Appeal to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

September 12, 2016

 

The Honorable Terry McAuliffe

Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia

Patrick Henry Building, 3rd floor

1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Governor McAuliffe:

We, the undersigned human rights, interfaith, civil liberties, and social justice organizations, are writing to urge you to implement reforms on the use of solitary confinement (sometimes called “restrictive housing” or “segregation”) in facilities across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Last January, President Obama announced steps to reduce the use of isolated confinement in federal prisons, recognizing that it has been overused and can result in profound physiological and psychological damage.  Indeed, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that prolonged isolation can produce irreparable neurological harm to those subjected to it. 

Prolonged isolation of prisoners is increasingly recognized around the world as inhumane and a serious human rights violation.  The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners state that solitary confinement should never be used for indefinite periods and in the rare circumstances in which it is used, no longer than 15 consecutive days. 

President Obama pointed out that the impact of prolonged isolation on prisoners’ mental health and ability to interact with others undermines their capacity to reintegrate into society when they are released.  The practice of solitary confinement is detrimental to public safety and the broader public interest in rehabilitation.  Moreover, permanently warehousing prisoners in isolation is much more expensive to taxpayers.

The changes implemented by President Obama include: 1.) a ban on isolating juvenile offenders; 2.) placing individuals who need to be in protective custody in less restrictive settings; and 3.) providing mentally ill inmates with alternative housing and access to mental health services.  The President announced that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would adopt fifty guiding principles recommended by the Department of Justice (DOJ).  These principles include the following:

  • Inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting necessary to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of staff, other inmates, and the public.
  • Correctional systems should always be able to clearly articulate the specific reason(s) for an inmate’s placement and retention in restrictive housing.
  • For every inmate in restrictive housing, correctional staff should develop a clear plan for returning the inmate to less restrictive conditions as promptly as possible.  The plan should be shared with the inmate, unless doing so would jeopardize the safety of the inmate, staff, other inmates, or the public.
  • An inmate’s initial and ongoing placement in restrictive housing should be regularly reviewed by a multi-disciplinary staff committee, which should include not only the leadership of the institution where the inmate is housed, but also medical and mental health professionals. 

The ACLU of Virginia wrote to you on January 26, 2016, asking you to follow the President’s lead and ban all use of solitary confinement in the juvenile justice system and to take action to reduce the use of solitary confinement in adult prisons.

The DOJ has now recommended that all corrections systems implement the fifty guiding principles adopted by the federal BOP.  Accordingly, we, the undersigned, ask you to direct the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice to implement these guidelines in all state facilities in the Commonwealth of Virginia and to incorporate these guidelines in the standards used to accredit local and regional jails.  We further urge you to require the governing boards of these agencies to establish a mechanism for verifying ongoing compliance with these principles.  These actions would help consolidate your administration’s legacy as one that is serious about promoting rehabilitation and facilitating reintegration of criminal offenders as productive members of society. 

Although the practice of confining prisoners to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day is carried out under a variety of housing labels, and although inmates confined in this way may have varying degrees of access to reading material, television, and other electronic media, there is undeniable damage to those who spend nearly all their time confined to their cells with no meaningful human contact.  These conditions of confinement are especially inappropriate for juveniles and mentally ill prisoners.  As a first step toward implementing the DOJ guidelines, we urge you to follow the President’s lead by banning segregation/restrictive housing for juvenile offenders and those with serious mental illness.

Moreover, we urge you to devote special attention to the need for transparency in the use of segregation/restrictive housing.  Human rights organizations, including Interfaith Action for Human Rights, have documented instances in which inmates at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prisons, after being charged with a disciplinary infraction, have languished in segregation for periods far exceeding the 30-day limit on disciplinary segregation in the Virginia Department of Corrections’ operating procedures, without receiving any indication of when they can expect to return to the general prison population.  This is clearly inconsistent with the DOJ guidelines.

Implementing the DOJ guidelines and following the example the President set with respect to federal prisons will help protect public safety, save taxpayer funds, and prevent unjustifiable harm to inmates that thwarts their ability to reenter society in a constructive manner.  We hope to hear from you soon regarding the specific corrective action you will be taking.

