Federal Bureau of Prisons to Undergo Review of Solitary Confinement Practices

This is from a very reliable source for solitary confinement news, SolitaryWatch:

Feb. 5th 2013
By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

Cell at ADX federal supermax

On Monday, the office of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin put out the following press release, announcing that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had agreed to submit to a review of its solitary confinement practices.

In 2010, a spokesperson for the BOP said that federal prisons held approximately 11,150 prisoners in some form of segregated “special housing.” This figure includes the 400 men held in ultra-isolation at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, which is currently the target of federal lawsuits claiming conditions there lead to mental illness and suicide, and violate the Constitution.

The planned review follows on the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, held last June by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Durbin. It is described as a “comprehensive and independent assessment,” though it will be carried out by the National Institute of Corrections, which is an agency of the BOP.

Solitary Watch will report further on this story in the coming days, including the BOP’s assertion that it has already “reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent.”

DURBIN STATEMENT ON FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS ASSESSMENT OF ITS SOLITARY CONFINEMENT PRACTICES

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement today announcing that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a comprehensive and independent assessment of its use of solitary confinement in the nation’s federal prisons. This first-ever review of federal segregation policies comes after Durbin chaired a hearing last year on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. Last week, Durbin and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels discussed the assessment, which will be conducted through the National Institute of Corrections.

“The announcement by the Bureau of Prisons that it will conduct its first-ever review of its use of solitary confinement is an important development,” Durbin said. “The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore. I am confident the Bureau of Prisons will permit a thorough and independent review and look forward to seeing the results when they are made public. We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation.”

In his hearing last year, Durbin emphasized the importance of reforming the way we treat the incarcerated and the use of solitary confinement in prisons and detention centers around the country. Following that hearing, Durbin has twice met with Bureau of Prisons Director Samuels to push for additional reforms and encourage a sufficiently robust assessment of the Bureau’s segregation practices.

Since Durbin’s hearing, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reportedly reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent. In addition, it has closed two of its Special Management Units, a form of segregated housing, due to the reduction in the segregated population.

The National Institute of Corrections, through which the assessment will be conducted, assisted states like Mississippi and Colorado in reforming their solitary practices. After assessing its practices, Mississippi reduced its segregated population by more than 75 percent, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction in prison violence.

During the last several decades, the United States has witnessed an explosion in the use of solitary confinement for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States. This is – by far – the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world.

Solitary confinement – also called supermax housing, segregation and isolation – is designed to separate inmates from each other and isolate them for a variety of reasons. Originally used to segregate the most violent prisoners in the nation’s supermax prisons, the practice is being used more frequently, including for the supposed protection of vulnerable groups like immigrants, children and LGBT inmates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing. In Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.

Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells without windows, with little to no access to the outside world or adequate programs and treatment. Inmates are confined to these cells for up to 23 hours a day. Such extreme isolation can have serious psychological effects on inmates and can lead to mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide. According to several state and national studies, at least half of all prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.

In addition to the impact solitary confinement has on inmates, there are also public safety and fiscal concerns with the practice. The bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons found that the use of solitary confinement often increased acts of violence in prions. Further, it is extremely costly to house a prisoner in solitary confinement. In Tamms, Illinois’ only supermax prison, it cost more than $60,000 a year to house a prisoner in solitary confinement while it was operational, compared to an average of $22,000 for inmates in other prisons.

Video from Durbin’s June hearing on solitary confinement can be found at www.judiciary.senate.gov.

Buried in the Bureau of Prisons

David C. Fathi 

Director, ACLU National Prison Project

Posted: June 4, 2010 04:31 PM 

Imagine a country in which prisoners can be denied visits, and even telephone calls, with family members for years at a time. Imagine a country in which government officials can prevent prisoners from telling news reporters about mistreatment or abuse. Imagine a country in which prisoners who are foreign citizens can be denied their right, guaranteed by international treaty, to meet with consular officials from their nation of origin. Unfortunately, that country is not some totalitarian state in the 1950s, but the United States in 2010.
Since 2006, the federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly operated a “Communications Management Unit” (CMU) at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. A second CMU was opened in Marion, Illinois, in 2008. Prisoners in these units face strict limits on visiting and telephone contact with the outside world.

The government has so far been operating these units without regulatory authority, but in April of this year, it belatedly published proposed rules that would authorize their operation. These rules make clear just what the government has in mind: a regime even more draconian than currently exists in the CMUs. Prisoners would be allowed only one 15-minute telephone call per month, with “immediate family members only” (defined to include only parents, spouses, children and siblings); one one-hour noncontact visit per month, with immediate family members; and one letter per week, limited to three pieces of paper, to and from a single recipient, “at the discretion of the Warden.”

When the CMUs were first established, the government justified them as necessary to monitor the communications of convicted or suspected terrorists. But in a classic case of mission creep, the new regulations provide that a prisoner can be transferred to a CMU if there is “any … evidence of a potential threat to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of prison facilities, or protection of the public, as a result of the inmate’s communication with persons in the community.” Given that most people in BOP custody are already accused or convicted of criminal activity, this standard imposes no meaningful limits; virtually any of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners could be sent to a CMU. In fact the CMUs have already been used to house prisoners who have not been convicted, or even accused, of terrorist activity. And because the CMU transfer decision is made solely by the Bureau of Prisons, with no external review or oversight, prisoners lack a meaningful way to challenge their placement.


