Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

New York Times: “Prisons Rethink Isolation”

with one comment

In light of the recently filed lawsuit against Arizona alleging overuse of solitary confinement, the New York Times has some timely reporting on other states that have decided to reduce their use of isolation as punishment — including Mississippi, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Washington State, and most recently, California:

The efforts represent an about-face to an approach that began three decades ago, when corrections departments — responding to increasing problems with prison gangs, stiffer sentencing policies that led to overcrowding and the “get tough on crime” demands of legislators — began removing ever larger numbers of inmates from the general population. They placed them in special prisons designed to house inmates in long-term isolation or in other types of segregation.

At least 25,000 prisoners — and probably tens of thousands more, criminal justice experts say — are still in solitary confinement in the United States. Some remain there for weeks or months; others for years or even decades. More inmates are held in solitary confinement here than in any other democratic nation, a fact highlighted in a United Nations report last week.

In particular, the article discusses the evidence that prolonged isolation can cause and/or exacerbate mental illness: 

When Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and expert on the effects of solitary confinement, toured [Mississippi’s] Unit 32 for the plaintiffs in [an] A.C.L.U. lawsuit, he found that about 100 of the more than 1,000 inmates there had serious mental illness, in many cases improperly diagnosed. Some were actively hallucinating. Others threw feces or urine at guards or howled in the night.

In turn, the mentally ill inmates were mistreated by corrections officers, who had little understanding of their condition, Dr. Kupers said. …

A study of prisoners in [California’s] Pelican Bay supermax … found that almost all reported nervousness, anxiety, lethargy or other psychological complaints. Seventy percent said they felt themselves to be at risk of “impending nervous breakdown.”

The full article is a must-read and -bookmark; I previously discussed the problem of supermax prisons here, and noted Mississippi’s closure of its notorious Unit 32 here. For the basics on the psychological discussion over whether solitary confinement amounts to torture, start with Atul Gawande’s 2009 article in the New Yorker.


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  1. I experienced isolation and torture after a wrongful conviction first at Cook County Jail and then at Dwight Correctional Center in IL. This was all in retaliaton for my whistle blower activities exposing corruption in the Illinois Courts, government agencies and police departments – in conjunction with an extensive group of activists and whistle blowers who are joining together slowly in a loose association to fight corruption in IL. I was wrongfully convicted of aggravated battery of an officer (“bumping” him with my wheelchair, despite the fact my doctors testified that I am so physically disabled and physically ill at the time that this was impossible – state offered no professional rebuttal witness) – when Cook Co Dept of Corrections Sgt Anthony Salemi attacked me, falsified his records, and committed perjury. I was sentenced to two years.
    You can read my appeal at: – in the article on my torture are the links

    Read the outrageous improper unconstitutional IL Appellate Court decision where they ignored my arguments and the law and denied my appeal based on defamatory ad hominem attacks against me, making all sorts of false statements about me that were not in the trial record and that they got through hearsay from other corrupt officials and judges at the same link above.

    Read a detailed description of what happened in links as described above.

    At the IL Dept of Corrections Dwight Correctional Center, despite being disabled and very sick at the time (unable to walk and having diarrhea all over myself), I was punished with solitary confinement for months confined in a room in the infirmary with the lights on 24/7- denied water for four days while unable to sit up and get to the water fountain in the cell – denied underwear, wash cloth, towel, soap or anything in the cell except a suicide smock and two inch mattress on the floor – because they Cook County Jail falsely told them in order to torture me that I was faking my medical problems ( I have a partial right hemiparesis, heart and lung disorders, and chronic pain) – denied appropriate medications – not let out of the cell for even an hour a day – denied all phone calls – they ignored everything I said. I did not shower for months – as the shower in unit was so cold it aggravated my neurological problems and when I did shower made my legs turn blue and painful for hours, etc. I was denied contact with my attorneys on days I was too ill to leave the unit – they would’t let the attorneys come to the unit as I had to go to the visitor’s center and be stripped searched before and after. I was denied commissary (as are all inmates in infirmaries), denied paper and pen for weeks to months at a time, so denied access to the courts.

    When I had a severe, life-threatening reaction to the food (all the meat is soy substitute and heavily loaded with artificial chemicals, flavors and coloring), (briefly stopped breathing with severe respiratory distress requiring emergency IV medications – a nurse saved me), they said they “fixed my allergy to the food” by pureeing the food! That’s like giving peanut butter to someone allergic to peanuts! The Director of the medical unit was a nurse practitioner!!! So, instead of playing Russian Roulette with the food, I didn’t eat, starved and lost 60 lbs in a few months. I was so dehydrated with such abnormal blood tests that I had to be treated in an emergency room immediately after being released. The prison Dr. Shiker said nothing was wrong with me!! The medical care is provided by incompetent staff from Wexford Medical Group.

    This happened in 2008. I am still fighting to be vindicated and to have Sgt Anthony Salemi arrested for perjury and battery of me. I am still fighting to have the Cook County Assistant States Attorney John Maher and Andrew Dalkin arrested for Nifong-like prosecutorial misconduct and Judge Joseph Kazmierski removed from the bench for judicial misconduct. It was like the Salem Witch Trials in terms of denial of due process and allowing illegal defamation of me by the prosecutors.

    Please write the U. S Attorney General and ask him to assign a team to investigate this and interview me. They need to clean up the IL Dept of Corrections (IDOC). They need to clean up the Cook County courts and arrest corrupt judges. They need to clean up the corrupt prosecutors and make them lose their law license.

    Please contact the news media and ask them to cover this story. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have lots of evidence of this happening to others.

    Please write to the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder
    U.S. Department of Justice
    950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20530-0001

    Linda Shelton

    March 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

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