Tuesday, November 2, 2004

A Death in the Box

By the time Jessica Lee Roger was discovered on the floor of her prison cell on Aug. 17, 2002, it was too late. In the 24 minutes since guards had last checked her, she had tied a bed sheet around her neck and, after many attempts over three years in prison, finally strangled herself.

When word of Roger's suicide spread through the cellblocks of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility that sultry weekend, two correction officers cried. Fellow inmates, [prisoners], were angry. The superintendent, who was away for a few days, was devastated. A mentally ill young woman had died, and she had died in the most stressful and isolating place in the New York state prison system. Jessica Roger, 21, killed herself in the ''box,'' and many thought she didn't belong there.

For more than a third of Roger's 1,200 days at the prison in Westchester County, she was, as she said in a letter to her mother, ''locked up and locked in'' as punishment for her fits of rage and resistance. For 250 days, she was confined to her cell, unable to participate in programs or communal meals. She spent another 160 days in the ''special housing unit,'' what inmates, [prisoners], call the box. The box is the most severe punishment in prison: the final threat, the ultimate time out.

It is a small barren chamber set apart from the general population with a concrete floor, a steel door and no clock to mark the time. The essential quality of the box is isolation -- a gloved hand passes food through a slot in the door; a caseworker's muffled voice filters through the holes in a small Plexiglas window.

Inmates, [prisoners], are allowed few personal possessions. Lights are never fully extinguished. It is four walls for 23 hours a day -- a psychologically punishing experience by design. For people like Jessica Roger, it can also be an incubator of psychosis.

Forty years ago, America's seriously mentally ill were housed in psychiatric hospitals that kept them too long and often without good cause. As those hospitals closed, a promise to provide care in communities went unfulfilled. At the same time, America's prison capacity grew; it has quadrupled since 1980. People with untreated mental illness are often poor and homeless. Many commit petty crimes, creating arrest records that often lead to harsh sentences. Today some 250,000 Americans with mental illness live in prisons, the nation's primary supplier of mental-health services.

Mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], do not do well in the tense and rulebound world of prison. They create scenes, lash out unpredictably and cannot or will not obey orders. Special housing units are intended for the most violent inmates, [prisoners], but they also tend to collect those who are troublesome and mentally ill. More than 800 of the 4,300 inmates, [prisoners], in New York's special housing units suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia, major depression or personality or trauma disorders. They may talk to voices only they can hear. They may see conspiracies in simple routines. They may have little emotional control or be obsessed by inexplicable fears. For these people, prolonged confinement to a cubicle-size room is a grueling psychological test that many fail. About 6 percent of inmates, [prisoners], in New York have been housed in the box since 1998. Yet 34 percent of suicides, 26 in all, have occurred there.

This isn't news to prison officials, who have been sued over special housing units in at least 10 states. In California, a federal judge said that placing the seriously mentally ill in such confinement was ''the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe.'' Over the years, advocates in New York have challenged conditions in the box at four state prisons. Those lawsuits resulted in incremental but largely isolated changes -- increasing the mental-health staff at one prison, providing inmate counseling at another. But the underlying problem remains: when people with mental illness end up in prison, the need to treat them collides with the need to keep prison order, and everything about the system favors the latter.

Consider Attica, the infamous New York prison, where in 1998, after 18 years of fighting in court, officials settled a lawsuit on behalf of mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], in its special housing unit. The prison promised to monitor inmates, [prisoners], closely, provide better mental-health care and do a better job of training staff members. Nineteen months later, a court expert found that little had changed: the symptoms of ill and psychotic inmates, [prisoners], were routinely written off as ''malingering.''

Men who broke down were hospitalized and inexplicably returned to the box afterward, only to break down again. Since the settlement, there have been seven suicides at Attica, among New York's highest. Frustration with this slow pace of change led advocates for mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], to file a suit against the entire state prison system in 2002. The suit, for which witnesses are now being deposed, asserts that mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], are punished for exhibiting symptoms of illness that the system has failed to treat. Relegated to the box, they become sicker from the ''near total lack of human contact.''

Roger had attempted suicide in the box at least four times before she succeeded. Once, she tied a sheet around her neck during a 100-day sentence, which was meted out after she refused orders and overturned furniture. She left a note with the outline of her hand spattered with blood: ''This is how I feel.'' She was sent to a prison psychiatric hospital for a month, where she was counseled, medicated and treated. Then, although she received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and other mental illnesses, Jessica was returned to complete her punishment in the small airless cell that had broken her. Within days, she again attempted suicide.

Jessica Roger was a large young woman with hazel eyes and a ponytail of dark blond hair. She was needy, bright and emotionally so much a child that in the visiting room she would cling to her mother, head on her shoulder, arms wrapped around her. Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Roger had been in and out of mental hospitals 17 times since she was 11; she had gotten only as far as the fifth grade.

When she was 16 years and 4 days old, just past the threshold at which children become adults under New York criminal law, Roger was arrested for the relatively minor offense of biting her sister's arm in a fight. But while in custody, the explosive teenager kicked a jail guard who was trying to refasten the handcuffs that had slipped from her wrists. She was convicted of second-degree assault of a correction officer.