Sincerely,

American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia

Amnesty International USA

Interfaith Action for Human RIghts

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Social Action Linking Together (SALT)

Virginia Council of Churches

Virginia CURE

Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy

 


IAHR's Banner Project

by Bonnie Tamres-Moore 

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I am the director of The Banner Project, which is sponsored by Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR). It is co-sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign

IAHR decided to create The Banner Project because there has been a precipitous rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in America, particularly in the past 6 months. When constant messages of hatred and fear of Muslims surround the public, many people begin to think that this is normal.   They often become silent.  Yet, silence in the face of expressions of hatred and scapegoating creates a fertile space for fear and hatred to grow. As John Wesley said, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace “

When we begin to regard any group of people as the “other”, we then find them less worthy, less human, and we are willing to act in ways that are morally reprehensible.  I often think of one my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King, “we must speak with all humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak”.  This quote means so much to me because it reminds me to have humility, to realize I don’t know everything, but to remember I still have the moral responsibility to speak.  

Our hope at IAHR is that The Banner Project will engender concrete and meaningful connection with the Muslim community wherever the banners hang as well as witness.  We are seeing this hope realized in ways that are joyful and unexpected. Many faith communities across the country that are hanging the banner are reaching out in friendship and support to the local Muslim community and the Muslim community is reaching out as well.

Hanging the banner is an act of visual witness .Visual witness is powerful in changing hearts and minds. It can be a challenge, a catalyst and a symbol for a new way of thinking about each other - a new way of thinking about the inviolate dignity of every human being.

You will find below four statements of faith leaders regarding the banner project.  

 

On Hanging the Banner – Faith Leaders Speak 

We've had a very positive reaction in our congregation to the Banner Project. I've heard nothing but overwhelming support for the banner and for the public witness of our congregation and others in the face of so much Islamophobia. 

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There was some concern that the banner would just be a banner. Are we just hanging a banner outside and doing nothing to work with our Muslim neighbors? What does it mean, after all, to stand with our Muslim neighbors if it doesn't mean meeting with them and working with them? And so I think the banner has helped not only put in relief work that we're already doing but it's also helped push us to think about what we will continue to do to be in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors. 

Rev John Elford, University United Methodist Church 

University Baptist Church has had an enthusiastic response from the congregation concerning the Banner Project. It fits so well with our historic commitment to interfaith and ecumenical friendship.  Because of one negative phone call, we decided to place a blurb on our website regarding our participation in the project (which will be posted when our internet is repaired.) Thank you for the opportunity to bear witness to our American belief in equality, our Baptist belief in religious liberty, and our Christian belief in universal love. 

Rev Larry Bethune, Senior Minister, University Baptist Church 

When we unfurled our banner, the people in attendance applauded!

Rev Mary Wilson, Pastor, Church of the Savior 

The reaction to the banner by our members, especially on social media like Facebook, has been very positive. Everyone is proud to be part of a synagogue that is taking this public stand. We’ve received an outpouring of gratitude from the Austin Muslim community, too.

Rabbi Steven Folberg, Senior Rabbi, Beth Israel

 

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You Can Order a Banner by Clicking Here

 


Interview with Rick Raemisch

Issue 2.  Field Leaders: Safe Alternatives to Solitary Confinement March, 2016

Moving Beyond Solitary Confinement: Making the Case for Public Safety

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An Interview with Rick Raemisch

Director of the Department of Corrections, Colorado

 

In 2011, when Tom Clements was hired as Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), 1500 people – nearly 7 percent of the state’s prisoners – were in solitary confinement. A person stayed in a cell 23 hours a day, often for years. Then one day, often with no transition, he or she was on a bus going home. Tom Clements wanted to change the state’s use of solitary confinement, and in the two years he had in office, he cut the number of people in solitary confinement in half.  But he didn’t get the chance to complete his work. On March 19, 2013, he opened the door of his home and was murdered by a man who had recently been released directly to the community from solitary confinement.   

As Tom Clements’s successor, Rick Raemisch was charged by Governor John Hickenlooper with making the changes Tom Clements had not lived long enough to complete. The Governor wanted to limit or eliminate solitary confinement for people with mental illness. He wanted to understand and address the needs of people who were in solitary confinement for long periods. And he wanted to reduce the number of them released back to their community without preparation.

The new Director shared the passion for change, and he thought it would help him as a leader to understand something of what it felt like to endure solitary confinement. In January 2014 he had himself committed to an administrative segregation cell with a steel door and the bed, toilet, and sink bolted to the floor. He expected some quiet time, he says, but there was no quiet: only blaring televisions, banging, and the loud screaming of angry prisoners. The lights stayed on all night, and prisoners were awakened at intervals throughout the night for required checks by correctional officers. After only 20 hours, as he wrote in a New York Times editorial, he was wondering how long it would take for the experience to “chip away” at his sane mind.[1] What would it be like to endure this for years? What would it be like to endure it with mental illness?

