[Pnews] More than 4, 000 mentally ill inmates held in solitary in US

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 12 10:21:34 EDT 2018


  More than 4,000 mentally ill inmates held in solitary in US

Ed Pilkington - 10 October 2018

More than 4,000 prisoners with serious mental illness are being held in 
solitary confinement in US prisons 
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/us-prisons>, according to new 
research, despite the knowledge that holding people in isolation 
exacerbates mental problems and can even trigger them.

by Yale law researchers together with the Association of State 
Correctional Administrators (ASCA) has revealed the shocking prevalence 
of solitary confinement among prisoners struggling with profound mental 
health issues. They are kept in total isolation for at least 22 hours a 
day for 15 continuous days or more.

The ASCA and Arthur Liman Center at Yale law school found that most 
states in America are holding mentally ill individuals in isolation. Of 
the 33 states that responded to the survey with details, only one state, 
Texas, said it had no such inmates in solitary confinement.

Thirteen of the states that replied – more than a third – revealed that 
at least 10% of their male prisoners classified as having mental health 
problems were being held in isolation. Missouri had the highest number – 
703 inmates – while New Mexico had the highest proportion, with some 64% 
of its mentally ill prisoners being kept in solitary.

“This is tragic,” said Judith Resnik, a law professor at Yale who is 
founding director of the Arthur Liman Center. “Solitary confinement is a 
disabling setting that is harmful for human health and safety. It can do 
harm for people who are mentally OK and inflict terrible damage on 
people who are already mentally ill.”

There have been numerous studies underlining the damage wrought by 
solitary confinement on the mental health of prisoners. A 2014 study 
carried out in New York city’s jail system, for instance, found that the 
prevalence of self harm among inmates held in isolation was seven times 
that of those in general population.

The evidence of harm is so well established that the American 
Correctional Association has issued standards forbidding states from 
holding mentally ill prisoners in isolation cells, also known as 
segregation, for prolonged periods.

On Tuesday the US supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an 
in a case which the court declined to hear in which she said she was 
“deeply troubled” by the ongoing practice. She wrote that “solitary 
confinement imprints on those that it clutches a wide range of 
psychological scars”.

Referencing Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Sotomayor lamented 
that prisoners were being held in conditions of “near-total isolation 
from the living world”, in what she said “comes perilously close to a 
penal tomb”.

Some states have made strides in reducing, or even eliminating, the use 
of solitary for mentally ill prisoners. Colorado has a new rule that 
when a prisoner is found to have psychological or other problems they 
are immediately redirected to treatment rather than segregated lock-up.

Rick Raemisch, executive director of the state’s department of 
corrections, told the Yale survey 
that since implementing the new rule the number of prisoners being 
treated in mental health facilities had drastically fallen. “It is too 
early to tell if the reason for this is because we have stopped 
manufacturing or multiplying mental illness by the overuse of 
segregation,” he said.

Colorado is one of the success stories contained in the Yale/ASCA 
report. In 2017, it became the first and only state in the US to ban the 
practice of holding prisoners in isolation cells for longer than 15 days.

Overall, the survey found that the number of solitary confinement 
prisoners has begun to decline as states start to reassess the practice. 
They used to see it as a crucial means of ensuring control over volatile 
inmates, but now the report notes “they see it as a problem to be solved”.

The total segregated population has fallen from up to 100,000 in 2014 to 
about 61,000 last year. But progress remains patchy – while many states 
have reduced their tallies, in 11 states the numbers have actually gone up.

In Louisiana, almost one in five prisoners continue to be held in 
solitary confinement. Louisiana had the dubious distinction of being 
home to the longest-standing isolation prisoner in America: Albert 
who was released in 2016 having served 43 years entirely alone in a 
concrete cell measuring 6ft by 9ft.

The amount of time spent in isolation also remains at crisis point. The 
survey found that almost 2,000 prisoners have been held in segregation 
for more than six years – a length of time that can only be described as 
extreme given that being locked up in isolation for 22 hours a day can 
drive people to distraction within a matter of days.

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