Dutchess County Court Judge George Marlow tried hard to avoid sentencing Roger to prison. He approved a plea deal to send her to an intensive program for emotionally troubled juveniles, one of few suited to her. But while she waited in the hospital for a bed to become available, she set fire to a mattress. The deal collapsed. ''When someone has a documented history of mental illness, as this defendant does,'' the judge said at her 1999 sentencing, ''there ought to be a place where there could be both isolation and treatment. That is the only humane response.'' Lacking that place, Marlow made what he called one of the most painful decisions in a 32-year career: sentencing Jessica Roger to 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison. It was her first foray into the criminal-justice system.

New York is one of more than 30 states that operate 23-hour confinement units and prisons, sometimes called ''supermax'' facilities. Many of these were built in the 1990's in a frenzy of construction; there are now more than 20,000 inmates, [prisoners], nationwide in these units. The resurgence of isolated confinement is often dated to the 1984 lock-down at the federal penitentiary at Marion, Ill., after rising violence led to the murder of two guards. But it was also fed by America's incarceration binge: prisons crowded with gang members, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill presented a daunting management challenge. And in an era when the rehabilitative ideal had long been waning, punitive forces took another step forward. ''The supermax,'' said Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin in 1996, ''will be a criminal's worst nightmare.'' In New York and elsewhere, there was little public debate about the effect that the units would have on the people confined there.

Between 1998 and 2000, New York built special housing units for 3,000 inmates, [prisoners], almost doubling capacity in the belief that completely shutting off troublemakers would make prisons safer. Under the state's disciplinary system, rule-breaking inmates, [prisoners], face escalating sanctions. Smoking or failing to carry an ID card, for example, could mean a loss of phone, recreation or commissary privileges. Harassing staff members or refusing an order could mean cell confinement, called ''keeplock.'' A sentence to the box was meant for the worst offenses, which is how Glenn S. Goord, commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, has defended the units. (Goord declined to be interviewed for this article, citing the pending litigation.) In a November 2000 report on prison safety, he described some of the offenses by those in the box: Anthony Burton punched and stabbed an officer with a pen; Carlos Rodriguez stabbed another inmate to death; Claudio Cuadrado cut an officer with a razor. ''The inmates, [prisoners], confined in disciplinary housing,'' he said in a press release last fall, ''are 'the worst of the worst.'''

But attorneys, psychiatrists and legislators who have visited New York's special housing units describe the occupants in different terms. While some are violent criminals befitting the system's most extreme form of punishment, many others are mentally disturbed people consigned to the box for lesser offenses -- creating disturbances, using drugs or failing to follow orders. In fact, in 1986 assault counted for half of sentences to the box; in 2000 just 15 percent of special-housing-unit sentences were for assault.

Prison is an inherently dangerous place, and it is easy to understand why correction officers view the box as an irresistible tool for controlling violence. Donald E. Premo Jr. has served as a correction officer and supervisor in New York prisons for 19 years. When inmates, [prisoners], refuse orders or start fights, whether they are mentally ill is irrelevant, he said: they are a security threat, and his job is to contain them. ''It's not so much the harm to them,'' Premo said of mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], who are sent to the box. ''But what is the harm to the facility if they are not controlled?'' The statistics in New York do show a significant drop in staff and inmate assault, but staff attacks had been dropping before the units were built. A study of facilities in three other states found little evidence of improved safety. Still, Premo and other officers say they have no doubt that the special housing units have made prisons safer.

Among Roger's personal papers were dozens of yellow disciplinary citations, mementos from her time at Bedford Hills: she repeatedly refused to tuck in her shirt; she tossed toilet water; she smoked cigarettes in her cell and shouted obscenities at staff members; she bit an inmate. She was 280 pounds of attitude and illness who, in one profanity-laced outburst, told an officer: ''That's what I'm in here for, hitting one of you. . . . '' Roger's second sentence of 60 days in the box was for an ''unhygienic act'' -- spitting on an officer. She made it through 56 days before attempting suicide.

"There's not a room she's not in,'' says Joan Roger, 46. Jessica's mother is sitting at the green Formica-top table of her three-room apartment in a downcast neighborhood of Poughkeepsie, a Hudson River city about 80 miles north of Manhattan. The white walls of the apartment are crowded with photographs. There's Jessica at 11 months clutching a teddy bear, and at 4, beaming and bright-eyed in matching short sets with her older sister, Cora. There's Jessica at 13 with her mother and grandmother. And in her mother's bedroom, a picture of Jessica in her casket, wearing a lavender Tasmanian Devil T-shirt and jeans, framed by a heart-shaped wreath of faded silk flowers. There's a visible bruise on her forehead that adds to her mother's questions.

Wisps of hair fall from a tight knot and across Joan Roger's ruddy face. Her sweatshirt is stained and worn. She accepts blame, maybe too much, for what happened to her Jet, as she called her daughter. Driven by ''mood swings,'' Joan was verbally abusive to her daughters, she said -- ''fine one minute, the next minute I was off and running.'' Her ex-husband, Kevin Roger, 46, recalls Joan yelling awful things at the girls and once grabbing a knife from her hand that, she acknowledges, ''had his name on it.'' Joan left the girls with Kevin around the time Jessica turned 11. Jessica was shattered.

