Tue Jun 19, 2012, 06:27 PM
WillyT (59,248 posts)
Jesus... Some Powerful Stuff... And About Time, Too...
Solitary Confinement Makes the US Criminal Justice System Criminal
By: Kevin Gosztola - FDL
Tuesday June 19, 2012 2:09 pm
An historic congressional hearing on solitary confinement in United States prisons was held today by the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Chaired by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, it was the first-ever hearing on the use of isolation in prisons and the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences created.
The hearing was broken up into two panels of witnesses. The first panel included Charles Samuels, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, DC. The second panel included Christopher Epps, commissioner for the Mississippi Department of Corrections; Stuart M. Andrews, Jr, a partner with Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough LLP in South Carolina who represents mentally ill inmates held in isolation; Dr. Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California in Santa Cruz who has studied effects of isolation on inmates; and Anthony Graves, a criminal justice reform activist and founder of Anthony Believes who was held on death row and in isolation for 18 years before being exonerated a few years ago.
Testimony from Graves was, not surprisingly, the most startling and powerful testimony of the hearing. He shared his experience on death row:
I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Texas back in 1992, where my nightmare began. Like all death row inmates, I was kept in solitary confinement. I lived under some of the worst conditions imaginable with the filth, the food, the total disrespect of human dignity. I lived under the rules of a system that is literally driving men out of their minds. I was one week away from my 27th birthday when I was arrested, and this emotional torture took place for the next 18.5 years. I survived the torture by believing in my innocence and hoping that they would make it right. My life was saved, but those 18.5 years were no way to live.
I lived in a small 8 by 12 foot cage. I had a steel bunk bed, with a very thin plastic mattress and pillow that you could only trade out once a year. By the time a year comes around, you’ve been virtually sleeping on the steel itself. I have back problems as a result. I had a steel toilet and sink that were connected together, and it was positioned in the sight of male and female officers. They would walk the runs and I would be in plain view while using the toilet.
The vivid detail he used to describe how prisoners are dehumanized and treated like animals was profound (e.g. how they had to obey correctional officers like pets if they wanted meals). He described seeing fellow inmates turned into paranoid or schizophrenic people who wanted to commit suicide and how they tried to kill themselves:
…I will have to live with these vivid memories for the rest of my life. I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore. I know a guy who would sit in the middle of the floor, rip his sheet up, wrap it around himself and light it on fire. Another guy would go out in the recreation yard, get naked, lie down and urinate all over himself. He would take his feces and smear it all over his face as though he was in military combat. This same man was executed; on the gurney and he was babbling incoherently to the officers, “I demand that you release me soldier, this is your captain speaking.” These were the words coming out of a man’s mouth, who was driven insane by the prison conditions, as the poison was being pumped into his arms. He was ruled competent to be executed…
One of the most horrifying pieces of testimony was what Dr. Haney had to say about solitary confinement driving prisoners to engage in self-harm or mutilation:
…Many prisoners become so desperate and despondent that they engage in self-mutilation and, as I noted early, a disturbingly high number resort to suicide. Indeed, it is not uncommon in these units to encounter prisoners who have smeared themselves with feces, sit catatonic in puddles of their own urine on the floors of their cells, or shriek wildly and bang their fists or their heads against the walls that contain them. In some cases the reactions are even more tragic and bizarre, including grotesque forms of self-harm and mutilation—prisoners who have amputated parts of their own bodies or inserted tubes and other objects into their penises—and are often met with an institutional matter-of-factness that is equally disturbing…
All testimony from the hearing can be read here (see witness testimony listed in right-hand column): http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/hearings/hearing.cfm?id=6517e7d97c06eac4ce9f60b09625ebe8
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Jesus... Some Powerful Stuff... And About Time, Too... (Original post)
Response to limpyhobbler (Reply #2)
Tue Jun 19, 2012, 06:59 PM
duhneece (1,984 posts)
3. I hope all Democrats lead, not just our leaders!
This is a big issue and could use support at many levels, from writing/calling legislators to signing petitions...I just love the Duer who posted this. I love when I feel DU's big heart, sense of injustice as I do right now.
Response to duhneece (Reply #3)
Tue Jun 19, 2012, 07:19 PM
limpyhobbler (8,244 posts)
4. they should already be aware of the issue.
It was on the tv and everything. I'm too busy to have to call and write congress and the potus for every fricken issue. They need to take a little responsibilty for some issues without me having to contact them every other day. In any case I have found that they do not care what I think.