July 2017 Newsletter

July 2017 Newsletter

This month’s newsletter has two parts. The first part gives a summary of IAHR’s work in Virginia and the District of Columbia. The second part highlights the crisis of mental health care in state and federal prisons. The article from the Prison Policy Initiative reviews a recent Department of Justice report on mental illness in the prisons. The two articles from the Marshall Project highlight the mental health crisis affecting women in prison and the mental health problems of the correctional officers who work in prisons. Taken together these three articles demonstrate that the lack of effective and adequate mental health care in our prisons is a human rights crisis.  

Virginia Advocacy Group Begins Solitary Confinement Talks with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Office 

District of Columbia: The Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program and MORCA

Prison Policy Initiative Updates: New government report points to continuing mental health crisis in prisons and jails

The Marshall Project: The Mental Health Crisis Facing Women in Prison

The Marshall Report: For Corrections Officers and Cops, a New Emphasis on Mental Health

Virginia Advocacy Group Begins Solitary Confinement Talks With Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Office

Rabbi Feinberg, Kimberly Snodgrass, and Gay Gardner from Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), Bill Farrar of the ACLU of Virginia, Carla Peterson of VA-CURE, and Rev. Jon Barton of the Virginia Council of Churches met with Jennifer O'Holleran, Governor McAuliffie's Policy Director; Carlos Hopkins, Counsel to the Governor; Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security; and his Deputy Secretary, Victoria Cochran. 

In the meeting, the group briefly outlined, with illustrative examples, the main problems that IAHR has documented with Virginia's continuing use of isolated confinement, despite the implementation of a "step down program" that has enabled some prisoners to transition out of long-term isolation.  The group urged that Gov. McAuliffe adopt for Virginia three basic guiding principles that are based on guidelines issued in January 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice:

1.    Limit the use of solitary confinement/"segregation" to circumstances in which it is absolutely unavoidable and there are no other alternatives.

2.    Provide prisoners in solitary confinement with written reasons for their placement in isolation, an opportunity to formally challenge it, and a written plan for returning to less restrictive conditions as soon as possible.

3.    Avoid placing individuals with serious mental illness or physical or mental disabilities in solitary confinement.

The group also presented a copy of the nearly 20,000 signatures from the online petition on behalf of Kevin Snodgrass, who has been in solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison since December 2013.  To read the press release about the meeting, please click here

IAHR will continue to press for adoption and implementation of these principles, not only by the McAuliffe administration, but also by the next administration.  With that in mind, IAHR and other members of the coalition will be seeking meetings with the Northam and Gillespie campaigns. 

Let Rabbi Feinberg ([email protected]) or Gay Gardner ([email protected]) know if you are interested in participating in this effort or if you have specific suggestions that may be helpful.

Furthermore, IAHR will be developing plans for multiple screenings of the documentary "Solitary" in the fall.  We are expecting to procure a limited number of DVDs of the film free of charge.  Any and all help you can provide with this will be much appreciated, including the following:

a.    names of particular religious congregations or other groups that may be interested in hosting a screening of the film, especially any such groups in Virginia outside the DC suburbs of northern Virginia, though we certainly hope to show the film in NoVA, too;

b.    suggestions for discussion leaders or panel members for post-film discussions

c.    help in scheduling screenings

Please let Gay Gardner ([email protected]) or Rabbi Feinberg ([email protected]) know if you would like to help with this effort or if you have any ideas or suggestions related to our ongoing work.

 District of Columbia: The Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program and MORCA

During the last two years, IAHR has been an active participant in the DC Reentry Task Force as well as Rethink Justice. Both are coalitions focusing on the DC Jail, Halfway Houses, and DC residents returning from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The DC Reentry Task Force has had two advocacy objectives.  One was to advocate for more funding for the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs also known as MORCA.  MORCA was established twelve years ago to assist DC residents who were returning to the city from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  However, the agency has been woefully underfunded with limited staff and resources.  The DC Reentry Task Force along with the Council for Court Excellence was able to persuade key DC Council members to fund a strategic plan for MORCA as well as add two case workers. 

The strategic plan should provide a blueprint for an agency that truly can serve the needs of returning citizens.  With the strategic plan in hand, advocates can mobilize public opinion to fund MORCA so that it can become a truly effective agency.  The DC Council was able to identify funds in its 2018 budget to support the strategic plan and add two case workers.  This was a small but significant step forward.