Kevin Roger's alcohol abuse is a refrain in Jessica's letters and records. But unlike Joan, Kevin, who is suing the state prison system, does not apologize. ''I drank,'' he says. ''I still drink. It's legal.''

''To me,'' Jessica Roger told a psychiatrist when she was 17, ''my life has been nothing but hell.'' She spent much of her adolescence in institutions for troubled and sick children. She broke more than a dozen windows during her fits and tantrums. She first attempted suicide by overdosing on pills when she was 13. She was a regular at the local psychiatric emergency room. She might have gone on this way except that there came a point at which her behavior -- a fight with her sister -- ceased to be regarded as the acting out of a troubled adolescent and instead became a crime. This time police insisted that charges be filed, and Roger's fate was sealed.

"Mommy these people are stressing me out again. They took my sheets, my blankets and my mattress out of my cell because I keep hiding under the bed and covering myself so they can't see me. . . . Mommy I really feel like hurting myself but I am afraid to tell these people because I don't want them to put me in a cold . . . cell with nothing but a thin mat and a gown. . . . Mommy the feeling of hurting myself is getting stronger. Why won't these feelings just stay out of my head forever? I can't deal with them anymore. My thoughts about hurting myself are racing now they are going faster than before.''

When Roger wrote to her mother in June 2001, she was serving 60 days in keeplock -- locked in her cell for all but an hour of exercise a day -- for setting fire to a book, yelling during the inmate count and other offenses. These forays into solitude were intended, a hearing officer told her, as ''an understood deterrence to future similar behavior.'' But like many ill inmates, [prisoners], Roger seemed inured to punishment. In a county jail, she was so uncontrollable that a stun device was used on her more than once. Another time, jail officers stripped her of her jumpsuit and bra, after she refused to do it herself, and put her in a suicide-proof gown. ''Do whatever you want to me,'' she impassively told a jail officer in 1998.

Inmates, [prisoners], like Roger are at the heart of a societal debate -- played out mostly in courts, academic publications and the reports of reform organizations -- over whether seriously mentally ill people belong in isolated confinement. But it's a question that is debated in prisons too, with lines sometimes drawn in unexpected ways. The Department of Correctional Services runs New York's prisons, but clinical care of the mentally ill is left to the Office of Mental Health. Bedford Hills Superintendent Elaine Lord, who retired in March, was known as an advocate for mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], for whom harsh punishment in the box could be destructive and lead to a spiral of misbehavior. Lord, who declined to be interviewed for this article, sometimes clashed with mental-health clinicians, who advocated punishment to curb what they saw as inmate ''malingering'' or ''manipulating'' -- feigning or using illness, usually to get out of disciplinary sanctions.

It is a classic tug of war in an overburdened system in which the corrections side is supposed to take the ''bad'' inmates, [prisoners], and the mental-health side is supposed to take the ''mad'' -- and where both sides have limited resources, arguments ensue as to who belongs where. In a deposition taken for the lawsuit against the state, the superintendent summed up a school of thought with which she agreed. ''We need to stop arguing about whether people are mad or bad,'' testified Lord, who cried at the inquiry into Roger's death, ''and design some effective interventions.''

Roger's borderline personality disorder marked her as willful, manipulative and, incorrectly, all but untreatable. In her time at Bedford Hills, she was sentenced to 16 terms in disciplinary confinement, mostly in keeplock, on 46 separate charges. She had two sentences to the box totaling about five months. She was luckier than others in New York. Inmates, [prisoners], who are mentally ill spend on average about three years in special housing units, according to a Correctional Association of New York survey. They get caught in a vortex of worsening illness and behavior that leads to ever more punishment.

The debate over the effects of isolation on even a normal human psyche is longstanding. In 1821, the New York Legislature directed its prison at Auburn to conduct an experiment: put 80 of its worst offenders into what a group promoting the idea described as ''complete solitary confinement, free from all employment, all amusement, all pleasant objects of external contemplation.'' The inmates, [prisoners], soon became suicidal and psychotic. One leapt from a gallery when his door opened; another beat his head against the walls of his cell. The experiment was abandoned within two years. ''A degree of mental anguish and distress may be necessary to humble and reform the offender,'' the warden, Gershom Powers, wrote, ''but, carry it too far, and he will become either a savage in his temper and feelings, or he will sink in despair.''

Modern research on prisoners of war; immobilized spinal-injury patients; solo, long-flight pilots; Antarctic dwellers and prison inmates, [prisoners], has shown the human mind vulnerable to unraveling during periods of isolation and sensory deprivation. In 1979, Stuart Grassian, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, was asked to assess 14 inmates, [prisoners], who were housed in the small, windowless cells of a solitary confinement unit at a maximum-security prison in Walpole, Mass. One inmate could not recall the days before he slashed his wrists. Another described feelings of panic and fear of suffocation. Many heard voices, were hypersensitive to sounds or obsessed over thoughts of torture and revenge on guards. Since then, Grassian has evaluated scores of inmates, [prisoners], in New York and other states, and has no doubts about what he calls the ''toxic'' effect of isolation.

