A little bit of hopeful news from a Lockdown State, already from Jan. 21st, but anyway.
By Kirk Mitchell
The Denver Post, Jan 21 2012
The Colorado Department of Corrections is transferring 321 inmates out of administrative segregation following a new directive by the department’s executive director.
Executive director Tom Clements acknowledged that the state’s prisons relied too heavily on administrative segregation. He said one of the reasons the practice should be reduced is because 97 percent of all offenders will someday be released.
Read more: Colorado prisons moving 321 inmates out of lockdown – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19787816#ixzz1lGRg7I25
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.
I am an inmate at Ely State Prison (ESP) and have been for the last 9 years. I wanted to write and inform you about some of the horror show that is Ely State Prison. You can´t imagine the utter and absolute horror show this prison really is on the inside.
Here is an example from about 6 to 8 weeks ago. Officers went to a lock down unit to get a hot pot from an inmate. He refused to give it to them (this was on a Saturday: no wardens). So they extracted him. When other inmates began to yell at the officers for their extraction method, the number of officers grew and they did 6 to 8 more unnecessary extractions that sent 4 or 5 inmates out of the prison to the hospital in town to get treatment for their injuries. The lieutenant (Minik or Minnick) from that shift was fired about a week or so later. The shift sergeant from that shift (Bryant) was also the squad sergeant in charge of the Redman extraction that resulted in his death.
People in here die on a fairly regular basis. About three months ago a guy in unit 5 was beaten so bad over the course of 3 days by his cellie that he needed to be life-flighted out of here.
I have lived in general population and held a job in here for the last 8 ½ years. As I´m sure you know unit 8 is the only open unit in the prison and it is where the “workers” live. At one time, about two months ago there were about 140 workers. The administration is now in the process of getting that number down to 94 and housing all of us on one wing of unit 8 and locking down the other half.
Now I´m not sure if you know how this prison was designed, but to really understand, I´ll quickly explain. There are 8 units here, 4 units are considered general population, they are on one side of the prison; units 5, 6, 7 and 8. They each have an A and a B wing with 48 cells, 24 downstairs and 24 right above upstairs. Each wing was designed to house 48 people. Long ago, they put a second bunk in the 3 thru 24 cells (cells 1 and 2 are medical singles) that brought the number of inmates to 72 a unit.
About 3 ½ years ago they put second bunks in cells 25 thru 48, now they cram 94 inmates into a unit. In the lock down units it makes it loud and the stale air is brutal as well as the heat. In unit 8 as in the other units there are only 4 showers, 2 telephones and tables for 48 people to sit. Plus on the wall in the unit along with “no smoking” it says “Maximum occupancy 90,” which was probably put there by the Fire Marshall, but I´m sure the zero will be painted over and made into a four. That´s how they do things inside here. To start this process of getting down to 94 workers they have changed the times we are allowed out of our cells… well they actually took time away from us. See the pages I enclosed.
Here is another example. Some time ago an inmate sued the prison (ESP), because it was not handicap-accessible. After he won and the prison got some grant money to fix some things, they took the non-handicap accessible urinal off the “main yard.” So now there is no urinal on the yard. The officers here now look the other way while people urinate in an outside drain by the trash compactor. They will not let people go into the gym or back into the unit and then back out again. So if you want to stay outside you basically have to break the law.
Here is another policy that was started because people here and also at High Desert (HDSP) started refusing to live with someone in a lock down situation that has no end, for the main reason that it becomes very dangerous. They force you to live with people, especially here at ESP, in a small cell where you never have any time to yourself. They don´t tell you if the other person has HIV, Hep C or mental problems. The number of cell fights they have here at Ely is unreal. And until both inmates come to the door and get handcuffed, the officers will not enter a cell. So you could be getting your head split open and all they will do is gas the cell with pepper spray. And when under normal conditions if one person or both are leaving the cell, both people have to get handcuffed first. Well, on a regular basis one person will wait until his cellie gets cuffed first, then attack, because they know the officers won´t come into the cell until he cuffs up also. It makes for a very dangerous situation.
So in response people were refusing to cell with another person in a lock down situation and would go to the hole. Well since so many people were doing this, they changed the rules so that now you get none of your appliances for the first 60 days in the hole, then you petition for 1 appliance, and then 1 more, in another 60 days. Yet they can take them if you break any rules. If they don´t like you, you´ll never have your appliances.
Like I´ve said, you can´t imagine the horror show ESP really is on the inside.
Received per mail on May 20th 2010
April 14, 2010
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons can take many forms–including the temporary lockdown of units, buildings, or entire prisons. These 24-hour lockdowns are routinely instituted in response to perceived threats to prison safety or authority. On occasion, they can extend to days, weeks, or even months, during which the prison is under a kind of martial law even more extreme than its normal conditions.
At Bayside State Prison in southern New Jersey, this kind of lockdown was instituted after the murder of a guard in 1997. It lasted more than a month, during which hundreds of Bayside prisoners say they were beaten and otherwise abused.
Their complaints languished for a decade. But last month, a retired judge, who was appointed by the federal courts to be a fact-finder in the case, determined that the New Jersey Department of Corrections is liable for their abuse. The decision by former U.S. District Chief Judge John W. Bissell, clears the way for inmates to sue the state.
A detailed report by Mike Newell in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes what took place at the prison in the summer of 1997.
