[Pnews] "Witness to Human Torture": On Both Sides of the Prison Walls, Social Workers Confront Solitary Confinement

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 3 11:31:16 EDT 2017


  "Witness to Human Torture": On Both Sides of the Prison Walls, Social
  Workers Confront Solitary Confinement

    By Valerie Kiebala
    <http://solitarywatch.com/author/valerie-kiebala/> - November 3, 2017


Esther Lim, a social worker employed by the ACLU to monitor LA County 
jails, was meeting with an incarcerated man in an attorney meeting room 
in 2011 when she heard what sounded like a fight. She looked through a 
window to see two deputies repeatedly beating an incarcerated man, James 
Parker, and shocking him with a Taser gun.

Parker was “not moving or resisting in any way for what seemed to me 
about two minutes,” Lim later testified. “During the beating, the 
deputies repeatedly shouted, ‘Stop resisting!’ and ‘Stop fighting!’ 
while the prisoner lay limp on the floor.”

Lim hit the window with her palm in an attempt to get the attention of 
the deputies. Soon after, she heard over the public announcement 
speaker, “Stay in your seat.” The deputy signaled her to move away from 
the window.

Lim later testified in the 2011 case /Rutherford v. Baca/ that “Mr. 
Parker looked like he was a mannequin that was being used as a punching 
bag as he was not showing any sort of movement. I thought he was knocked 
out or perhaps even dead.”

The following day, Lim received her daily Inmate Reception Center 
Division Log, which provided a false account of the incident. Titled 
“Significant Use of Force,” the report asserted Parker had attacked the 
two deputies, who then pulled him to the ground. The account claimed 
Parker continued punching one deputy until the other dry-stunned him in 
the back, after which Parker was handcuffed “without further incident.”

Lim exposed the incident and the falsification to the FBI and the United 
States Attorney General’s Office, ultimately resulting in the forced 
retirement of LA Sheriff Baca. Baca is now serving a three-year sentence 
in federal prison for attempting to obstruct an FBI investigation into 
abuses in his jails.

Christopher Brown, the incarcerated man Lim was speaking with in the 
attorney’s room, also attested to what he saw that day. But without a 
third testimony, Brown’s word would have stood against the word of two 
deputies. It was Lim’s account as a social worker and ACLU monitor that 
helped bring the abuse of power to justice.

Correctional social workers like Lim, as well as other mental health 
staff, have a rare inside view of the criminal justice system, as well 
as the ability to expose — or enable — abuse. “Social workers play a key 
role in mental health delivery systems, and they should be doing that in 
the criminal justice system, too,” Dr. Terry Kupers, a longtime prison 
psychiatrist and expert witness in numerous trials, said in an email.

Describing an issue often referred to as a “dual loyalty conflict,” 
Kupers said: “The problem is they are too often won over to the custody 
culture of punishment, so they too often become callous toward prisoners 
and overly punitive. So they gradually adopt the officers’ punitive 
culture, and in the process become ineffective or ethically challenged 

He added that “there are many social workers who refuse to become part 
of the culture of punishment, and offer prisoners with emotional 
problems a sympathetic listener and, sometimes, helpful psychotherapy or 
an effective case manager.” Even the best, however, contend with an 
environment where they are often expected to conduct mental health 
checks or even individual therapy by speaking with people in solitary 
through the feeding slots in their cell doors, and to lead group therapy 
sessions with prisoners locked in adjoining cages.

Questioning the culture of punishment as a social worker is not easy. 
Mary Gamble worked for two years as a behavioral health social worker at 
a detention center that housed many pretrial detainees who had not yet 
been tried or convicted of a crime.

Earlier this year, Gamble resigned “due to the use of prolonged and 
indefinite solitary confinement,” which she described in an article 
<http://www.socialworkersasc.org/social-workers-cannot-practice-ethically-in-a-correctional-system-where-solitary-confinement-exists/> titled 
“Social Workers Cannot Practice Ethically in a Correctional System Where 
Solitary Confinement Exists.” She wrote that her breaking point came 
after witnessing a 19-year-old isolated in solitary confinement for 100 
days without personal property, personal visits, or outdoor recreation. 
His clothes and mattress were taken away for weeks on end for 
“disruptive behavior,” such as refusing to give up his food tray or 
drawing on the wall with his feces. He was transferred to a forensic 
hospital only after he was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

“I was not only a witness, but also an accessory to human torture,” 
wrote Gamble. “I had no recourse, no one to report the abuse to, and no 
protection. I was making waves there and was starting to fall out of 
favor. My presence and input were no longer wanted at meetings. My 
integrity was questioned. Some staff members even flat out called me a 
liar, that what I was reporting was simply not happening. Others stated 
that I was jeopardizing officer safety.” Gamble brought her grievances 
up the chain of authority, to no avail.