Grassian's findings are part of a body of research that is consistent and ample but also, in the words of a recent article in The Prison Journal, ''weak methodologically.'' For one, his research was conducted in the context of a lawsuit -- often the only way to get access to the cloistered world of prisons. And it is based on observing and interviewing inmates, [prisoners], rather than tracking them over time or comparing them with control groups. A research team in Canada tried to settle the debate in the late 1990's by comparing the mental health of 23 inmates, [prisoners], segregated for 60 days with those who were kept with the general population.

It found no harm to the isolated inmates, [prisoners], who were less mentally healthy than the control group. However, the study's subjects -- many of them volunteers -- had access to personal possessions, televisions and computers. In an article in the Canadian Journal of Criminology, the researchers cautioned that their findings are ''somewhat irrelevant'' to conditions in the United States, ''where prisoners can sometimes be segregated for years for disciplinary infractions with virtually no distractions, human contacts, services or programs.''

Researchers and advocates generally do not object to short periods of confinement for ill and unruly inmates, [prisoners]; they recognize that truly violent prisoners must be contained. But since the 1980's, the number of New York inmates, [prisoners], serving special-housing-unit sentences of longer than six months has increased at six times the rate of the population. Inmates, [prisoners], can, and do, spend years in the box. In 2002, New York had among the nation's highest proportion of inmates, [prisoners] -- nearly 8 percent -- in isolated confinement, which includes the box and keeplock. ''The scale of punishment in New York State is particularly onerous,'' said Hans Toch, a prison researcher who is a professor of criminal justice at the State University at Albany. ''They think nothing of putting someone into a segregation setting for a year and a half for what is a serious but not horrendous offense.''

Carlos Diaz, 46, had been in a special housing unit in New York for five years when he hanged himself with a shoelace in 2000. He had accumulated so many infractions that he had 10 years left in the box. Such deaths are investigated by an oversight board called the New York State Commission of Correction, which found that Diaz had been virtually abandoned. Although he was at one point ''extremely delusional,'' no one was monitoring his condition or providing mental-health care. ''It is a well-established fact,'' the commission noted pointedly, ''that inmates, [prisoners], serving long-term sentences in S.H.U.'s are likely to decompensate due to extended periods of isolation and sensory deprivation.''

In 2001, the commission investigated two deaths six months apart that painfully illustrate lapses in mental-health care that lead ill inmates, [prisoners], to act out and be disciplined. In each case, severely mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], at separate prisons died from ''decreased intake of food and water'' -- they starved, in other words -- one after announcing a hunger strike and the other while on a suicide watch. The Commission of Correction was searing in its criticism: ''In both cases, the inmates, [prisoners], had been identified as having significant mental-health and/or medical problems and were not afforded the care and treatment that these services are required to provide.'' Significantly, the commission's findings are nonbinding; they are often rejected or ignored.

Cases like these are symptoms of a system under strain. The number of mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], grew by 78 percent since 1991, while mental-health staffing has grown by 57 percent. Complicating matters, jobs often go unfilled. Pedro Molina appealed for help in 2001 at a prison with chronic recruiting problems. His note in Spanish was found weeks later on a stack of 40 requests; no one had translated or triaged the request, and Molina, 27, hanged himself in the box.

When another inmate, Ralph Tortorici, 31, killed himself in 1999, Goord himself expressed frustration, appealing to the Office of Mental Health for more psychiatric hospital beds. ''I am seriously concerned about the potential for unfortunate occurrences similar to the premature demise of Mr. Tortorici,'' Goord wrote. Tortorici suffered from schizophrenia and believed the government had implanted computer chips in his body; he was so ill that he had been hospitalized four times for periods of up to a year. The prison system's lone 189-bed hospital has not been expanded since opening in 1980. Since then, New York has built 38 prisons.

Each morning at Bedford Hills, Jessica Roger would visit Andy DeMers, a correction officer she had made friends with. She would put her head, puppy-dog-like, on the high counter he manned. It was a ritual they shared: He would ''tune'' her nose, making a noise as he tweaked it. One day, she called to him as she was led to a van bound for the prison psychiatric hospital. ''Who's going to tune my nose?'' she asked. DeMers recalled that ''there was a sweetness inside her,'' a quality he said few officers saw. Officers aren't trained to connect with inmates, [prisoners], but rather to control them, many experts told me, leading to many confrontations and failures of opportunity. ''She was reachable,'' said DeMers, who has since retired.

Betty Guzzardi, a petite woman in her 50's, lived on Roger's cellblock in the months before her suicide. She was one of a handful of mother hens who would try to lift Roger's spirits. ''We used to tell her, 'You're a young girl; you'll be getting out,''' said Guzzardi, who has a daughter Roger's age. The women would play cards and Yahtzee with her, and Roger would laugh and enjoy the company. Guzzardi once watched Roger pull an electrical outlet cover off a wall and gouge her wrists with the broken pieces; she had often seen her cry. When told that Roger had been put into the box two days before her suicide -- in an incident that apparently began with Jessica smoking and ended with her throwing a chair -- Guzzardi was incredulous. ''Are you crazy?'' she told an officer. ''She's too depressed.

''The whole facility was like 'How could they do this knowing how she was?' It was very upsetting to us that a young girl like that took her life, and more than that, the facility helped her take her life.''