Bayside, a medium-security prison with nearly 2,400 inmates in Cumberland County, was put on lockdown between July 30 and Sept. 3, 1997, after guard Fred Baker was stabbed in the back by an inmate with a makeshift knife.
Prisoners were confined to their cells, visitors were prohibited, and a Special Operations Group (SOG) consisting of 57 corrections officers from across New Jersey interrogated inmates and searched cells for weapons. The SOG officers dressed in riot gear, carried batons and mace, and did not wear name badges.
When the lockdown was lifted, inmates began to report stories of abuse to the Department of Corrections. More than three dozen inmates told The Inquirer in 1997 that they had been repeatedly beaten, dragged, forced to sit handcuffed in the prison gym for hours, threatened with dogs, and paraded through a gauntlet of SOG officers who beat them with nightsticks.
What happened next is an extreme version of a typical story–a series of half-hearted “investigations” and widespread coverups. As John Sullivan reported in the New York Times in 2003, in a long investigative article on the lockdown:
After the lockdown ended in September 1997, complaints of abuse began to leak from the prison. Newspapers reported the stories, and the Department of Corrections promised a thorough investigation.
The F.B.I. began to investigate after receiving written complaints from several inmates. But the investigator’s case file, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed that the agent handling the case made only one telephone call: to the internal affairs division’s office at Bayside State Prison. Over the phone, the file says, the agent learned that internal affairs planned to conduct its own investigation. Because internal affairs was already on the job, and because some inmates had hired lawyers, the agent concluded no further F.B.I. investigation was needed. The agent closed the case.
The F.B.I. file also noted that the United States attorney’s office in Newark had subpoenaed records about the lockdown, but the Justice Department said it closed the case in August 1999, for lack of evidence. Both the United States attorney and the F.B.I. declined to comment.
In the end, the investigation fell to the Department of Corrections’ internal affairs unit. Internal affairs investigators conducted hundreds of interviews and gave lie detector tests to several inmates. Some inmates passed those tests when they reported abuse by guards. But in nearly every case, investigators said they could not substantiate the charges against guards. Often, the investigators’ reports said cases boiled down to inmates’ words against guards’, or inmates could not clearly identify the guards in question.
”It seems almost there was a decision not to credit what an inmate says,” said Justin Loughry, a lawyer representing some Bayside inmates. By late 1998, internal affairs investigators concluded there was no evidence of widespread abuse…In the end, no charges, criminal or administrative, related to the aftermath of the murder were brought against guards at Bayside.
But ”questions about the Bayside episode refused to die,” the Times reported. The newspaper’s own investigations, along with those of inmates’ lawyers, uncovered internal prison documents, videotapes, and testimony from whistleblowers that supported the inmates abuse claims. Investigators complained of being told to file inaccurate reports. A few guards came forward to tell about the abuses they witnessed, and one prison ombudsman said that the warden had “responded to reports of injuries by saying prisoners had probably gotten into fights or fallen against their bunks.” According to the Times article:
Portions of surveillance videotapes, identified through the state’s Public Records Law, show guards dragging a handcuffed inmate down a steel staircase like a bag of laundry, and yanking another screaming inmate along a hallway. Other tapes show inmates with cuts and bruises. When an inmate being dragged along the floor begs to walk, a supervisor orders guards to keep him on the ground.
”Don’t pick him up, drag him,” a voice says on the tape. ”I want him drug along the floor, just like that, like a pig.”…
Inmates told similar tales. Adrian Torres, imprisoned for car theft, said prisoners were forced to kneel motionless in the gym for hours. Anyone who moved or complained was dragged to the back of the room and beaten, he said.
”You had inmates urinating in their clothes,” Mr. Torres said in an interview at Northern State Prison in Newark. ”They made it clear: If you turn your head, if you lift your hand up, if you even say anything, they were going to beat you up.”
A prison nurse testified in an unrelated administrative trial that hundreds of inmates went to the infirmary after altercations with guards. The former warden of a nearby prison said that an inmate returned from a work detail at Bayside bearing marks of a beating.
One guard, who requested anonymity, recalled that inmates were forced to walk a gantlet of guards who beat them with nightsticks. ”I could hear them screaming,” the guard said. ”It was horrible.”…
One prisoner, Wilbert Jones, said he was attacked and beaten without provocation by a group of guards, then charged with refusing to follow orders, and placed in solitary confinement for 180 days. ”It is unimaginable when you are in the hole, locked up for something you didn’t do,” Jones told the Times. ”That had to be the lowest point in my life.” His account was later corroborated by another guard who witnessed the attack, but because of the incident, he was denied parole–and remains in prison today.
Four days after the New York Times article appeared, in April 2003, the New Jersey attorney general opened a new investigation. A few inmates have since won damages in civil trials. But the March 29 decision by Judge Bissell will allow dozens, if not hundreds of inmates to sue the state for monetary damages.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bissell found that it was reasonable for the DOC to place the prison on lockdown following the killing of a guard. However, “both as designed and thereafter implemented, [the lockdown] violated the Eighth Amendment rights of inmates.” It quickly became clear that the guard’s murder was “an isolated incident,” Bissell wrote, so ”a full lockdown with SOG’s intimidating presence was not only unnecessary, but dangerous to the safety and well-being of the inmates.”
How often do we hear government officials express concern about “the safety and well-being of inmates”? To hear these words from a former federal district court judge, who has been appointed as a “special master” and empowered to make decisions about the case, offers some hope that after 13 years, these prisoners may finally find some justice.