[Pnews] In Indiana Prisons, Solitary Confinement by Another Name Still Feels Like Torture

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 15 15:40:04 EST 2020


  In Indiana Prisons, Solitary Confinement by Another Name Still Feels
  Like Torture

    By Victoria Law <https://solitarywatch.org/author/victoria-law/> |
    January 14, 2020


/This article was published in partnership with /Truthout 

If he took 13 steps in his size 11 shoes, Brandon Serna had walked the 
length of his cell. If he took more than six steps, he’d walked its 
width. For more than one year, the 40-year-old spent over 16 hours each 
day locked in this cell with his 30-year-old cellmate.

This is life in the “restricted movement” unit (RMU) at Indiana’s Wabash 
Valley Correctional Facility. In Indiana, solitary confinement, defined 
as being locked in a cell for at least 22 hours each day, is known as 
Administrative Restrictive Housing Status, or ARSH. The restricted 
movement unit, which those held inside refer to as G-ARSH, is not 
considered solitary confinement, though its inhabitants spent at least 
two-thirds of their time locked in a cell, and face other deprivations 
similar to those in solitary.

Like state prison systems around the country, Indiana has faced 
challenges to its use of solitary confinement. Like some of those other 
states, Indiana appears to have responded, in part, by holding people in 
conditions that skirt legal definitions of solitary confinement, but 
remain highly restrictive. These alternative units often lack even the 
scant protections offered to those in solitary, such as regular reviews 
and mandatory mental health screenings.

In 2016, the Indiana Department of Corrections reached a settlement 
in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Indiana and the Indiana Protection 
and Advocacy Services Commission on behalf of incarcerated people with 
mental illness held in isolation units across the state. The settlement 
prohibited placing people diagnosed with serious mental illness in 
restrictive housing or protective custody. Under the settlement, prisons 
must provide at least 10 hours of therapeutic out-of-cell time 
per week.

But the settlement appeared to have little immediate impact on the use 
of solitary confinement overall. As of the end of 2017*, *Indiana 
prisons held 1,741 people (or 6.6 percent of the state’s prison 
in restricted housing, compared with 1,621 (or 5.9 percent) in 
2015. In 2017, slightly over 350 people had been in isolation for six 
months to one year 
627 had been isolated for more than one year, and 115 for more than six 

Those numbers on their own place the percentage of people in restricted 
housing in Indiana well above the national average, which hovers at 
about 4.5 percent. But in addition, people such as Serna also face the 
possibility of being placed in “restricted movement,” or RMU, which 
doesn’t get counted as part of that percentage.

In Indiana, 246 (nearly 1 percent) were confined to their cells 20 to 21 
hours each day 
and another 640 (2.3 percent) for 16 to 19 hours. In total, 2,507 (9.1 
percent) of individuals incarcerated in Indiana’s prisons spent at least 
16 hours each day confined to their cells.

*Without Cause*

Restrictive housing, or ARSH—22-hour-a-day solitary confinement—is 
supposed to be reserved for people who pose a threat to others in the 
prison or to the prison’s “orderly operation and security 
This could include a person who has a history of assaultive behavior, or 
is an active prison gang member, a “high escape risk,” or the subject of 
an ongoing investigation. Their ARSH placement is reviewed every seven 
days for the first two months and, after that, every 30 days. In 
November 2019, the MacArthur Justice Center secured a $425,000 
<https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2019/11/10/inmate-kept-solitary-get-400-k-state-lawyers-say/2454201001/>with the 
Indiana Department of Corrections on behalf of a man who had spent four 
years in solitary without a clear explanation and without meaningful 

The standards for placement in an RMU appear to be much looser. Despite 
its name, the “G-ARSH” unit is not considered by the Indiana Department 
of Correction to be a “restrictive housing unit.” Margaux Auxier, 
communications director for the Indiana Department of Correction, told 
SolitaryWatch//Truthout/ that the unit is “a restricted movement unit” 
for people who are considered disruptive or who have been issued Class A 
or B conduct reports for serious rules violations (a nine-page list 
which includes battery, rioting, possessing contraband, escape*, *sexual 
contact, engaging in a group demonstration or work stoppage, and filing 
a frivolous claim). It can also be used as a transitional unit (or 
stepdown) between restrictive housing and general population.

But people need not break a prison rule or have a history of disruptive 
behavior to find themselves on restricted movement. Placement in an RMU 
can also be an administrative decision. “Offenders may be admitted to a 
restricted movement unit upon administrative request or based on 
facility need,” Auxier wrote in an email. In other words, a person need 
not have violated a prison rule or be considered a threat to prison 
security; placement in this unit might occur if there is simply no room 
in the prison’s general population housing units.

In addition, it appears that people can be placed in an RMU without a 
prior mental health screening to determine whether isolation will 
adversely affect them. In response to questions about screenings before 
RMU placement, Auxier simply stated, “Mental Health services are 
available and all offenders are provided mental health 
evaluations/treatment by request or as deemed necessary per policy.” 
(The facility directive about the restricted movement units does not 
mention pre-placement mental health evaluations.)

A 2017 lawsuit <https://casetext.com/case/hampton-v-brown-8> that 
charged prison officials had converted a housing unit into the RMU to 
temporarily place people whose behavior required “an excessive amount of 
attention from correctional staff.” Staff members could recommend 
placing men whom they deemed a threat to the safety of themselves, other 
incarcerated people, staff members or even the facility’s property, even 
if they had not recently broken any rules. The suit charged that the 
prison’s unit manager “asked his staff to make recommendations regarding 
which inmates would be suitable for the more restricted environment, 
especially by considering those inmates who had a history of conduct 

The lawsuit was filed by Kevin Hampton, one of the men who had been 
placed in the RMU not for any recent rule violation but because he had 
“a history of conduct issues.” 
<https://casetext.com/case/hampton-v-brown-8> He spent five months on 
that unit. During his second placement review, all five review board 
members recommended that he be returned to general population; he was 
moved, and his lawsuit was later dismissed.