State prisons bear the brunt of what is often called the ''criminalization'' of mental illness. In New York, the tally of mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], has swelled to 7,500, or 11 percent of the population. Unprepared for the task, the system has tried to respond, if inadequately. Units have been built for mentally ill prisoners who cannot live with the general population. Therapy programs have even been started at a few special housing units. In the face of the systemwide lawsuit, the state is proposing to expand these services, along with measures to reduce time in the box for good behavior and for offenses that stem from mental illness. But advocates say that more in-patient hospital beds and dedicated units are needed for mentally ill inmates, [prisoners], along with training to help correction officers recognize the manifestations of illness. Just as important, better oversight is needed of a system with little accountability.

Thanks to a previous lawsuit against Bedford and the 1987 settlement that was reached, the prison has among the highest levels of mental-health staff in the state and the mental-health care that Roger received was most likely far superior to that in the rest of the system. Women in the special housing unit are monitored regularly and given monthly therapy. But while the lawsuit improved care, it did not achieve what Jessica Roger needed most. It did not keep her out of the box. Facilities in at least four states preclude the seriously ill from 23-hour confinement; a proposal to do that in New York has languished in the State Legislature. Had it been law, Roger might still be alive.

In her final tortured hours, Jessica Roger was moved from the box to a suicide observation cell and back again. She exhibited ''self-injurious behaviors'' on the way back to special housing, the Commission of Correction's report states, questioning why she wasn't returned to observation. But mental-health staff members had considered a prior gesture to be ''manipulative,'' the report asserts; Roger, they thought, was trying to get out of the box. ''The ultimate tragedy,'' writes Terry Kupers, a prison expert and psychiatrist, in an article in The Correctional Mental Health Report, ''is when overconcern about malingering leads mental-health staff to miss what would otherwise be clear signs of an impending suicide.''

On Aug. 20, 2002, Roger's counselor closed out her file, recalling recent encounters with Jessica. ''This writer would ask inmate if she had decided if she wanted to get a new ticket yet (misbehavior report) and inmate would laugh and say she wasn't going to get locked.'' Before long, however, the inevitable happened.

''Inmate acted out after hours and was sent to S.H.U.,'' the counselor wrote. ''Writer was informed of her death yesterday morning on 8/19/02. She will be missed.''

By MARY BETH PFEIFFER Posted 2 November 04


How Denying the Vote to Ex-Offenders Undermines Democracy
US: pundits blame apathy for the decline in voter turnout that has become a fact of life in the United States in the last several decades.

The Ex Factor: US prisoners and ex-prisoners voting rights
Prison-reform groups work to educate former felons on their voting rights. The red-faced man slows his shopping cart of empty beer cans and stares in disbelief at the white form just thrust into his hand.

Prison Mail Censorship
We all know what prison mail censorship is about and it's certainly not about security: Those In Charge want Those Who Are Not to think that prisoners are illiterate, less than salvagable beasts. If the system had its way, prisoners would scrawl their appeals in crayon on toilet paper. It's all about the illusion.

The U.S. system of 'justice' is a tragic joke
US: Police abuse, and sometimes kill, innocent persons at will. Cops plant evidence, they lie, they coerce confessions and they commit perjury. Many are, simply, criminals.

The Long Trail to Apology
Native America: All manner of unusual things can happen in Washington in an election year, but few seem so refreshing as a proposed official apology from the federal government to American Indians - the first ever - for the "violence, maltreatment and neglect" inflicted upon the tribes for centuries.

Free-speech lockdown
As state prisoners, we have long been portrayed by advocates of the tough-on-crime movement as a faceless and heartless amalgam deserving extreme punishment and permanent incapacitation.

Abu Ghraib, USA
When I first saw the photo, taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, of a hooded and robed figure strung with electrical wiring, I thought of the Sacramento, California, city jail.

SACRAMENTO: Prisons to reform solitary confinement rules
US: Sacramento -- California corrections officials will revamp procedures used to keep thousands of prisoners isolated in tiny cells in some of the most remote lockups in the state, according to the settlement of a 10-year-old lawsuit brought by a jailhouse lawyer doing time at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Silencing the Cells: Mass Incarceration and Legal Repression in U.S. Prisons People without a voice are not people in any meaningful sense of the word. Silenced people cannot express their ideas; they can neither consent nor protest. They are reduced to being pawns in the schemes of the powerful, mendicants who must accept whatever is imposed upon them. In order to keep people in a state of subjugation, silencing their voices is essential. Nowhere is this clearer than in U.S. prisons.

USA: An ugly prison record
US: For a nation founded on slavery and genocide, Americans retain an astonishingly enduring faith in their continuing righteousness. They are sounding this note again as the prison torture scandal continues in Iraq.

From Terrell Unit in Texas to Abu Ghraib Doesn't It Ring a (Prison) Bell If the president wasn't so forthright about his disinterest in the world, it would have been hard to believe him Wednesday when he said the abuse in Abu Ghraib prison "doesn't represent the America I know." But being stripped, hooded and urinated on while your friend is forced to masturbate next to you? The only member of the Bush clan who knows about that kind of thing is Jenna.

