I’m going to freewrite as I listen to the hearing today on Solitary Confinement, chaired by Dick Durbin at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee. It’s a great moment when the national agenda has at least turned an ear to this incredibly barbaric practice. But you’ll get my unadulterated comments too.
Durbin: “The overuse of solitary can present a serious public safety issue,” he says. Why? They will be released. A bit of pandering to the correction officers –maybe because he doesn’t want to be perceived as too liberal? 35% of juveniles report being held in solitary at one time. YIKES. Gives a few positives such as New York’s newest ban on solitary for some prisoners. Calling for all federal and state facilities to END the use of solitary for pregnant women, children and those with mental illness.
Charles Samuels: Director of Bureau of Federal Prisons. Gee what a surprise–he first mentions the officers who lost their lives in the line of duty saying things like “we house the worst of the worst.” 32% over capacity in federal prisons which he says leads to violence. Talks it up how the staff influences prisoners to take part in programming — oh but he doesn’t mention it is only 2% of what is offered at a prison. “Implemented numerous innovations” so we can reduce “restrictive housing.” Note by me: Prisons love euphemisms. A “reintegration unit” to help them come back to general population blah blah blah. “We protect the public and reduce crime.”
Durbin: What policies do you have — to not place kids in solitary confinement?
Samuels: We have 62 juveniles and we have to provide 50 hours of programming. Out of 62, we currently have 1 in restrictive housing.
Durbin: Any limits on time?
Samuels: After 5 days, we have to reassess. We do not support long-term placement of juveniles.
Durbin: Do you anticipate assessment will help with those having mental health treatment and that they lead not just to lockdown?
Samuels: Said yes, assessment will help. Now they have 5 psychologists devoted to those mentally ill. What- FIVE for how many??? Says some are released from “restrictive housing” into general population but now have a “stepdown unit.” Out of 14,008 women they have 197 in restrictive housing. Did not say anything about pregnancy although he was asked. Defines “temporary” as opposed to “longterm.”
***15% prisoners in BOP in there for periods longer than 90 days YIKES. Justifies by saying 47% have killed people. Assures safety of other prisoners and his staff. 1500 out of 215,000.
Ted Cruz- Manages to elicit remarks to make Samuels look good. All his questions are aimed that way.
Samuels – Tries to scare people by saying gang members are watching the testimony here today. Putting staff at risk blah blah blah. Justifies solitary over and over. 94% of prisoners have no mental illness he says. The best horrifier is on man who supposedly said, “If you take me out of solitary I will kill.”
Al Franken -Troubling morally, economically and what concerns him in particular, is mental health. Told 1/3 of prisoners belong somewhere else not behind bars. Plugs his bill for mental health. Pushes Crisis intervention training. Doesn’t buy Samuels stuff. “How big is a solitary cell,” he asks? Family can visit?
Samuels- The average size 10 by 7 (although he first said 4 by 6 and had to correct himself.) One phone call per month. And yes folks, this is what he calls adequate.
Sen.Mazie Hirono - Are you aware that women afraid of reporting abuse? Wants a directive of what they tell prisoners.
Samuels – Made it sound like it’s all fine. They can report. They know they can. HA.
Rick Raemisch, Executive Director,Colorado Department of Corrections, talked about how he spent a day in solitary (maybe not exactly “solitary Mr. Raemisch but good for you). He says, “Administrative segregation is overused, misused and abused.” Working on not releasing people directly into the street from Admin Seg. which is a policy for disaster.
Piper Kerman – Courageous testimony. Very minor infractions can send you to the SHU and you can be kept there for whatever. Quotes one woman who was mentally ill and spent time in solitary and says “I felt sorry there wasn’t a rope to kill myself.” Used as a threat to silence women who have been sexually abused by guards. Terrible threat of isolation makes women afraid to report abuse. Pregnant women should never be placed in solitary but it is allowed. Devastating affect on families. She urges that BOP limit use of solitary on women. Piper told the truth.
Recess for a few minutes while a vote was taken.
The Honorable Craig DeRoche, Justice Fellowship – Says not really true that solitary is for the “worst of the worst,” and shared a story of Kevin. Bipolar, In adult prison in “an ongoing panic attack.” Prison guards increased punishment for him and Deroche sort of excuses this “They didn’t know what else to do.” Jails have become mental health institutions. Note from me: true. Suggests alternative responses, increase training of staff and promote other kinds of housing.
Marc Levin, Director Center for Effective Justice,Texas Public Policy Foundation. They feel strongly about NOT releasing people directing from solitary confinement since then they are more likely to commit offenses. Cites violence dropping 70% in Mississippi prisons because of changes in solitary policies. Reducing duration for example. Recommends eliminating rules that disallow reading materials for example —OMG, imagine being locked up without books.
Damon Thibodeaux, 141st death row exoneree, was subjected to 15 years of solitary. Said solitary is inhumane and suggests that no one should live in a hole. Suggests they live in a room by themselves but solitary is “torture.”He had 5 visits from his family in 15 years. I want to read his written testimony which I am sure is heartbreaking.
Piper Kerman – When asked about how women feel in terms of abuse, by Ted Cruz,
“your best bet if you feel threatened is if you have contact with the outside world.”
Ted Cruz – Apologizes to Damon Thibodeaux. What? WHAT? Then he asks if solitary is used for minor infractions to Ramaesch.
Rick Raemisch, Yes, it’s overused, “makes a facility run more efficiently” some say. “We are sending them out in worse condition than when they came in.”
Ted Cruz- Continues to act as if he has something important to say. Then asks if there is an appropriate role for solitary? They all vacillate…except Piper.
Raemisch -says yes, but many alternatives.
Marc Levin – Average time in Texas solitary is four years. Need to create more positive sanctions. Short term.
DeRoche – Temporary, always with opportunity to work your way back. They will get out. Use the power differently.
Piper Kerman –There is no rehabilitative value and should not be used except for serious disciplinary reasons.
Damon Thibodeaux -Don’t lock someone up in a cell and forget about them. In my 15 years in Angola, eventually rec one person at a time. Use it in the most limited capacity possible.
Piper Kerman- Asked again about abuse, and says that in every jail and prison for women there is sexual abuse. Said that fear of solitary confinement is a disincentive to report abuse. Investigations do not happen quickly. You can lose housing, prison job and all these things conspire. The best case scenario is to have increased access to the outside world. Access to counsel. 80% too poor to afford a lawyer.
Sen. Durbin – 130 statements were submitted. Said consensus: we don’t want to release people directly from solitarywe don’t want to see children in solitary; we know the vulnerability of women and the impact on the mentally ill; Thibodeaux goes through things that should not be allowed UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
If you want to see the whole hearing, it’s here. Now we’ll have to see if anything comes from this.