Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some Prisoners Being Thrown Into Solitary Confinement For Filing Grievances, The Catholic Worker Reports

Contributed by Sherwood Ross

There are nearly 25,000 inmates being held in solitary confinement in the U.S., some of them put there for filing grievances or lawsuits, “The Catholic Worker” reports.

If you don’t know what solitary can be like, Associate Editor Jim
Reagan of the “Worker” explains it “consists of prisoners being held alone in a cell without, or with restricted, reading material and mail as well as other items,” for at least 22 hours a day “with little orno natural light.”

What’s more, “Visits are severely limited and human contact is
confined behind a barrier.” The impact of this torture (defined as
such by international law) for months or years is that it pretty muchdestroys the human brain.

“Study after study has shown that solitary confinement often produces
psychological symptoms ranging from decreased brain function to severe
depression and hallucinations to vengeful thoughts, self-mutilation
and suicide,” Reagan writes.

In the Security Housing Unit(SHU) at California’s notorious Pelican
Bay prison (designed for 2,380 inmates but jammed with 3,156), in Del
Norte county, 78 men have been confined to solitary by the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation(CDCR) for an incredible
20 years or longer.

Such treatment flies against the 1959 guidelines of the American
Correctional Assn. that posited: “Segregation for punishment should be
for the shortest period...and in any event not over 30 days.” ACA
added, “Excessively long periods for punishment defeat their own
purpose by embittering and demoralizing the inmate.”

According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Article 1,
Section 1, torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or
suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a
person...”  Destroying brain function seemingly would meet that

Conditions at Pelican Bay are so horrific that as of last July its SHU
became the focal point of a hunger strike by some 6,600 inmates across
California, Reagan reports,  and spread even to prisons in other

In Pelican Bay’s SHU, “Fluorescent lights remained on 24 hours a day
but there was no exposure to sunlight and no sight line to other cells
or other people,” Reagan writes. Exercise was limited to five hours
per week “in an individual wire cage in the prison yard.”

Bear in mind that solitary confinement---a far worse punishment than
being sent to prison---can be meted out by a warden, with no judge or
jury trial.  Some of the reasons for this crushing torture, according
to Reagan, include “possession of five dollars, getting a tattoo or
disobeying orders.”

Besides not meeting the strikers’ reasonable demands for limiting
solitary, improving food, and ending the practice of punishing whole
groups for one individual’s transgressions, the CDCR, which knows
instinctively how to make a bad situation worse, took retaliatory
measures against many strikers.

The CDCR opted to transfer strikers into administrative segregation
where, Reagan writes, “they are denied access to all personal
possessions as well as access to mail,” including legal mail from
their lawyers! (What constitutional rights, eh?)

What California needs is a governor who will fire the genius running
the CDCR, immediately liberate all those now incarcerated for the
victimless crime of pot-smoking, transfer the mentally ill prisoners
to asylums where they belong, get the juveniles out of the adult
prisons, reduce prison populations so they do not exceed the capacity
for which they were designed and absolutely ban the isolation of human
beings. California also needs a public that will pressure their
representatives to close down Pelican Bay and all it stands for. Until
then, at minimum, a court hearing by a judge should be required before
transferring any inmate to solitary, a punishment that can, literally,
 be worse than death and must not be left to the discretion of
sadistic jailers.

To subscribe to “The Catholic Worker” write the paper at  36 E. First
, N.Y., N.Y., 10003
.     #

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