Restorative Justice Practices
This is part one in a series of articles about restorative justice practices of Native American, First Nation and other indigenous people of North America. Part one of this series includes inter- views with three justice practitioners of the southwestern United States:

USA: Problems, blame abound in prison system
A correctional officer, [guard], watches over the central exercise yard at Folsom State Prison. California built 21 prisons and tripled prison staff as the statewide inmate, [prisoner], population grew in the '80s and '90s.

Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates, [prisoners], and human rights advocates.

A Catch-22 for Ex-Offenders
Tuesday, April 6, 2004 -- As the Bush administration focuses attention on ex-offenders with its modest program to help them return to the community, an eye-opening new study shows that the effort will require a lot more than re-entry programs.

A Quite Deliberate Failure: Reflections on the Politics of Crime
Though it is always difficult to predict the outcome of an election in the United States, it is quite a bit easier to make accurate pronouncements about the way in which an election campaign will unfold.

Personal Voices: America From Inside Federal Prison
I offer these thoughts to readers who may have an interest in knowing how the growing American prison population perceives the electoral process. Elections are the essence of democracy; they give each eligible voter an opportunity to be heard.

Fighting for Florida: Disenfranchised Florida Felons Struggle to Regain Their Rights US: TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Gov. Jeb Bush looked out over a roomful of felons appealing to him for something they had lost, and tried to reassure them.

Abolish the Security Housing Units: MIM
March 6 -- Protesters took to the streets in cities across the state of California to demand California prisons shut down the Security Housing Units (SHU). Like other control unit prisons across the country, the SHU are prisons within a prison. They are solitary confinement cells where prisoners are locked up 23 hours a day for years at a time. The one hour a day these prisoner sometimes get outside of their cell is spent alone in an exercise pen not much larger than their cell, with no direct sunlight.

USA: Sobering Prison Statistics
US: If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 out of every 20 persons (5.1%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime.

Helping Prisoners Find Their Way Home?
Antonio Pinder used to be scared of returning home from prison, stricken by fear that he would fall back into the life that landed him behind bars. He hadn't had a steady job before he was sent away 13 years ago, and he worried that he never would. A year out of prison, he is still searching for work.

US Prison system ending love affair with incarceration?
After 25 years of explosive growth in the U.S. prison system, is this country finally ending its love affair with incarceration? Perhaps, but as in any abusive relationship, breaking up will be hard to do.

CONS COMMIT CRIMES IN HASTE, NOW CAN REPENT AT LAWTEY - -- Gov. Jeb Bush, in a Christmas Eve address to prisoners at the nation's first ''faith-based'' prison, in North Florida.

CURE --- Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants
CURE --- is a nation-wide grass roots organization dedicated to reducing crime through reform of the criminal justice system.[Criminal Law System.]

The Truth About Private Prisons
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest operator of prisons for profit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout this year "at both the company's corporate Nashville office and at all of the more than 60 prisons, jails and detention centers under CCA ownership and/or management."

New National Study of Corrections Corporation of America Warns Investors and Legislators of Risky Investment. Report explores continuing operational and financial problems; questions CCA's long-term viability as states reassess prison policies.

Finally, States Release The Pressure on Prisons?
US: After decades of massive prison growth, America may be ending its love affair with incarceration. Policymakers around the country, some of whom previously supported ratcheting up punishments, have begun to rethink the wisdom of unbridled prison expansion, and are advocating alternatives to simply "locking them up and throwing away the key."

California Parole System Deemed 'Broken'
SACRAMENTO, Calif: California spends $1.5 billion annually on parolees who mostly fail and are sent back behind bars because they are no better prepared for life on the outside than the day they entered prison, according to a report.

People with Mental Retardation in the Criminal Justice System
Based on the 1990 census, an estimated 6.2 to 7.5 million people in the United States have mental retardation. Various studies have suggested between 2 percent to 10 percent of the prison population has mental retardation.

USA: With Cash Tight, States Reassess Long Jail Terms
OLYMPIA, Wash., Nov. 6 - After two decades of passing ever tougher sentencing laws and prompting a prison building boom, state legislatures facing budget crises are beginning to rethink their costly approaches to crime.

After a war waged by the U.S. military against Vietnam which took the lives of more than 3 million Vietnamese people and more than 58,000 GIs, the U.S. finally withdrew in 1975. It had suffered its first official major military defeat by a united people struggle led by the Vietnamese, along with a mass U.S. anti-war movement.

Report on State Prisons Cites Mental Illness
NEW YORK: Nearly one of every four New York State prisoners who are kept in punitive segregation [solitary confinement], confined to a small cell at least 23 hours a day are mentally ill, according to a new report by a nonprofit group that has been critical of state prison policies.

High court keeps alive case of prisoners held in solitary
NEW ORLEANS: The nation's highest court refused Monday to kill a lawsuit brought by two prisoners and an ex-prisoner at the Louisiana State Penitentiary who spent decades in solitary confinement.

US: Mentally Ill Mistreated in Prison More Mentally Ill in Prison Than in Hospitals (New York, October 22, 2003) Mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect in many U.S. prisons, Human Rights Watch. "Prisons have become the nation's primary mental health facilities. But for those with serious illnesses, prison can be the worst place to be."

Shut down the Security Torture Units
San Francisco: October 18 In solidarity with other prison activist organizations, MIM, RAIL, the Barrio Defense Committee (BDC) and the Prison Reform Unity Project held a four hour rally in San Francisco demanding the Security Housing Units (SHUs) in California prisons be shut down.

