Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Solitary Confinement: Mental illness in prisons

Supermaximum Security Prisons [Solitary Confinement] and Other Segregation Units Cause Psychotic Syndrome.

As noted earlier, inmates [prisoners] with mental illness are over represented in our toughest prison settings. Symptoms of mental illness (i.e., delays in response time, paranoia, difficulty interpreting the actions of others, command hallucinations, and so on) can make complying with prison rules difficult.

Because of rules violations, symptoms of mental illness, and vulnerability for harm from other prisoners, placement in the punishing environment of segregation [solitary confinement] can occur. Self-harm and suicidality also lead to segregation and isolation.

Complicating the picture is a correctional staff [guards] that usually lacks training in mental illness and a prison system based in the belief that recalcitrance and outbursts are a reflection of manipulation and "badness" rather than a reflection of illness. Thus begins a vicious cycle of infractions, isolation, increased psychiatric symptoms, additional infractions, and additional time in isolation. As infractions can add days, months, and years to one's sentence, people with mental illness may end up spending more time in prison or jail than others who committed similar crimes.

It's important to recognize that one of the difficulties faced by prison administrators and legislators is the dual mandate of treatment and custody of prisoners especially as they pertain to inmates [prisoners] with mental illness.

We expect removal of criminally violent and "insane" persons from society. Our laws, however, mandate the provision of adequate psychiatric treatment and, because most prisoners will return to our communities, a hope of "correction" or a return as law abiding citizens also exists.

Because of new and successful treatments and an improved understanding of the impact of years of isolation [solitary confinement] and institutionalization, we now know that maximum-security settings and isolation [solitary confinemnt] for long periods of time actually reduce a person's ability to return safely to society.

Given the fact that 90% of prisoners return to our communities and over one third recidivate we are compelled to question the efficacy of our approach. There is a also a body of research about the impact of isolation [solitary confinement], like that of supermaximum security prisons and other segregation [torture] units as follows:

It is well established that sensory deprivation can produce major psychological effects on humans including perceptual distortions, visual, auditory, and olfactory illusions, vivid fantasies often accompanied by striking hallucinations, derealization experiences, and hyper- responsivity to external stimuli.

In fact these symptoms are called a prison induced syndrome and are accompanied by cognitive impairment, massive free floating anxiety, extreme motor restlessness, emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies, often accompanied by fearful hallucinations, and a decreasing capacity to maintain observing, reality-testing ego functions. In some cases subjects develop overt psychosis accompanied by persecutory delusions. Some subjects suffer a marked dissociative catatonic like stupor with mutism.

Studies show that the duration of [solitary] confinement in isolation is a crucial variable, i.e., the longer the isolation [solitary confinement], the more profound the symptoms [tortured.]

There is evidence that the person's psychological makeup has a direct affect on the impact of isolation [solitary confinement.] Although massive free floating anxiety seems to occur universally, as do simple hallucinations and loss of reality testing, prisoners who have been abused as children, those with chronic long-term mental illness, and those who have experienced psychosis in isolation [solitary confinement] units in the past are especially vulnerable to solitary confinement.

In fact, it was found that inmates [prisoners] placed in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay (California's Supermaximum security prison considered a model for the nation) [?] included some of the most psychiatrically vulnerable of the inmate [prisoner] population.

Case law ( the Madrid case), exists which calls this kind of treatment torture. The Court in that case found that if the particular conditions of [solitary] confinement cause a serious mental illness, greatly exacerbate mental illness, or deprive inmates [prisoners] of their sanity, then prison officials have deprived inmates [prisoners] of a basic necessity of human existence, they have crossed into the realm of psychological torture.

Studies at Pelican Bay's maximum-security unit conducted by Dr. Haney indicate that inmates [prisoners] isolated [solitary confined] for long periods of time may become profoundly hopeless and despairing, socially withdrawn, and disoriented when around others once released.

Others suffer from intolerable levels of frustration due to the deprivations, the restrictions, and the totality of control. Because these feelings of frustration are aggravated by the complete absence of activity or meaningful outlets through which they can vent this frustration, the frustration can lead to outright anger and then to rage.

[The Geneva Convention in fact, only allows for 36 houres of solitary confinement, for a prisoner of war.]

Ultimately, an inmate's [prisoner's] expression of frustration is marked by irrationality, in the sense that it leads the inmate [prisoner] into behavior that further insures his continued mistreatment.

Dr. Haney found levels of deprivation so profound and the resulting frustration so immediate and overwhelming that for some, an understanding of the counterproductive consequences of their behavior is unlikely ever to be learned.

He concluded that this downward spiral can only be halted by dramatic changes in the inmate [prisoner] environment, changes that will produce less painful and damaging conditions of confinement. He also indicated that often, the most violent cell extractions witnessed by inmates [prisoners] in segregation [solitary confinement, torture] units are directed at inmates [prisoners] with obvious psychiatric problems.

2000 class action paperwork from New Jersey specifically relates to conditions within their super-maximum security prison. The class action suit includes the following examples of the results of failure to provide adequate mental health care to inmates [prisoners] living [tortured] in segregation units [solitary confinement units:]

One plaintiff was repeatedly sentenced to disciplinary detention and administrative segregation [? despotic, solitary confinement] for self mutilation and suicide attempts;

One plaintiff incurred a series of disciplinary charges resulting in segregation [solitary confinement] time after being denied his psychotropic medications for three weeks;

One plaintiff swallowed a belt buckle and another time set herself on fire in a plea for help.

One plaintiff has spent the last five years in segregation [ tortured in solitary confinement.]

Testimony from the American Friends Service Committee, Criminal Justice Program in March of 1999 includes the following descriptions of life in this country's segregation [solitary confinement units:]

John was directed to leave the strip cell and a urine soaked pillowcase was placed over his head like a hood. He was placed in a device called "the chair" where he remained for over 30 hours.

An inmate [prisoner] in Arizona died after being shocked by jailers 22 times with stun guns.

A mentally ill man in California spread feces over his body. Guards response was to put him in a bath so hot it boiled 30% of his skin off his body.

A New Jersey prisoner has been held [tortured] in total isolation [solitary confinement] since 1986.

A Pennsylvania inmate [prisoner] has been in isolation [solitary confinement] for 17 years.

A mentally ill inmate [prisoner] in New Jersey was forced to perform sexual acts upon himself in order to get food or cigarettes.


By Supermax posted 24 September 03


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