"Senators Start a Review of Solitary Confinement," is the New York Times report by Erica Goode.
Solitary confinement “is inhumane and by its design it is driving men insane,” a former inmate who spent 18 years in prison in Texas, a decade of that time in isolation on death row before being exonerated, told a Senate panel in a hearing on Tuesday.
“I lived behind a steel door that had two small slits in it, the space replaced with iron and wire, which was dirty and filthy,” said Anthony Graves, whose conviction for involvement in multiple murders was overturned in 2006. “I had no television, no telephone and most importantly, I had no physical contact with another human being.”
The hearing, held before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, represents the first time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have taken up the issue of solitary confinement, a form of imprisonment that many human rights advocates believe violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment” and that has drawn increasing scrutiny in recent months in the United States and internationally.
The practice, which is widespread in American prisons, has also been the target of a growing number of lawsuits, including a class-action suit filed on Monday on behalf of mentally ill inmates held in solitary at ADX, the federal super-maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo.
Last month, civil rights lawyers representing prisoners held for more than 10 years in isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison in California filed suit in federal court, arguing that solitary confinement is unconstitutional.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant majority leader, began the hearing — which he said had the support of both Democratic and Republican committee members — by noting that more prisoners are held in isolation in the United States than in any other democracy and that about half of all prison suicides occur among inmates in solitary confinement.
"Solitary confinement 'is driving men insane,' exonerated convict testifies," is Jamie Goldberg's report for the Los Angeles Times and Tribune News Service.
For most of his 12 years on death row, Anthony Graves lived in what he called an 8-by-12 "cage." To see outside he would stand on top of his rolled-up plastic mattress and look through a small window at the top of the concrete wall in the back of his cell. He spent 22, sometimes 24, hours a day in this room.
"Solitary confinement does one thing: It breaks a man's will to live and he ends up deteriorating. He's never the same person again," said Graves, who served over 18 years in a Texas prison before being exonerated of all crimes in 2010.
Speaking at what was described as the first congressional hearing about solitary confinement, Graves told a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee that the practice was "inhumane and by its design is driving men insane."
Psychological studies indicate that approximately a third of prisoners in solitary confinement suffer from mental illness and 50% of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement, said Craig Haney, a psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz.
This month, the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the state of California for its practice of isolating prison inmates suspected of having gang affiliations. The lawsuit focuses on 300 inmates who have been held at Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit for more than a decade.
Charles Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told the committee that inmates were only placed in solitary confinement to protect the safety of the prison population. The bureau attempts to limit time spent in solitary confinement, which is not supposed to be used for seriously mentally ill inmates, he said.
"Sen. Richard Durbin urges revamping prison solitary confinement," by Annika McGinnis for McClatchy News. It's via the Charlotte Observer.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeatedly asked the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Charles Samuels, whether he thought there were any negative effects to such treatment. Samuels said it wasn’t the “preferred option,” and cited a 2010 Colorado Department of Corrections study that he said had found no negative effects from solitary confinement.
Haney, who helped lead the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, which demonstrated the psychological impact of confinement on prisoners and guards, said that living in what he called extreme, inhumane and “zoolike” conditions often caused serious mental illness and was a danger to public safety.
About 95 percent of prisoners in solitary confinement ultimately are released back to society; Haney charged that the system lacks meaningful transitional services and formerly isolated prisoners are more prone to violence after they’re released.
Prison officials are supposed to monitor prisoners’ mental health and move them to psychiatric wards if they exhibit signs of illness. Samuels said the system had an extensive network of such officials and an intensive psychological screening process before prisoners were placed in solitary confinement. He said that only the most dangerous prisoners, who posed a threat to other inmates or guards, were placed in solitary confinement and that the number was very small.
Christopher B. Epps, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said his efforts to revamp that state’s prisons had reduced the number of segregated inmates by 75 percent.
Durbin’s legislation, which has yet to be introduced, would cut the number of prisoners in solitary confinement, improve mental health screenings and give prisoners greater opportunities to challenge decisions.
Texas exoneree Anthony Graves has posted, "An Innocent Man’s Tortured Days on Texas’s Death Row," at the ACLU. Here's the beginning of this must-read:
On November 1, 1994, I heard the gavel fall and the judge announce, “Anthony Graves, I hereby sentence you to death by lethal injection.” The jury had already convicted me of murdering six people and burning down their house down to cover up the crime. I was completely innocent: they had the wrong guy. I was scared of dying for a crime I did not commit, but I believed in my innocence and hoped someone, somewhere would make it right.
What I didn’t know then was that this wrongful death sentence was only part of the torture I would experience for the next 18-and-a-half years. I didn’t know that I would be forced to live in an 8x12 cage. I didn’t know I would have to use a steel toilet, connected to my steel sink, in plain view of the male and female corrections officers would walk the runs in front of my cell. I didn’t know that for years on end I would have no physical contact with a single human being.
I didn’t know that guards would feed me like a dog, through a slot in my door. Instead of providing basic nutrients, the food sometimes contained rat feces, broken glass, or the sweat of the inmate who cooked it. This diet caused me health problems that continue today. The prison gave me no phone to call my loved ones, no television to keep up with the world and local events, and no real medical care. I lived behind a steel door, with filthy mesh-covered windows looking out to the run; my only window to the outside world was a tiny one on the top of the back wall of my cell. With its peeling, old, and dull paint, my cage was the image of an abandoned one-room project apartment. If I had known when I was sentenced all I would have to go through before I would win my freedom, I don’t know if even my faith in my own innocence would have been enough to sustain me.