In some cases, mental health staff are afraid they will be put in 
physical danger if they speak up. In 2012, a man named Darren Rainey was 
scalded to death at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida, when 
guards locked him in a shower and set the water temperature at 180 
degrees. By the time he died, more than 90 percent of Rainey’s body was 
covered in burns, and his skin fell off at the touch.

Harriet Krzykowsi, then a psychiatric technician at Dade, told the /New 
that Rainey, who suffered from schizophrenia, had defecated in his cell 
and refused to clean it up. When she asked a guard what was going on, he 
responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll put him in the shower.”

Unlike Esther Lim, who was employed as a monitor by the ACLU, Krzykowski 
worked directly for the state in the Transitional Care Unit (TCU) of 
Dade Correctional Facility and feared losing her job. A psychotherapist 
had recently been fired at the facility after filing a complaint about a 
guard stomping on a prisoner.

Krzykowski explained to the /New Yorker/ that her security depended on 
the protection of the guards. Guards had already started neglecting 
security procedure after she emailed her supervisor with concerns about 
the recreation yard being repeatedly closed. On multiple instances after 
the email, guards had disappeared from the room or yard she was in, 
leaving her unprotected. One of these times, a man came up behind her 
and slid his hands along her backside. She recalled, “I could have been 
assaulted, raped – anything.”

No staff members at Dade Correctional filed a complaint about Rainey’s 
murder or conveyed what they had witnessed until much later. Instead, an 
incarcerated man named Harold Hempstead went to the press, after his 
dozens of letters to the Department of Corrections, police, medical 
examiner, state attorney, and governor prompted no action. Hempstead 
reported that he could hear Rainey scream, “Please take me out! I can’t 
take it anymore!” from his cell below the shower. He heard Rainey kick 
the door, and then the thud of the body, before he saw Rainey rolled 
past in a gurney.

Hempstead said he that he understood the position the TCU mental health 
counselors faced and that “their hands are tied.” However, he also 
expressed that “too many of them had internalized the view that inmates 
in the unit deserved rough treatment. If more counselors had been 
willing to stand up for the prisoners, he said, “the majority of that 
stuff wouldn’t have happened.” Hempstead has since been transferred out 
of state.

No one was convicted of Darren Rainey’s murder.

There is a Code of Ethics outlining the standards for social workers who 
witness an abuse of a patient’s rights. It was written by a task force 
of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) that was chaired by 
Dr. Frederic Reamer, a professor and former correctional social worker.

“The code of ethics governs the entire profession,” said Reamer. “It’s 
used by many states in their laws for licensing social workers. It’s 
often cited in the law. Often used in litigation involving social workers.”

The code explicitly requires social workers to address unethical conduct 
and discrimination — including discrimination against those with mental 
disabilities or mental illness — but leaves it up to the social worker 
to assess the situation based on personal experience and circumstances.

Reamer said a social worker should start by trying to address an abuse 
internally, and may consider whistle-blowing “as a last resort when 
internal efforts have not been satisfactory.”

The Code of Ethics does not specifically address the use of solitary 
confinement, and the NASW has not released an official stance on the 
issue. Reamer said “the duties are clear” when it comes to “abuses that 
occur within solitary confinement or segregation…whether it’s physical 
abuse, where staff assaults an inmate, emotional abuse, neglect, failure 
to address an inmate’s needs. In my opinion, they have a fundamental 
duty to address those issues, based on prevailing and widely embraced 
ethical standards in social work.”

“Our general stance is that solitary confinement, or use of restrictive 
housing, is in place in most correctional facilities, but…they should be 
constantly working on reforming it and developing safe alternatives,” 
said Mel Wilson, Director of the NASW Department of Social Justice and 
Human Rights. “We have not taken a position on solitary confinement 
being tantamount or equivalent to torture. That is not a position we’ve 
taken, but we do recognize that solitary confinement can be extremely 
harmful if there aren’t reforms.”

In a NASW brief 
“Solitary Confinement: A Clinical Social Work Perspective.” Wilson wrote 
that “There is no contradiction in working in a correctional facility 
(where restrictive housing policies exist) and also being a vocal 
advocate for fair and humane policies for managing inmates in such housing.”

Mary Buser, a social worker who spent five years as assistant chief of 
mental health at Rikers Island jail in New York City, disagrees. In a 
in the /Washington Post, /Buser wrote about her experiences in Rikers, 
where she was in charge of conducting mental health assessments for 
those in the 500-cell “punitive segregation unit.”

