a way that doesn’t have them locked in a hole,” said Lovell. “If you give them the choice, it’s a rational decision to make.”

Mental plight

In prison lingo, they are called “dings” — inmates suffering psychotic episodes, banging on sinks, smearing feces on themselves and their walls, shouting in their solo cells. Inmates with mental illness have historically clustered in isolation units, sometimes because of their behavior, sometimes voluntarily checking into protective custody.

Clallam Bay’s ITP has two staff psychologists, one of the biggest added costs.

Pacholke, the assistant DOC secretary, said the planned isolation unit at Monroe for inmates with mental illness or traumatic brain injuries will include group mental-health care, a result of work with disability advocates. “You want to somewhat create a safe harbor,” he said.
Read the rest here:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020081649_prison08m.html

Dispatches from the Inside: Rehabilitation needs are not being met for California prisoners

 Richard Gilliam
From: KALW, Local Public Radio
August 27th 2012

Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony (CMC).
August 27, 2012
I’m always interested in reports dealing with the state of corrections in California. So I sat on my bunk  with headphones over my ears in anticipation as the weekly morning radio program, The California Report, aired a three-part series they called “Prison Break”. The third installment of the series dealt with the CDCR’s aspirations for rehabilitating those prisoners not affected by Realignment. I’m talking about people such as myself, labeled serious or violent offenders, serving lengthier prison terms. 
The report feature CDCR Secretary Mathew Cate, who stated “We need to provide rehabilitation programs” for these inmates. Well, that’s a no-brainer. It also interviewed Joan Petersilia, a professor of Law at Stanford University, and an acknowledged expert on California penal policy. She agreed with Cate’s assessment, but stated, “I’m not confident” about the outcome of current efforts at rehabilitation. 
The report noted that at Solano prison alone budget cuts reduced the educational workforce from 135 teachers to 32. Prisoners there lamented that there were long waiting lists for programs and jobs, and that only 10-20% of prisoners were having their rehabilitational needs met. Professor Petersilia went on to label the delivery and efficacy of efforts to rehabilitate prisoners as “an experiment”. 
We all know that sometime “experiments” fail. Prisoners are not lab animals to be poked and prodded and experimented upon. We are human beings that suffer from diverse disabilities. These disabilities must be comprehensively addressed and energetically overcome if incarcerated men and women are to function normally when reintroduced into society. What happens if your “Experiment” doesn’t live up to expectations? Do you simply give up? That’s simply not an option. And given CDCR’s minimalist approach to rehabilitation, I’ve no doubt that any pilot programs implemented will fail for lack of enthusiasm. 
Just last year, Mathew Cate stated his intention that community volunteers would be tapped to help fill the void left in program staffing created in the wake of Realignment. But to date there are no more volunteers coming into CMC than when I first arrived. I can count the number of non-custody volunteers that oversee programs such as AA and NA on one hand. An evening literacy program operating when I first arrived, no longer exists because correctional staff are no longer available. This, while San Quentin relies on scores of educators and facilitators to run the dozens of programs in place there. With institutions of higher learning such as Cal-Poly and Questa College literally right outside the prison’s gates, it is not due to a lack of willing personnel that we are starved for programs here. It is due to the administration’s opposition to rehabilitation programming that discourages community involvement. 
Several weeks ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times, concerning the evolving issues in the race for L.A.’s District Attorney. In the article, which spotlighted the ideological shift most of the candidates have made away from “Lock-em’ all up” crime prevention, to a more moderate stance. The article quoted one candidate as saying he would now advocate for substance abuse, anger management, job training and other programs for non-violent offenders. That’s a start. What I’d like to know is, how these candidates plan to help violent offenders once they’re released from prison? It’s issues such as drug abuse, lack of education and job-training and mental health concerns that caused them to offend in the first place. As has been the policy of lawmakers and the CDCR, do we ignore their needs only to be shocked when they commit another serious or violent crime and are imprisoned for even longer next time?
The men and women still in prison need intervention and rehabilitation as much or more than those that commit less serious offenses. The implementation or rehabilitative treatments in all prisons should not be viewed as an “experiment”, it should be the Number One goal and priority of corrections officials. Because in truth it’s not the pot-smoking, hackey-sack playing recalcitrant you need to worry about. It’s the former armed robber coming out of prison without the education, job-skills or psychological treatment he needs to succeed after prison. 

Prisons ‘about to blow’?

Violence data part of argument for Senate bill

Wednesday, February 16, 2011  02:55 AM

The Columbus Dispatch

Violent or destructive incidents involving six or more inmates in Ohio prisons have almost quadrupled in just three years.

Such confrontations occurred an average of once every 28 days in 2007, but by last year they were breaking out once every 7.6 days.

That’s keeping Gary C. Mohr, the new director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, up at night.

“Seven days a week, I’m watching these things show up on my Blackberry,” said Mohr, a longtime veteran of Ohio prisons picked by Gov. John Kasich to return to the department. “This is not the same system I left eight years ago.”
State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, also is concerned. “We are sitting on a tinderbox, and it’s about to blow.”

Seitz and Mohr cited the statistics yesterday in testifying in support of Senate Bill 10, a major overhaul of Ohio sentencing, parole and probation law. Backers say the legislation would save the state $78 million over three years, reduce the prison population to 2007 levels and avoid the need to spend $500 million building prisons.

State prisons now house nearly 51,000 offenders, 33 percent more than they were designed to hold.

At the same time, budget cuts in recent years have forced staff reductions, including removing some corrections officers from cellblocks and dormitories, Mohr said.

Incidents of violence or property destruction, or both, went up correspondingly, he said.

Seitz said he visited a prison recently where he saw two officers, one on each of two floors, in charge of a prison dormitory housing nearly 250 offenders.
The legislation is a combination of reform proposals Seitz tried unsuccessfully to get passed in the last session of the General Assembly, plus a new “Justice Reinvestment” proposal developed by the Council of State Governments. The measure has bipartisan support from officials in all three branches of state government.

Among its many elements, the proposal would provide inmates with the possibility of receiving an “earned credit” reduction of up to 8 percent of their sentence by successfully completing drug-treatment, job-training and education programs. It also would increase the threshold for felony theft charges to $1,000 from $500, provide nonprison sentencing options for nonviolent offenders and revamp the probation system statewide.

The legislation has critics, including county prosecutors who say it violates the principles of the state’s 1996 “truth-in-sentencing” law. State Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee that is hearing the bill, also has a lot of questions.

Yesterday, the Chesterland Republican challenged the idea of diverting low-level felony offenders from prison, or reducing the sentences of those incarcerated.

“Today’s low-level offender is tomorrow’s violent offender,” he said.
The committee also heard testimony from the sponsor of Senate Bill 17, which would allow those with concealed-carry gun permits to bring their weapons into restaurants and bars – as long as they aren’t drinking.

Read the rest here.