[Pnews] Federal Prisons violating law, keeping mentally ill (and others) in solitary

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 13 15:44:11 EDT 2017


  Federal Prisons Officials Claim Inmates Aren't Held In Solitary. DOJ
  Watchdog Says They Are.

By Ryan J. Reilly- 07/12/2017
Federal prisons violating law, keeping mentally ill in solitary 
confinement Newburgh Gazette 

    Mentally ill federal prisoners aren’t getting proper treatment in
    the Bureau of Prisons, according to a new Justice Department
    watchdog report.

WASHINGTON ― Officials with the federal Bureau of Prisons, an 
institution that runs 122 facilities that incarcerate upwards of 150,000 
human beings, claim that none of roughly 10,000 people they keep locked 
up in cells for at least 22 hours a day are being held in solitary 
confinement. The Justice Department’s watchdog says otherwise, according 
to a report <https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/e1705.pdf> released 
Wednesday on the treatment of mentally ill federal prisoners.

“The Bureau does not recognize the term solitary confinement. Therefore, 
the Bureau does not have a definition or reference to provide,” the BOP 
told investigators with the DOJ Office of the Inspector General.

One former BOP official told investigators that “solitary confinement 
does not exist” within the federal prisons system. But the inspector 
general’s office said the Bureau of Prisons is just arguing semantics.

“Although BOP states that it does not practice solitary confinement, or 
even recognize the term, we found inmates, including those with mental 
illness, who were housed in single-cell confinement for long periods of 
time, isolated from other inmates and with limited human contact,” the 
report <https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/e1705.pdf> states.

One BOP psychologist who spoke with investigators agreed that the 
conditions some inmates were held in amounted to solitary confinement. 
The psychologist said two inmates held in their own cells for over 22 
hours a day had barely any human contact and even went to recreation 
alone. “It’s a form of torture on some level,” the psychologist said.

Restrictive housing and solitary confinement are really the same thing, 
even if the BOP fights the use of the latter term, a former acting chief 
of staff in the office of the deputy attorney general told investigators.

On weekends, things get even worse for inmates being held in solitary. 
There are no recreational activities for inmates being held in 
restrictive housing, meaning they “are confined to their cell for 
approximately 72 consecutive hours every weekend without any out-of-cell 
opportunities,” according to the report.

Unlike many state facilities, the federal Bureau of Prisons “does not 
limit the length of time inmates spend in restrictive housing,” 
according to the report. They found “discrepancy” between what they 
found at BOP institutions and how the Justice Department and the BOP 
described those conditions.

Investigators found that inmates, including those with mental illnesses, 
spent “years and even decades” in restrictive housing. One mentally ill 
inmate was housed in the SHU ― an abbreviation for Special Housing Units 
at federal prison facilities that is frequently referenced on Netflix’s 
“Orange Is The New Black” ― for five years, or 1,912 consecutive days. 
Another spent six years, or 2,326 days, in restrictive housing. Yet 
another spent 19 years, or 6,874 consecutive days, in a maximum-security 
facility before being transferred in 2014.

The report found that just 3 percent of the inmate population was being 
treated regularly for mental illness, although the BOP’s chief 
psychiatrist estimated that about 40 percent of inmates have mental 
illness (excluding those with only personality disorders). Federal 
prisons lack adequate staff to address mental health issues: As of 2015, 
just 57 percent of the BOP’s full-time psychiatrist positions had been 

Officials with DOJ’s internal watchdog also found that efforts 
undertaken by the Obama administration to increase the standards for 
mentally ill inmates resulted in mental health staffers reducing how 
many inmates were required to receive regular treatment “because they 
did not have the necessary staffing resources to meet the policy’s 
increased treatment standards.”

That policy required BOP staff members to report inmates engaging in 
unusual behavior that may indicate mental illness to the institution’s 
top mental health official. Inmates designated as having severe mental 
illness had to meet at least monthly or weekly with a psychologist, 
depending upon their classification. But because institutions didn’t 
have the resources to make that work, BOP staffers apparently downgraded 
mentally ill prisoners to a lower category to dodge the requirements.

    Another chief psychologist said ‘there are just not enough bodies to
    carry out the policy’ that the Obama administration implemented. 

One chief psychologist told investigators about dealing with inmates 
categorized in a certain mental health category.

“I’ve got to see them every month, they have a treatment plan, 
diagnostic formulation, I’ve got to update them... That’s a lot of 
dominoes to fall down,” the person said.

“So what do you think human nature is? Well, I am going to lower my 
threshold” and place fewer inmates in that category, the psychologist 
added. “I don’t want to lower my threshold but I know that when staff 
are overwhelmed... there may have been sometime when people are reducing 
care levels in order to survive.”

Another chief psychologist said “there are just not enough bodies to 
carry out the policy” that the Obama administration implemented. Six of 
the seven institutions visited by the Office of the Inspector General 
investigators were short at least one mental health staffer.

The BOP requested 130 additional mental health positions in its 2016 
budget requests, but did not receive the requested positions. Officials 
said they don’t expect there to be more mental health positions added 
going forward. The Trump administration wants to cut down on the Bureau 
of Prisons budget, even though new sentencing policies implemented by 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions 
could reverse the downward trend in the federal prison population.

/Read the full report here 

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