These proposed rules represent an unprecedented attack on First Amendment rights, both of prisoners and of those on the outside — family, friends, journalists, clergy, and others — who want to communicate with them. A CMU prisoner who was raised by his aunt or grandmother will not be allowed to receive visits from her, or even talk to her by telephone. A reporter who wants to interview a prisoner alleging mistreatment or abuse won’t be allowed to do so. Never in modern U.S. history have prison officials been given the power to create a class of prisoners who are denied virtually all communication with the outside world.
The proposed rules also violate U.S. treaty obligations. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (PDF), ratified by the United States in 1969, consular officers have the right to visit their nationals who are in prison or detention in a foreign country, for the purpose of arranging legal representation or providing other assistance. Although more than one-quarter of the bureau’s prisoners are foreign nationals, the proposed rules make no provision for the consular visits required by the treaty. Past U.S. violations of the Vienna Convention have resulted in judgments against the United States by the International Court of Justice; the proposed rules make it all but certain that more treaty violations will occur in the future.

The government predictably defends the CMUs as necessary for security. But prison officials already have the authority to control and limit prisoners’ correspondence, telephone calls, and visits, and to monitor those communications to detect and prevent criminal activity. For example, prison staff must approve a prisoner’s visitor lists; they may conduct background checks for that purpose, and may disapprove any visitor. Visiting areas may be monitored. Prison officials may deny placement of a given telephone number on a prisoner’s telephone list if they determine that there is a threat to security. Telephone calls are also monitored. Prison officials have the authority to open and read all non-legal prisoner mail. The proposed CMU rules don’t explain why these existing security measures are insufficient. And they certainly don’t explain how security is meaningfully advanced by preventing a prisoner from calling his grandmother.

The Bureau of Prisons is accepting public comments on the proposed rules through June 7. On Tuesday, the ACLU submitted comments calling for the immediate closure of CMUs. See the instructions for filing comments, and submit your own here.

ACT NOW: FBOP trying to expand use of CMUs

News via our comrade, Vikki Law. There is action to take here:

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The BOP is proposing further isolating people in Communications Management Units. There’s a period for public comment that ends June 7th.

Conveniently for the BOP, the comment form is undergoing some maintenance this weekend and won’t be back up until Monday, 5/31, at 11:59 pm. But that still leaves a week to leave a comment on the proposed rules.

If you can’t wait till Tuesday morning, you can also snail mail your outrage to the BOP:

Rules Unit, Office of General Counsel
Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW.
Washington, DC 20534

Include the following docket number in your correspondence:

BOP DOCKET #1148-P COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT UNITS

America’s “Most Isolated Man” Sues the Bureau of Prisons

Article written and published on SolitaryWatch, on 21 January 2010



by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

Tommy Silverstein has spent 26 years in federal supermax prisons under a “no human contact” order. Now, with the help of students at the University of Denver’s law school, he is one of a handful of prisoners who are challenging long-term solitary confinement on Constitutional grounds.

Silverstein, now 57, was first sent to San Quentin for armed robbery in 1971, when he was 19. By age 23 he was in Leavenworth, where he was active in the Aryan Brotherhood. After his conviction for the murder of a fellow prisoner (which was later overturned), he landed in the control unit of the federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. There he was convicted of killing two more prisoners, and then a guard, whom he managed to stab while being walked, in shackles, back from the shower. Back at Leavenworth, ”Terrible Tommy” was placed in a remote underground cell known as the “Silverstein Suite,” where he remained until 2005, when he was transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum in Colorado, better known as ADX.

Alan Prendergast has been reporting on ADX for more than a decade for Denver’s weekly Westword, and in 2007 he wrote the definitive piece on Tommy Silverstein, called “The Caged Life.” As he describes it:

Located two miles outside of the high-desert town of Florence, ADX is the most secure prison in the country, a hunkered-down maze of locks, alarms and electronic surveillance, designed to house gang leaders, terrorists, drug lords and other high-risk prisoners in profound isolation. Its current guest list is a who’s who of enemies of the state, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, shoe bomber Richard Reid, plane bomber Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph and double-agent Robert Hanssen.

When it opened in 1994, ADX was hailed as the solution to security flaws at even the highest levels of the federal prison system. Much of the justification for building the place stemmed from official outrage at the brutal murders of two guards in the control unit of the federal pen in Marion, Illinois, during a single 24-hour period in 1983. The first of those killings was committed by Thomas Silverstein, who was already facing multiple life sentences for previous bloodshed at Marion. The slaying of corrections officer Merle Clutts placed Silverstein under a “no human contact” order that’s prevailed ever since, and it gave the Bureau of Prisons the perfect rationale for building its high-tech supermax. Although he never bunked there until 2005, you could call ADX the House that Tommy Built.

Even within ADX, Silverstein is in a special restrictive unit where only one other prisoner, World Trade Center bomber Ramsey Yusuf, is housed, and where there is virtually no contact with prison staff. The man once branded “America’s most dangerous prisoner” is now described, on a web site maintained by his supporters, as its “most isolated man” (which, with the exception of terrorism suspects held under SAMs, he may well be).

Silverstein claims he is also a changed man. He has taught himself to read, write, and draw in prison, and is an accomplished artist. He says he’s learned self-control, and he hasn’t had a disciplinary writeup in 20 years. “The BOP shrinks chalk it up as me being so isolated I haven’t anyone to fight with,” he wrote to Alan Prendergast, “but they’re totally oblivious to all the petty BS that I could go off on if I chose to. I can toss a turd and cup of piss with the best of ‘em if I desired. What are they going to do, lock me up?”

But students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, who filed a suit on his behalf in federal court in late 2007, aren’t claiming that Tommy Silverstein is now a nice guy. They’re arguing that his conditions of confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, and also violate his Fifth Amendment right to due process. The suit filed by Civil Rights Law Clinic at DU, which has also represented other ADX inmates, alleges that the government’s “deliberate indifference has resulted in Plaintiff suffering deprivations that cause mental harm that goes beyond the boundaries of what most human beings can psychologically tolerate.”

Read the rest here.

Drawings by Tommy Silverstein