A System Transformed

Today, Rick Raemisch says, a person walking through Colorado’s repurposed Supermax prison hears no banging and screaming, but instead, quiet voices. The maximum amount of time anyone spends in solitary confinement is one year, and that is only for the most violent offenders. When people go in, they know why they are there, and they know when they will get out. This is in sharp contrast to the “level” system used in many states, in which people must work their way down through different levels to earn release; one bad day can take you back to level one, and months can become years as the indefinite confinement goes on.

Today, no one is released directly from solitary to the community; instead, the state has developed a step down program to prepare people for community law. By state law, no one classified as seriously mentally ill can be held in solitary. The state has a total of 150 people in restrictive housing – less than 1 percent of the total prison population.

Owning the Vision, Moving as a Team                                                                                        

Director Raemisch did not make these changes by fiat. He knew his staff – especially the wardens and their staff – had to believe in them or the new policies would fail. Even more, he knew he needed their help. So the new Director invited those who knew the system best to help him change it.

His pitch was simple and direct. “We’ve lost sight of our mission,” he told his managers. “We’re using segregation to try to keep the prisons safe and easy to run. But what about the community? What about public safety?” People can easily end up in solitary for having a big mouth or not following the rules. The goal is efficiency. But what happens when they come home after all those years without human interaction? Rick Raemisch challenged his staff with a question: “Do you want someone who has been in solitary confinement for years moving next door?” If DOC’s primary mission is public safety, he asked, then how is returning someone to the community in worse shape than when they entered the system serving the public? “You’re saying someone is too dangerous to be in the general population, but we can release them directly back to the community? That’s a good policy?”

The Colorado team got it, and they got busy. Groups of corrections staff worked together from the ground up, debating issues and building a new process. Staff were all part of the policy change and helped develop new procedures. Minor offenses now result in minor sanctions: loss of the TV for a while, limited canteen, or a loss of privileges. New recruits are carefully trained not simply on the new procedures, but on the radically new philosophy behind them. Staff are safer because of the changes – inmate on staff assaults are the lowest since 2006 – but that doesn’t mean their jobs are easier. Now, officers are problem solvers and have some tools to prevent infractions. For example, an inmate can request time in a quiet de-escalation room. Instead of “blowing sky high,” the person can say, “I need some time out.”

No Map, No Road: But Moving Ahead Anyhow  

On June 6, 2014, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation barring the state from placing people who are incarcerated and have serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia) in long-term solitary confinement. Today, the Director believes the system is in full compliance. How does he know? Before anyone is placed in segregation, he or she must be assessed for the presence of serious mental illness. Working as a team, clinical experts and correctional officers determine whether a mental illness may have caused the violation. If so, the response is treatment, not punishment.

People who are incarcerated with mental illness, many of whom were once held in solitary confinement, are housed in one of two prisons where they receive treatment. For Colorado, the Director says, there was no map and no road to where they wanted to go; but through trial and error and persistent teamwork, they are moving. The innovative “10 and 10” program ensures that people with serious mental illness are out of their cells at least 10 hours for treatment and 10 hours for recreation every week. Rick Raemisch says with satisfaction, “No more putting them in a cell 23 hours a day and letting the demons chase them around.”

The team tracks data with care to understand the results of the changes they are making, and the results are promising. Less use of restraints. Less violence. Fewer cell extractions. Fewer assaults. Less self-harm. Less recidivism. “We believe these reforms have led to safer institutions,” said Director Raemisch, “and in the long run, since 97% of our inmates return to the community, they have also led to safer communities.”

“This Can Be Done Anywhere”

Rick Raemisch does not believe the changes made in Colorado are the results of a unique set of circumstances. He believes any system can tackle the problem of excessive use of solitary confinement and succeed. He is currently working with other members of the American Correctional Association to develop new standards to help the field move forward. His share of “Catholic guilt,” he says, may be part of what drives him to “do the right thing.” His vision is partly faith driven: “But some of it is just because we are human beings.”

For those who want to change their systems, he has only encouragement. “You have to have a clear vision, and you have to push it. Talk about it. Explain the ‘why.’ Have some passion. Put a team together as passionate as you are – and go to work.”

