[Ppnews] A Psychologist’s Deceptions About Prison Abuse in California

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 3 10:58:21 EDT 2013

September 03, 2013


Misleading Rhetoric About Unconscionable Realities

  A Psychologist’s Deceptions About Prison Abuse in California


    “Brutal killers should not be glorified. This hunger strike is
    dangerous, disruptive and needs to end.”

That’s how Jeffrey Beard, head of California’s Department of Corrections 
and Rehabilitation (CDCR), concluded his disturbingly deceptive August 
6th op-ed 
in the Los Angeles Times. He was condemning a hunger strike that had 
begun a month earlier, when 30,000 inmates refused meals in solidarity 
with striking prisoners subjected to long-term and indefinite solitary 
confinement at Pelican Bay and the state’s three other “supermax” 
prisons. Now nearly two months in, over 100 inmates reportedly still 
remain on strike. But rather than negotiating with these prisoners, 
Secretary Beard’s office has instead sought and obtained a court order 
authorizing medically unethical force-feeding 

What is it that the striking prisoners want? They have five core demands 
(1) compliance with recommendations from the 2006 report 
of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, 
including an end to long-term solitary confinement; (2) modification of 
the criteria used to determine gang status (which include tattoos and 
certain artwork or literature) and abolishment of the “debriefing” 
policy whereby release from isolation often requires informing on other 
prisoners; (3) an end to group punishment and administrative abuse; (4) 
the provision of adequate and nutritious food; and (5) the expansion of 
constructive programming and privileges (such as a weekly phone call and 
a yearly photo) for inmates held indefinitely in “Security Housing 
Units” (SHUs). Currently over 10,000 prisoners are held in isolation in 
California SHUs, with more than 500 of them having been in solitary 
confinement for over a decade <http://ccrjustice.org/solitary-factsheet>.

When Secretary Beard was appointed to lead the CDCR last December, this 
could have been viewed as an encouraging sign. As Gov. Jerry Brown said 
then, “Jeff Beard has arrived at the right time to take the next steps 
in returning California’s parole and correctional institutions to their 
former luster.” Previously, he had also received high praise 
<http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar06/people.aspx> from the governor of 
Pennsylvania when he held a similar position in that state: “Jeffrey 
Beard is setting a positive example not just in Pennsylvania, but 
nationally. …His exemplary leadership has ensured the improved 
management of Pennsylvania’s state prison system, and a safe place for 
inmates to rehabilitate.”

Even more, there was seemingly reason for optimism in the fact that 
Secretary Beard is a psychologist, having received his doctoral degree 
in counseling psychology over thirty years ago. That training /should 
/matter because among the core principles of psychologists’ professional 
code of ethics <http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx?item=3> are 
all of the following: “respect the dignity and worth of all people,” 
“strive to benefit those with whom they work,” “take care to do no 
harm,” “safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they 
interact professionally and other affected persons,” and “guard against 
personal, financial, social, organizational or political factors that 
might lead to misuse of their influence.”

But eight months later, Dr. Beard’s background as a psychologist only 
adds to the outrageousness of his recent op-ed in which he repeatedly 
misrepresented the seriousness and legitimacy of the striking prisoners’ 
concerns, including here:

    Some prisoners claim this strike is about living conditions in the
    Security Housing Units, commonly called SHUs, which house some of
    the most dangerous inmates in California. Don’t be fooled. Many of
    those participating in the hunger strike are under extreme pressure
    to do so from violent prison gangs, which called the strike in an
    attempt to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners,
    prison staff and communities throughout California.

Dr. Beard’s office has offered neither evidence nor access for 
independent verification of these claims, and its misguided public 
relations campaign runs counter to compelling evidence of widespread 
abuse in the prison system. Last year Amnesty International issued a 
scathing report – titled “USA: The Edge of Endurance” 
– about California’s SHUs, based on a visit to Pelican Bay and other 
prisons in the state. The report concluded that conditions there “breach 
international standards on humane treatment” and amount to “cruel, 
inhuman or degrading treatment.” In describing prisoners who are 
confined to their cells for at least 22 and a half hours a day and have 
no access to work, group activities, or programs focused on 
rehabilitation, the report stated:

    Most prisoners are confined alone in cells which have no windows to
    the outside or direct access to natural light. SHU prisoners are
    isolated both within prison and from meaningful contact with the
    outside world: contact with correctional staff is kept to a minimum,
    and consultations with medical, mental health and other staff
    routinely take place behind barriers; all visits, including family
    and legal visits, are also non-contact, with prisoners separated
    from their visitors behind a glass screen.

In addition to the critical assessments from human rights organizations 
and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture 
Dr. Beard is certainly familiar with the research of fellow 
psychologists and psychiatrists documenting the extreme adverse effects 
of extended involuntary solitary confinement (sometimes referred to as 
the “SHU syndrome” <http://law.wustl.edu/Journal/22/p325Grassian.pdf>), 
which can persist long after isolation has ended. Among the negative 
psychological effects identified by California psychologist Craig Haney 
<http://cad.sagepub.com/content/49/1/124.abstract>, psychiatrist Terry 
and other scholars in comprehensive reviews are lethargy, depression, 
hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behavior; anxiety, panic, and 
insomnia; irritability, hypersensitivity, aggression, and rage; and 
cognitive dysfunction, paranoia, and hallucinations. Haney has also 
noted that /ten days/ in solitary confinement is enough to produce 
harmful health outcomes. Many of the prisoners at Pelican Bay have been 
held in isolation for /years./

Exactly why Dr. Beard has decided to ignore, discount, or distort these 
unconscionable realities is ultimately beside the point. But the public 
should not be confused by his misleading rhetoric. The key demands of 
the hunger strikers are little different from prison reforms that have 
been strongly recommended by mental health experts and human rights 
advocates alike.

In an essay <http://governingthroughcrime.blogspot.com/> published 
shortly after the CDCR Secretary’s op-ed appeared, Berkeley law 
professor Jonathan Simon argued that Dr. Beard’s public dishonesty and 
demonization of the hunger strikers demonstrate that he is the wrong 
leader to bring urgent reform to the “grotesque structure of inhumanity” 
that defines California’s prison system today. Simon called for “a 
protest movement and direct action campaign to force real change 
starting with Secretary Beard’s resignation.” Given their ethical 
commitment to the promotion of human welfare,* *psychologists should be 
among those at the forefront of these efforts 

/*Roy Eidelson* is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson 
Consulting <http://www.eidelsonconsulting.com/>, where he studies, 
writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in 
political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past 
president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility 
<http://www.psysr.org/>, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center 
for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, and a member 
of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology 
<http://www.ethicalpsychology.org/>. He can be contacted at 
reidelson at eidelsonconsulting.com <mailto:reidelson at eidelsonconsulting.com>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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