Solitary Confinement: Mental illness in prisons
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.

Post-Incarceration Sentences
Pat: "The 1990s brought a new front in the war on drugs, featuring a new layer of the Prison Industrial Complex, which has the effect of ensuring that people coming in contact with the criminal punishment system remain within the grasp of the Prison Industrial Complex even beyond prison walls."

Inside Prison, Outside the Law
Every year, tens of thousands of prisoners in state and federal custody are attacked. The exact number who die is difficult to determine: According to the nonprofit Criminal Justice Institute, in 2000, the most recent year for which figures have been compiled, 55 prisoners were murdered, 39 died "accidentally," and 118 died for unknown reasons.

Day Seven of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health:
PASADENA, CALIF: On the seventh day of a hunger strike by six psychiatric survivors to oppose human rights violations in the mental health system, the American Psychiatric Association faces a direct and unprecedented challenge from a Scientific Panel of 14 academics and clinicians.

Supreme Court Justice Criticises Sentencing Guidelines
San Francisco, August 9, 2003, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said today that prison terms are too long and that he favours scrapping the practice of setting mandatory minimum sentences for some federal crimes.

US prison population 2.1 million
The US prison population grew more than twice as fast last year as in 2001, bringing the total number of people held behind bars in the United States to more than 2.1 million, a record, according to a government report.

McKean Federal Prison: An Alleged Model
McKean, a federal correctional institution [? prison], does everything that "make 'em bust rocks" politicians decry--imagine, educating inmates [prisoners]! And it works. [Allegedly works.]

Prisoners Justice Day Press Release (Montreal)
On August 10th, 1974, Eddie Nalon bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison near Kingston,Ontario when the emergency call button in his cell failed to work. An inquest later found that the call buttons in that unit had been deactivated by the guards.

Notebook of a Prison Abolitionist
In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass recalls how as a slave he would occasionally hear of the "abolitionists." He did not know the full meaning of the word at first, but he heard it used in ways that he found appealing.

Study Warns of Rising Tide of Released Prisoners
Washington: More than 625,000 former prisoners will be coming back into U.S. society this year, part of a record flow of prisoners who will face crushing obstacles in finding work and housing and repairing long-fractured family ties, according to a newly released study.

Incite Statement Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
We call social justice movements to develop strategies and analysis that address both state AND interpersonal violence, particularly violence against women.

Second International Conference on Human Rights & Prison Reform
**This second gathering will be much smaller and more in depth in participation. A report on the human rights violation of discrimination in regard to prisoners will be produced. This report will be given to the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights which will be having its annual meeting near our conference and is the"think tank" for the human rights agenda of the United Nations.

Judged Forever- The Orange County Register
US: California's largest job-placement program for parolees will be shut down May 31 after an Orange County Register investigation found that ex-convicts were sent to questionable jobs [?] and that the state was charged for placements that did not occur. [? According to the ruling-class]

California Family Visiting Case
US: CALIFORNIA: Today (5/03/08) in Superior Court around twenty friends and family members of inmates from CSP Solano showed up to show their support in the Gordon vs. CA Department of Corrections (Case #322862) which deals with the subject of bringing back Family Visits to all inmates.

Prison Rates Among Blacks Reach a Peak, Report Finds
An estimated 12 percent of African-American men ages 20 to 34 are in jail or prison, according to a report released yesterday by the Justice Department.

Justices question prison visitation policies
WASHINGTON: In a case that could affect the visitation rights of millions of prisoners, Supreme Court justices on Wednesday struggled with the question of whether inmates have a constitutional right to visits with friends and family. 

Related Australian Prison Solitary Confinement Links:

NSW Prisoners' linked to Osama Bin Laden: Ten News
NSW prisoners held in a "box within a box" with "no fresh air or sunlight" at the countries terrorist jail (HRMU) or High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre, (a super-max prison in NSW), are said to have followed Osama Bin Laden from their isolated cells.

Justice Denied In NSW Corrective Services
There used to be a (VJ) or Visiting Justice who would go into the prison and judge any claim or accusation that was made by any prisoner or prison guard. If it were found that a prisoner had offended then punishment was metered out.

We the prisoners at the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre would like to ask you for help in receiving equal treatment and opportunities as other prisoners throughout the system. As we are told that we are not in a segregation unit but we are treated as though we are in one.

The gates into the HRMU were blocked by over twenty five armed police. The Inspectors in charge, Greg Jago and Alan Whitten said access to the institution was being denied.

Rally for Inspection of Terror Unit, the HRMU
Letters from prisoners describe abuse which, is part of the system. Prisoners report that they are kept in isolation without cause, they are deprived of air to the point of near asphyxiation, they are kept in freezing temperatures, gassed with unknown substances, and deprived of natural light. There is medical evidence that they are self-harming due to the conditions.

Prisoner Abuse Not Just in Iraq
"The basic message of the study is that prisons are, basically, destructive environments that have to be guarded against at all times," he (Craig Haney) said. Regular training and discipline could keep prisons from degenerating into pits of abuse, but the vigilance had to be constant, with outside monitoring as well.