Thank you, Colorado, for being a pathfinder in safe alternatives to solitary confinement!    

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[1] Rick Raemisch, My Night in Solitary. New York Times, February 21, 2014. 

 

Maryland Legislative Session 2016

Prisoners’ Rights Coalition—Bill Update (2.22.2016) 

HB1180 Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing - Report

Requiring the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on or before October 1 each year to submit specified data to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention relating to the use of restrictive housing in correctional facilities; and requiring the Department to make the information submitted available on the Department's Web site.  

See the bill site here

Sponsors: Delegates Jill Carter & Trent Kittleman

Hearing date:  February 26 at 1pm

Committee: House Judiciary Committee (Room 101, House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony suzanneohatnick@comcast.net 

HB946 Correctional Services - Restrictive Housing - Report (cross-file of HB1180)

Requiring the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on or before October 1 each year to submit specified data to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention relating to the use of restrictive housing in correctional facilities; and requiring the Department to make the information submitted available on the Department's Web site.  

See the bill site here 

Sponsors: Senators Michael Hough and Lisa Gladden

Hearing date:  March 2 at 1pm

Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (2 East Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony suzanneohatnick@comcast.net 

HB1312 Justice Reinvestment Act (consensus bill)

Requiring the Division of Parole and Probation to conduct a specified risk and needs assessment on specified inmates and include the results in a specified case record; altering the manner in which specified diminution credits may be earned; authorizing the Division to develop and modify the conditions of probation or suspension of sentences for the purpose of imposing specified graduated sanctions; establishing the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board and the Local Government Justice Reinvestment Commission; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: Speaker Busch

Hearing date: March 4 at 1pm

Committee: House Judiciary Committee (Room 101, House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

SB1005 Justice Reinvestment Act (consensus bill) (cross-file of HB1312)

Requiring the Division of Parole and Probation to conduct a specified risk and needs assessment on specified inmates and include the results in a specified case record; altering the manner in which specified diminution credits may be earned; authorizing the Division to develop and modify the conditions of probation or suspension of sentences for the purpose of imposing specified graduated sanctions; establishing the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board and the Local Government Justice Reinvestment Commission; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: President Miller

Hearing date: March 2, 1 pm, in the Senate Office Building. 

Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (2 East Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

HB882 Inmates - Life Imprisonment - Parole Reform

Repealing specified provisions that provide that inmates serving a term of life imprisonment may be paroled only with the Governor's approval, subject to specified provisions; repealing specified provisions that require specified parole decisions to be transmitted to the Governor under specified circumstances; repealing specified provisions that authorize the Governor to disapprove specified parole decisions in a specified manner; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: Delegate Carter

Hearing date: March 10 at 1pm

Committee: House Judiciary Committee (Room 101, House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony waltermandalalomax@hotmail.com 

SB531 Inmates - Life Imprisonment - Parole Reform (cross-file of HB882)

Repealing specified provisions that provide that inmates serving a term of life imprisonment may be paroled only with the Governor's approval, subject to specified provisions; repealing specified provisions that require specified parole decisions to be transmitted to the Governor under specified circumstances; repealing specified provisions that authorize the Governor to disapprove specified parole decisions in a specified manner; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: Senator McFadden

Hearing date: March 2 at 1pm

Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (2 East Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony waltermandalalomax@hotmail.com 

HB906 Correctional Services - Special Requirements for Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill Inmates

Requiring each State and local correctional facility to accommodate the special needs of elderly, chronically ill, and terminally ill inmates and detainees in accordance with standards, guidelines, and recommendations issued or endorsed by the National Institute of Corrections; requiring the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to designate certain sites for the housing of inmates who are over the age of 64, chronically ill, or terminally ill; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: Delegate Sydnor

Hearing date: March 8 at 1pm

Committee: House Judiciary Committee (Room 101, House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony holness@aclu-md.org   

SB433 Correctional Services - Special Requirements for Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill Inmates (cross-file of HB906)

Requiring each State and local correctional facility to accommodate the special needs of elderly, chronically ill, and terminally ill inmates and detainees in accordance with standards, guidelines, and recommendations issued or endorsed by the National Institute of Corrections; requiring the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to designate certain sites for the housing of inmates who are over the age of 64, chronically ill, or terminally ill; etc.