“While the terms ‘solitary’ and ‘lockdown’ are often bandied about in 
the media, most people have no idea what they really mean,” Buser wrote. 
“I often wished the public could have accompanied me to these cells — to 
see blood-smeared walls, makeshift nooses and agonized, shell-shocked 
faces. Some inmates were unable to speak, cowering in a corner, often 
naked and smeared in feces. I imagine that citizens, steeped in the 
belief that the incarcerated are treated humanely, would be horrified. I 
was.” Buser would later describe her experiences in detail in a video 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dumJHGRmy7I> and in a book, /Lockdown 
on Rikers 

Buser publicly commented on Mel Wilson’s NASW brief on solitary 
confinement, objecting to 
his conclusion that correctional social workers should “provide 
effective and quality mental health treatment to those segregated 
inmates with mental illness.” She argued that this is an impossible 
task. “There are no words — and there are no pills that will counteract 
the effects of prolonged isolation,” she wrote. “In the end, I felt I 
was little more than a monitor of human suffering — a far cry from the 
idealistic social worker I’d once been. There are thousands more who are 
now in my shoes and need the support of NASW.”

Moya Atkinson, who served as Executive Director of the NASW-MD chapter 
for about ten years, also pressures the NASW to strengthen its position 
against solitary. She co-founded and co-convenes the group Social 
Workers Against Solitary Confinement <http://www.socialworkersasc.org/> 
(SWASC), which published Mary Gamble’s article about resigning in 
protest from the detention facility.

Atkinson urges the NASW to draft a position statement similar to that of 
the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). The 
17-point NCCHC position statement 
<http://www.ncchc.org/solitary-confinement> defines prolonged solitary 
confinement of more than 15 days as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading,” 
and condemns the placement of juveniles, pregnant women, and the 
mentally ill in segregation for any length of time. The NCCHC further 
states that correctional health professionals “should not condone or 
participate in cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of adults or 
juveniles in custody,” and that healthcare professionals should advocate 
for people to be removed from solitary and for prison policies to be 

In an article <http://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j4657> just published 
in the /British Medical Journal/, a group of U.S. physicians advance a 
similar argument, noting that “prison healthcare professionals work in a 
unique clinical environment designed to punish rather than to heal,” and 
that they “have an ethical responsibility to speak out about 
correctional practices that endanger health and human rights,” including 
prolonged solitary confinement.

In addition to revising its official position, Atkinson also wants the 
NASW to support and protect social workers who do stand up against the 
use of solitary confinement and abuses of their patients. Atkinson 
explained in an email that this protection could come in many forms. The 
NASW could support legislation for tight oversight of the use of 
solitary confinement, support whistleblowing acts in each state, support 
legislation such as the HALT Solitary Confinement Act 
in New York that calls for alternatives to the use of solitary 
confinement, and work with professional organizations that determine 
standards for social workers.

Overall, Atkinson and Buser want the NASW to encourage its members to 
become more involved in the movement against solitary confinement and 
more supportive of its members who are contending with ethical dilemmas 
or facing repercussions for challenging the use of solitary.

Dr. Frederic Reamer, who was involved in writing the NASW Code of 
Ethics, said that it is difficult to recruit social workers to 
correctional positions. “The reality, as I know it, is that many social 
workers are not comfortable working in prisons – they find them 
intimidating,” he said. “They would prefer not to work in such harsh 
environments. I’m forever trying to convince social work students and 
colleagues to consider it, because I think it’s absolutely essential…You 
don’t want staff to be limited to those who are simply responsible for 
security and custody.”

Dr. Terry Kupers said that many of the people treated by correctional 
social workers shouldn’t be incarcerated at all. “We have 
‘trans-institutionalized’ people suffering from serious mental illness,” 
he wrote in an article. “First we ‘de-institutionalized’ them and closed 
or downsized state mental hospitals, then we repeatedly cut the budget 
for public mental health, and now we have ‘re-institutionalized’ them in 
jails and prisons.”

He said an ideal, comprehensive mental health care system would rely 
less on prisons, while making sure that “most, if not all, of the mental 
health treatment eventually occurs in therapeutic milieus in the 
community and not in correctional institutions.”

When he was asked to write about any state or federal correctional 
system that “does mental health care right” for the article “Model 
Correctional Mental Health Programs,” Kupers wrote, it “gave me pause. 
Quite a pause. I cannot identify a single state that does it right, 
across the board… The funding has simply not been allotted for them to 
accomplish the treatment and rehabilitation programs they may believe 
are needed.”

The problem of inadequate funding for mental health both inside and 
outside of prisons is only likely to grow under President Donald Trump. 
His proposed budget would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal 
funding for mental health care and substance abuse treatment, while 
simultaneously allocating hundreds of millions of dollars 
for new federal prosecutors — whom Attorney General Jeff Sessions 
recently instructed to pursue the most severe penalties.

In the meantime, without a comprehensive mental health care system like 
the one Dr. Kupers envisions, correctional social workers will play a 
key role in treating — and reporting abuses against — incarcerated 
people with mental illness.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20171103/94c239fa/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list