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:


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.
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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/

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.

THE PRISON

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:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/06/death-yes-but-torture-at-supermax/258002/

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.

Solitary Confinement: Mentally Ill in CSP

From National Geographic, about Colorado’s supermax and mentally ill prisoners:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/videos/satellite/satelliteEmbedPlayer.swf