See the bill site here 

Sponsor: Senator Nathan-Pulliam

Hearing date: February 24 at 1pm

Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (2 East Miller Senate Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401)

Contact re: questions and testimony holness@aclu-md.org

HB1046 Criminal Procedure - Pretrial Release
Requiring a judicial officer to order the pretrial release of a person charged with a crime on personal recognizance, on nonfinancial conditions, or on execution of an unsecured appearance bond in an amount specified by the court under specified circumstances; requiring a judicial officer to order the pretrial release of a specified person subject to a specified condition or combination of conditions, under specified circumstances; etc.
Sponsors: Delegates DumaisBarron, and Clippinger
Hearing Date: House of Delegates on March 1 at 1 pm.
Committee: Judiciary

We are All God's Children

We are all God’s children

During President Barack Obama’s historic address at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, he said, “At a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths: We are all God’s children. We’re all born equal, with inherent dignity.”

The idea that we are all God’s children is rooted in the closing verses of the first chapter of Genesis, which proclaims that God created the world and created human beings — male and female — in His image.

Each human being then is unique because he or she embodies in some way the image of God. Unlike trees or animals, God created human beings individually, not in groups. This has moral significance since it means that all of us are special and different from each other.

By describing that God created the first man and woman individually, the Torah is teaching us that no person can say that my father or mother is greater than yours, since we are all descended from the same father and mother. Another implication of these verses is that no one individual should be stereotyped because he or she belongs to a particular group or tribe. Our individuality transcends the groups we may be born into or to which we freely associate.

We live in a time when too many political, religious and public figures have ignored this teaching. By casting suspicion on the entire American Muslim community or on Islam itself, these figures are rebelling against this teaching and implicitly denying that each and every one of us is created in the image of God.
It is true that there are Muslims who have succumbed to fantasies of dominance through resorting to brutality, torture and murder. Often these fantasies are motivated by a distorted reading of the Koran.

But we should not jump to the conclusion that all Muslims read the Koran this way. There are many Christians who believe that abortions are an act of murder. Some of these Christians have committed acts of violence against abortion providers because of their faith. But I have never heard anyone jump to the conclusion that Christianity or all Christians believe that violence against abortion providers is morally legitimate. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are peaceful and law abiding citizens just as the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews are peaceful and law abiding.

At the Islamic Society, the president recounted how he receives many letters from Muslim Americans who feel frightened and demeaned: “I’ve had people write to me and say, ‘I feel like I’m a second-class citizen.’ I’ve had mothers write and say, ‘My heart cries every night,’ thinking about how her daughter might be treated at school. A girl from Ohio, 13 years old, told me, ‘I’m scared.’ A girl from Texas signed her letter ‘a confused 14-year-old trying to find her place in the world.’”
This is decidedly not OK.

Interfaith Action for Human Rights, a group of people of faith from Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia, is calling upon all religious communities to show support for our Muslim neighbors, co-workers and friends who are feeling attacked and isolated. We are asking communities of faith to display on their property banners that read “Honor God — Say No to anti-Muslim bigotry,” or “We stand with Muslim Americans.”

In addition to affirming the dignity of each human being, we are also committed to opposing and changing policies and practices that promote torture in our society. To that end we are part of a broad coalition that wants to put an end to the abuse of solitary confinement in state and federal prisons.

We understand that prisoners have been convicted of crimes. Many of them have committed terrible acts of violence. We do not question the importance of punishment for crimes of violence and of property. But no person should be physically or verbally abused even if they have abused others. In order to teach others to be respectful, we have to be respectful of others.

Respect for the dignity of each human being is an essential value of the Torah and our faith. It can be challenging to be respectful of people who have done horrible deeds.   The Torah challenges us to remember that, as the president said last week in Baltimore, "we are all God’s children."


Interview with Lynn Patrone

Issue 1.  Field Leaders: Safe Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

February, 2016

Pennsylvania Implements Humane Strategies for Treating People with Mental Illness in State Prisons

Featuring Lynn Patrone: Mental Health Advocate

   

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The findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) were grim. A federal civil rights investigation concluded that by keeping them in their cells 22 to 23 hours daily, the State Correctional Institution at Cresson, Pennsylvania, had violated constitutional rights of people who had mental illness or intellectual disabilities. The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of constitutional rights of individuals confined to state or local government-run correctional facilities, and in 2013 Pennsylvania had shown just such a pattern. The review found that the state’s misuse of solitary confinement had caused mental strain, depression, psychosis, self-mutilation, and suicide. Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant secretary general for civil rights at DOJ, wrote:

 We found that Cresson often permitted its prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities to simply languish, decompensate, and harm themselves in solitary confinement for months or years on end under harsh conditions in violation of the Constitution.[1]

Today, Lynn Patrone is proud to be on the team of John Wetzel, Secretary of the Department of Corrections (DOC), and she credits the profound changes the state has made in large part to his determination to improve mental health services in state prisons. Lynn was appointed in May 2015, as the Mental Health Advocate for DOC. Pennsylvania is very likely the only state that has created such a position within DOC. On her appointment, Secretary Wetzel said he expected her to help “ensure that offenders are getting the treatment they should while in prison” and that they are “connected with benefits upon their release from prison.”

 Skills are Up and Infractions Are Down

Today, prisoners who have serious mental illnesses are housed in specialized units staffed by officers who have received 32 hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). The curriculum was adapted from the Memphis model and adapted to Pennsylvania’s needs. Officers are skilled in recognizing symptoms that might be related to mental illness and using techniques to de-escalate a situation and prevent misconduct. They may observe that a person is struggling emotionally and intervene utilizing the skills they learned through CIT. Trainees also learn recovery-based intervention skills, such as asking questions to understand what led to an incident as opposed to issuing an immediate misconduct. Data show that empathy and crisis intervention skills go a long way toward prevention. Under the new system, infractions have steadily decreased.

When nonviolent misconduct occurs, the matter is referred for an informal hearing and, if needed, psychological services are provided. More serious infractions are reviewed by a psychiatric team that includes a psychiatrist and psychologist, who conduct a psychological evaluation and determine whether the misconduct was a result of mental illness.  If necessary, the individual is consigned to diversionary treatment. Even if the person is segregated in these units, he will spend a minimum of 20 hours out of the cell engaging with program staff. Segregation never persists months on end. While the person loses some freedom, the focus is on addressing the cause of poor behavior choices and preventing future ones.

 Certified Peer Specialists: Bringing an Evidence-Based Practice to Prisons

There’s another reason that infractions are down in the Pennsylvania system. Long considered an evidence-based practice in the mental health field, Pennsylvania is a pioneer in employing certified peer specialists throughout the state prison system. Over 500 certified peer specialists – people who are incarcerated and who themselves have a mental illness – have been trained to help others who are coping with the symptoms of mental illness. Lynn explains that these specialists receive a 75-hour training program to prepare them for one of the highest-paid jobs in the prison system. Candidates must be role model inmates with record free of conduct issues for a given period. Their impact, Lynn says, has been “phenomenal.” The peers visit people with mental illness on suicide watch, in the infirmary, on mental health units, or in the general population. They give others a chance to open up about their challenges and learn coping skills from someone who has “been there.” Most importantly, they offer hope.

 Lynn has plans for taking the state’s innovative program one critical step further. Many people who are incarcerated – both men and women – have experienced trauma, and the symptoms of trauma can keep them cycling from community to prison. Lynn plans to introduce a curriculum on trauma-informed care to help peers upgrade their skills further and enable them to coach others on how to manage the troubling symptoms that often haunt people who have experienced trauma, such as child abuse. Many people who commit crimes have themselves been victims. By helping them heal, the system can also protect communities from future violence.

 A Vital Link for People in Prison and Their Families

Lynn herself plays a key role in ensuring that people with mental illness leave prison better able to lead satisfying and productive lives than the day they entered. She travels to every prison in the state system and lets people know that she is there for them and can help ensure access to treatment. Her credibility is enhanced by her own experience with mental illness, and she doesn’t hesitate to share it. She participates in discussion groups, listens to needs, and follows up on the needs of individuals.

People will sometimes cry, Lynn says, because they are able to talk to someone. They see that something was created just for them. Someone will fight for them, if need be, and help them get through. They can share some of the intense challenges of coping with mental illness who “gets it.”  For many, that is entirely new in their lives.

While some people with mental illness have no friends or family to support them, others have family members who worry about them. When someone is anxious about a loved one with mental illness, they can call Lynn or write a letter. She follows up, often visiting with the person and then letting the family know how they are doing. “You’re an angel!” said a thankful mother recently. “My son said he had a great visit. Now I know he’s okay.”