As far as Serna knows, he’s never violated prison rules. He says that 
hours before he was transferred to the restricted movement unit, a 
prison caseworker had conducted an annual classification hearing for 
Serna and recommended no change in his placement or job, a coveted 
industrial sewing job through the Prison Enterprise Network where he was 
allowed to keep half of the $10.54 hourly wage. (The other half was 
garnished by the prison for room and board, federal and state taxes, and 
the state’s victim compensation fund.) At 7:45 that morning, Serna was 
informed of the results of the review and signed the accompanying paperwork.

Less than three hours later, he was moved to the G-ARSH, losing his 
sewing job in the process. The unit was on lockdown and so Serna spent a 
week locked in his cell.

Puzzled, he wrote to prison staff and administrators asking why he had 
been removed from his job and transferred to that unit. He had had no 
write-up (or ticket specifying that he had broken any of the prison’s 
rules). He had not been through a hearing.

One month later, in October, he was told that he had been suspected of 
being involved in “making an unauthorized financial transaction with 
other offenders or their friends/family members.” Serna requested a copy 
of the evidence that had been used to justify his placement—allegedly a 
call he had made on the prison’s phone system—and was denied. He was 
found guilty by a hearing officer. Later, he learned that his placement 
in the restricted movement unit had been recommended by four prison 
officials, including a unit manager and assistant superintendent, and 
approved by the prison superintendent in September, two weeks before he 
was issued his hearing report 

Serna appealed twice; each time, he was denied. He filed grievances, 
which were also denied, as well as a habeas corpus petition in federal 
court, which was dismissed because the court lacked jurisdiction over 
state prison matters.

For the next thirteen months, Serna spent most of his days locked in his 
cell. He was allowed ten minutes out for each meal, which he could eat 
with other men on the unit, and two one-hour recreation periods. He was 
able to leave his cell for church services, though four days a week, 
these services conflicted with his outdoor recreation time. On those 
days, Serna had to choose. He made each day’s decision based on whether 
attending church would prevent him from getting a shower, which he could 
only do during the rec period. He was not allowed to visit the law 
library. If he wanted to access legal material, he had to fill out a 
request for specific material and wait for a photocopy of the requested 
procedure, case law or statute to be delivered. Then he has 10 days to 
review it before it is returned to the law library.

In October 2018, one month after Serna was sent to the G-ARSH, 
39-year-old Grandon Reed was sent to the unit for six months after being 
found guilty of allegedly threatening an officer. Though Reed has spent 
time in isolation in the past for breaking prison rules, this time he 
insists that the misconduct report was false and vindictively written 
after he had what he calls a “difference of opinions” with a prison 

In December 2018, Reed filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging his 
placement with the federal district court of southern Indiana. He also 
appealed within the prison’s internal appeals process.

Five months later, on March 28, 2019, he received notice that his 
misconduct report had been dismissed; he would be returned to general 
population and issued back pay for missed work. However, while he was 
confined to restricted movement, his sanitation job on the special needs 
unit had been taken; he was assigned to a different job which paid 15 
cents (as opposed to the 25 cents he had received previously) per hour 
on another restrictive housing unit. Nearly three months later, in June 
2019, the court dismissed Reed’s petition, citing lack of jurisdiction.

*No Limits*

There is no fixed time period for which people are placed on the G-ARSH 
unit. “An offender assigned to the unit for administrative reasons shall 
be eligible for review every six (6) months beginning from the date of 
assignment,” Auxier explained via email. “Offenders being released from 
any restricted housing assignment shall be reviewed on a case by case 
basis by the assigned Unit Team Manager to determine if assignment to a 
restricted movement unit is appropriate. Offenders denied reassignment 
after their initial review shall be eligible for review, every three (3) 

As far as Serna knows, he received no review during his entire 13 months 
on the restricted movement unit.

He also states that he never received a mental health evaluation, either 
before or during his placement though prison communications director 
Auxier told Solitary Watch//Truthout/ that “mental Health services are 
available and all offenders are provided mental health 
evaluations/treatment by request or as deemed necessary per policy.”

On September 4, 2019, prison officials conducted their annual 
classification review for Serna. Because he is now within 10 years of 
his first parole eligibility date, his security level was dropped. In 
October, after thirteen months in the restricted movement unit, Serna 
was transferred to Indiana’s Reception Diagnostic Center, the intake 
center for people newly sentenced and entering the state’s prison 
system. The prison has no programs <https://www.in.gov/idoc/3179.htm>. 
Instead, Serna recalled that he spent the days locked in his cell 
playing spades with his cellmate.

Now at Westville Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in the 
northern part of the state, Serna is relieved to be closer to friends 
and family in South Bend. He is in general population and has just 
started working in the prison’s laundry, but he hasn’t forgotten his 13 
months in the RMU.

“These units do far more harm than ANY possible good,” he wrote, noting 
that the extended isolation can cause a person’s body to physically 
deteriorate from lack of movement while the lack of social interactions 
can lead to withdrawal, mental health complications and suicidal ideation.

Instead, of isolating people for extended periods of time, whether 
through restrictive housing or restricted movement, Serna believes that 
the prison needs to create programs that address the root causes of 
people’s behavioral problems. The RMU, he says, does the opposite. 
“Throughout my incarceration, I’ve crossed paths with many who spent 
time in these units and became more violent, aggressive, and less 
motivated to (re)habilitate as long as they (we) know we can be snatched 
up at any time without cause.”

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