Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Are Solitary Confinement Cells the New Asylums?

with one comment

That’s the argument made by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella in a recent report, “Locking Down the Mentally Ill” (Ridgeway and Casella maintain the excellent Solitary Watch blog):

While there are no national statistics to indicate how many mentally ill prisoners end up in lockdown, a 2003 report from Human Rights Watch, based on available data from states around the country, found one-third to one-half of prisoners held in what are usually called “secure housing units” (SHUs) and “special management units” (SMUs) were mentally ill.

The report concluded that “persons with mental illness often have difficulty complying with strict prison rules, particularly when there is scant assistance to help them manage their disorders….eventually accumulating substantial histories of disciplinary infractions, they land for prolonged periods in disciplinary or administrative segregation.”

In the session on mentally ill inmates at last week’s H.F. Guggenheim Symposium, Dr. Fred Osher, Director of Health Services for the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), said the majority of mentally ill people in prisons and especially in jails are serving time for non-violent offenses, including minor drug offenses and so-called “quality of life” crimes associated with homelessness and substance abuse, As a report from the CSG’s Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project in 2002 puts it, many “have been incarcerated because they displayed in public the symptoms of untreated mental illness.” Osher said that the prison environment—noisy, overcrowded, predatory—inevitably causes these symptoms to get worse.

Written by sara

February 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm

One Response

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  1. this inhuman practice of our society today needs to be stopped imeadiately! My own personal experience of my son’s death was horrific. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia broke into someones house and was making himself a box of kraft dinner was asked to leave and he did. When confronted by police did not comply was peppered sprayed and got a plastic chair and went at police and was shot in the leg. Was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. Due to the inquest I was able to read the guards log and see just how debilitating solitary confinement is for the mentally ill. When first placed there he was eating and drinking, went our for his hour, asked to go to hospital and signed the forms so mental health workers could read his past health information. Slowly he stopped eating and drinking,stopped going out of his cell, pacing (once for 24 hours without ceasing) was covered in feces and urine. He died of dehydration. Otherwise he perfectly healthy. l0 days before his 24th birthday.
    I read a quote once “a society will be judged how it treats animals” I believe years from now a society will be judged how it treated its mentally ill.
    Solitary confinement for anyone but especially the mentally ill is barbaric, and inhuman. It is torture.

    debbi beldman

    February 21, 2010 at 7:27 am


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