Addressing Mental Illness Benefits Individuals, Communities, Families – and Prisons

The impact of the changes Pennsylvania is making are still being measured. Already, the kind of incidents that often result in extended solitary confinement are declining. As the correctional system improves its ability to identify and help individuals struggling to live with mental illness, both individuals and the prison system will be safer. And because people with mental illness are no longer forced to endure prolonged confinement – which has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness – they will leave prison better prepared to rejoin their communities, and recidivism is expected to go down. However significant the savings in financial terms, however, restoring the hope of a fulfilling life is beyond price.

Thank you, Pennsylvania, for being a pathfinder in safe alternatives to solitary confinement for persons with mental illness!



[1] U.S. Department of Justice. Justice Department Finds Pennsylvania State Prison’s Use of Solitary Confinement Violates Rights of Prisoners Under the Constitution and Americans with Disabilities Act (May 31, 2013).  See: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-finds-pennsylvania-state-prison-s-use-solitary-confinement-violates-rights

Maryland Legislature 2016 Solitary Confinement Reporting Bill

Editor’s Note: This is a bill that will be submitted to the Maryland Legislature within in the next two weeks.  It is a draft of the bill.  The final draft may differ in some small ways from what is below. 

Corrections – Restrictive Housing Tracking 

SECTION 1. BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF MARYLAND, That: 

A. DEFINITIONS

In this section the following words have the meanings indicated

(1)  “Correctional facility” means a facility operated by or under contract with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services;

(2)  “Prisoner” means someone confined to a facility operated by or under contract with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

(3)  “Restrictive Housing” means is the practice of housing an individual separately from the general population of a correctional facility and imposing restrictions on their movement, behavior, and privileges. 

B. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services shall annually submit to the Governor’s office of Crime Control and Prevention and post publicly on its website a report documenting the use of restrictive housing in its facilities, disaggregated by facility.  The report shall include: 

(1)  The total facility population;

(2)  The number of individuals held in restrictive housing, by age, race, and ethnicity;

(3)  The number of persons with serious mental illness held in restrictive housing;

(4)  The definition of serious mental illness used by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services;

(5)  The number of prisoners known to be pregnant who were held in restrictive housing;

(6)  The average and median lengths of stay in restrictive housing;

(7)  The reasons for which individuals were placed in restrictive housing;

(8)  The number of incidents of death, self-harm, and attempts at self-harm by individuals held in restrictive housing;

(9)  The number of individuals released from restrictive housing directly to the community;

(10) Any additional information that is important to understanding the facility’s use of restrictive housing; and

(11) Any changes to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service’s policies regarding the use of restrictive housing. 

SECTION 2. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That this Act shall take effect October 1, 2016


Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

Safe Alternatives to Solitary Confinement: U.S. Leaders Share Progress and Insights

On September 29, 2015, the Vera Institute of Justice convened a short meeting to explore what a few states are learning about how to end over-reliance on extended solitary confinement in correctional systems.  Researcher Craig Haney reminded attendees why this is essential. He noted that a robust literature on mental and physical harms of the practice shows it can lead to despair and anger, destabilization of the sense of self, and a loss of ability to relate to others. It can also amplify symptoms of mental illness. Shaka Senhor, who spent a total of 7 years in solitary confinement, vividly evoked the experience and pointed out that the damaged people subjected to it may one day be “somebody’s neighbor.” He stressed that “we have every tool available to make the right decision” and challenged policy makers to move toward change.

What does Germany Do?

 To help people think “outside the box,” Jorg Jesse, the Director General of Prison and Probation Administration in Mecklenburg, Germany, described how his country sees the experience of incarceration. In Germany, the maximum period for solitary confinement is 3 months, and the warden must have the consent of a higher authority to impose this extreme punishment. Instead, the country sees the aim of incarceration as resocialization. Only 5 percent of course cases result in prison sentences (in the U.S., it is 65 percent), and correctional officers must have years of training to become effective problem solvers who can further the country’s aim of reducing recidivism. Their aim is to help people who are incarcerated prepare to live a life without crime, a life with “no more victims.” To encourage positive behavior, the system emphasizes the use of incentives as well as deterrents.  Sanctions in response to inappropriate behavior might include reducing leisure or work time, reducing the money a person can make, or removing something the person values, such as a radio or TV.

U.S. Leaders are on the Move!

Some states and communities are leading positive change in the U.S. We heard from executives in Colorado, Washington, and New Mexico, as well as the Hampden County Correctional Center, that it is possible to reduce over-reliance on solitary confinement, advance the interests of public safety, and make prison settings safer.