Conditions in the HRMU
Justice Action is trying to obtain documents on behalf of prisoners held in the Goulburn High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) from the Federal Attorney General's Department, Corrective Services Minister's Conference regarding the process described below, in which the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia were adopted.

Message of Solidarity: Greens
No where is the problem more evident then in the High Risk Management Unit in Goulburn Jail. Like the "super-max" units in the United States the HRMU uses unsubstantiated claims of "risks" to justify what is often the unjustifiable - the segregation and isolation of human beings.

Doctor Ron Woodham I presume?
"Corrections Health staff provide medical care. However, its staff's authority is essentially limited to making recommendations to corrective services on treatment. Corrective services staff can then decide what treatment can be given."

Carr's Castle the real story H.R.M.U.The High Risk Management Unit Goulburn Correctional Centre. A prisoner writes, " I was unsuccessful in my letters to Dr Matthews CEO of the Corrections Health Service on my problem regarding air - claustrophobic effect the cells have on me. Just recently the management decided my injuries are not seriously affecting me so no further discussions are necessary.

NSW Terrorist Minister leads the way
New South Wales is hosting a two-day conference of state and territory prisons ministers on how to detain terrorists. John Hatzistergos and Bob Carr know all about it having the states most draconian terrorist unit already. The (HRMU) acronym Harm-U the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn.

On the treatment of prisoners at the NSW HRMU
Prisoners sister's letter from her brother: Following our phone conversation some weeks ago I would like to set out a few points on the treatment of prisoners in the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn (Super Max) (Guantanamo Bay).

Review of Justice Ministers claims about conditions at HRMU
There is no fresh air in our cells only Air conditioning pumped out of an 8 x 8-centimetre vent over our beds. Conditions change with filthy moods of the prison guards. Induction clothing "one set" mostly shorts and a prisoner remains there for two weeks depending whatever suits the staff. If a prisoner shuts up about the abuse, and freezing conditions (Goulburn cold in winter hot in summer taking into account you're housed in concrete) then you may go to units 8 or 9.

Watchdogs slaughtered in NSW
On Tuesday the Carr Government reduced transparency and accountability yet again and New South Wales is in danger of becoming entrenched with cronyism and intimidations with the Carr Labor Government that continues to slaughter the watchdogs.

The ruling class, capitalism and de-valuing the scholar
An example is the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre. " a box within a box" with no sunlight or fresh air. With no constructive education, hobbies or work for the prisoners. Extensive lock-downs and security rule the HRMU. Visitors have to pass a security test to gain access. Prisoners are chained and cuffed in leg-irons if they are to be moved. Prisoners are moved into a different cell every 14 days and the guards move their personal belongings.

Escape proof but not so the prisoners mind
Fewer prisoners escape from prison these days because they're "cemented in" by materials that do not break and by legislation that can keep prisoners in jail until they die.

Just lies! Powerful prisoners don't exist at the HRMU because of the security of the prison. So even when prisoners are dumped inside a concrete box that is inside a concrete box with no fresh air, no sunlight and no constructive work they are powerful? What about powerless. These prisoners are moved from their cells to another cell every 14 days and constrained with leg irons and cuffs, how are they powerful? Please explain!

Noble Cause Corruption
I am writing to you as I have been in segregation for a couple of weeks. I have had my "C1" minimum-security classification taken off me and replaced with an "A2" special management at Goulburn jail. I most definitely have not done anything to warrant such punishment.

Premier Bob Carr, Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge, Senator Aden Ridgeway,and other community representatives have been invited to receive the message from the men of "The Hole.

High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) INSPECTION
This letter is to request permission for an independent inspection team to examine the 75-cell HRMU at Goulburn Jail. The proposed inspection team consists of specialist doctors, jurists, members of the Corrections Health Service Consumer Council and prisoners representatives.

Stopping Violence
We had a TV program in NZ some time ago where a guy pointed out that it doesn't matter how long the sentence is sooner or later they will have finished their sentence and go back into society and therefore live next door to someone!

Abuse within prisons makes prisoners more violent upon release
The Australian public was confronted with similar accusations during 1978 when the NSW Royal Commission into Prisons headed by Justice Nagle found that the NSW Department of Corrective Services and its Ministers of both political persuasions had unofficially sanctioned the systematic brutalisation of prisoners at Grafton Jail from 1943 to 1976. A former Grafton prison guard, John Pettit, testified to the extent of that brutalisation:

Our very own Alcatraz
I heard voices from the Gatehouse. The clicking of handcuff ratchets. The noise heralded the arrival of the transfer escort. I looked around my cell for the last time my home since the summer of '71, when I was transferred to Grafton as an intractable prisoner.

As an ex-Grafton intractable (1971-1975) and the only living ex-prisoner to have served the longest time inside Katingal (1975-1978) I feel qualified to offer the following personal observations:

Brett Collins: Speech to Nagle Symposium 25 years on
I was serving 17 years, was in segregation and had served five of the almost ten I eventually did. The prison movement outside had made the Royal Commission aware of the plight I was in as one of the prisoner organisers. That attention meant I was safer from that time on. Although two years later I was returned to Grafton with the classification of intractable.

Midnight Special
If you ever go to Goulburn HRMU yeah, you better walk right You'd better not breathe and sure thing better not fight.