Policy Changes in Colorado Reduce Assaults and Advance Public Safety

Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was appointed to his position to fulfill the vision of the previous director, who was assassinated by a person who had spent years in solitary confinement. He has gained the cooperation of staff by emphasizing the public safety mission of correctional facilities: “When you send someone back to the community in worse shape than they came in, you have failed.”  People in solitary confinement in Colorado represented 7 percent of the prison population in 2011, but less than 1 percent today. Assaults on inmates and staff are the lowest since 2006, a change the Director attributes to new policies that decrease the time people spend in solitary confinement. One year is now an absolute maximum and is imposed only in extreme cases such as assault and rape. Policies also emphasize the need to identify and treat mental illness when it is the underlying cause of a behavioral problem.

Staff Involvement Helps Guide Change in Maine

The Hampden County Correctional Center describes itself on its web site as a “a model of safe, secure, orderly, lawful, humane, and productive corrections, where inmates are challenged to pick up the tools and directions to build a law-abiding life in an atmosphere free from violence.” Assistant Superintendent Richard McCarthy explained that the Massachusetts facility took the path of reform in 2008, asking staff to identify alternatives to solitary confinement. Changes emphasized positive reinforcement for people on the right track who had previously been in solitary confinement. They could earn the right to time in an exercise cell and were eligible for good time. Many “stepped down” to the general population, and the facility now has 68 percent fewer people in segregation. There has been no increase in violence, and the changed climate of the facility has benefitted both staff and the people held there.

Cognitive-Behavioral Programs Work in Washington

Bernie Warner, Secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections, said the state is working to move to an evidence-based approach to corrections and has launched promising initiatives to end long-term segregation. The state began with a study of who was in segregation and why, learning that people with mental health issues and gang members were overrepresented. Washington is seeking to create programs that seek to help people in these populations change their behavior. Cognitive-behavioral programs seek to change the thinking and behavior of gang members, and an Intensive Transition Program to help people prepare to return to their communities has had an 80 percent success rate. Like Hampden County, Washington engaged corrections staff in creating its promising programs. The state also trained them to communicate more effectively with people experiencing serious mental illness. The Secretary noted that as the more costly units that rely on solitary confinement are closed (three times as many staff are needed to run these restrictive facilities), resources are freed to support more effective alternatives.

New Mexico Offers Gang Members a Way Out

 Gregg Marcantel, the Secretary of the New Mexico Corrections Department, reported that the state “stole” Washington’s innovative approach to “managing offender change” and ran with it. They distinguished between predators in gangs and people who were simply gang members and might want out. The state created a special management unit for people who wanted to leave gangs and created a step-down program leading to transition and release. He noted that people tend to “fall or rise to expectations,” and creating an expectation of change has helped people change their behavior – and with those changes, altered the state’s reliance on solitary confinement.

 

  


Maryland Prison Reform

Everyone Can Play a Role! 

IAHR - along with more than 20 other organizations - seeks greater transparency about the use of solitary confinement as a first step to reducing its use.  Why focus on this when there are so many other areas of reform? There are two reasons: estimates from other states tell us that solitary confinement costs three times as much as managing the general population in prison. Vast research tells us that the use of prolonged solitary confinement is destabilizing to the personality and that the effects can also be long term. It is a human rights issue as well as a cost savings issue. 

  • From 2012 to 2015 the use of solitary confinement grew to more than 9% of the Maryland prison population - more than double the national average.
  • In Maryland people can be put into solitary for minor infractions
  • The average length of stay is 130 days in solitary.
  • The average length of stay for someone who is mentally ill is 228 days. 

The UN Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez (Professor of Law at American University in Washington, DC), states that more than 15 consecutive days in solitary can be tantamount to torture. 

95% of those who are in prison will be released to the community.  How they are treated in prison is an important component in their ability to re-enter society successfully. 

IAHR will introduce legislation this year to track the use of solitary - called segregation in Maryland. With a new Secretary of Corrections, it is our hope that he will initiate change. What we have found is that Corrections will respond to the legislature, if not to the public. For that reason we need legislation that requires reporting and transparency as the Department tracks its reform efforts in the use of solitary confinement. 

As an end game, we seek the re-allocation of funds saved from reducing solitary to train staff to deal with the mentally ill (estimates range from 15 - 30 %) and to treat addiction, provide education and meaningful job training. 

There are alternatives to solitary that protect public safety, reduce prison violence and save money.

 

 



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