In addition, the Reentry Task Force advocated for funding the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program (IIEP). Returning citizens to the District have a 50% unemployment rate and a 50% recidivism rate. It is exceedingly difficult for returning citizens to find unemployment and housing because of their criminal record.  The IIEP addresses this problem by setting up a program which would educate and train returning citizens to set up their own businesses.  The program plans to give returning citizens the necessary skills and knowledge to become their own bosses.  Furthermore, the program would grant start up loans to those who finished the program.  The program needs $2 million to start up.  Further funding would come from grants and private donations. 

In July 2016, the DC Council passed the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program (IIE)) but did not fund it. Mayor Bowser did not include funding for the program in the budget she presented to the Council.  And the Council failed to identify funding.  IAHR along with the DC Reentry Task Force is determined to fight for funding for this program next year. We need your support.  At the beginning of 2018, we will be asking DC residents to write and petition the Mayor and the Council to fund the IIEP. You can read more about the IIEP in the Washington Post by clicking here.  

Government report points to continuing health crisis in prisons and jails by Wendy Sawyer 

PRISON POLICY INITIATIVE UPDATES for June 29, 2017 Showing how mass incarceration harms communities and our national welfare

A new Bureau of Justice Statistics report offers another grim view of mental health problems in America’s prisons and jails. Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates 2011-12 is the first government update on the mental health of incarcerated populations since 2006. BJS has made some changes to its data collection, making comparisons to earlier reports difficult, but the takeaway is the same, ten years later: U.S. prisons and jails are filled with people who have a current or past mental health problem, and facilities are still not meeting the demand for treatment.

Half of people incarcerated in prisons and two-thirds of people in jails had either current "serious psychological distress" or a history of mental health problems. Yet only about a third of those reporting serious psychological distress were currently receiving treatment, and only a slightly greater share of people with a history of mental health problems was currently being treated. So while correctional facilities are warehousing people with mental health problems, they lack the capacity to adequately meet the needs of those in their care.

1 in 4 people incarcerated in jails reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress. This makes people in jail six times more likely to experience serious psychological distress than people with no criminal justice involvement in the past year

To read the rest of this article click here.

The Marshall Project: The Mental Health Crisis Facing Women in Prison

A new study shows a striking disparity between incarcerated men and women.


More than two-thirds of incarcerated women in America reported having a history of mental health problems — a far higher percentage than their male counterparts, according to a study released Thursday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Although the prevalence of mental health disorders among people in prisons and jails is a well-known problem, the dramatic gender disparity exposed in the new report has been less discussed.

The survey, conducted from February 2011 to March 2012, asked more than 100,000 men and women in hundreds of U.S. jails and prisons whether they had ever been diagnosed by a mental health professional with a psychological disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. The survey also posed questions about inmates’ mood and emotions in the previous 30 days.

Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. About 19 percent experienced an episode of serious psychological distress in the month before being surveyed.

When the data is broken down by gender, the differences are stark.

Although women make up only 7 percent of the prison population, 66 percent of women in prison reported having a history of a mental disorder, almost twice the percentage of men in prison. And one in five women in prison had recently experienced serious psychological distress, while one in seven men had.

A similar gender imbalance was found among those in local jails. Sixty-eight percent of women in jail reported having been diagnosed with a mental health condition, versus 41 percent of men.  To read the rest of the article, click here.  

ORIGINALLY FILED Thursday, June 22, 2017 at 2:29 p.m. ET

Marshall Report: For Corrections Officers and Cops, a New Emphasis on Mental Health Text to Go To
An intensive study and new programs to combat stress that often goes overlooked.


This story was published in collaboration with the USA TODAY Network.

The relentless pressures of prison life on inmates’ mental health — gang violence, solitary confinement and arbitrary discipline, among them — have long been subjects for psychological and academic research. But the cumulative impact on corrections officers, including an apparent high rate of suicide, has rarely been studied in depth.

That is about to change. In California, one of the nation’s largest prison systems — housing about 130,000 people on a given day— the union of active and retired corrections officers is participating in an extensive study over the next few years to assess the need for permanent mental health services for the state’s roughly 26,000 officers.

“We do a decent job with saying that ‘this system messes with the incarcerated, this system impacts their lives’, but what we don’t do, what we don’t say is, ‘what’s the impact that this job is having on the correctional officers?’ ” said Stephen B. Walker, the director of governmental affairs for the union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

According to association data, the suicide rate for its members, in 2013, was 19.4 deaths per 100,000, compared with 12.6 deaths in the general U.S. population. “We are finally saying, there is something wrong and we need to fix this,” Walker said.

Suicides, post traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health problems that afflict corrections officers as well as police officers are an underreported sector of the criminal justice system. The federal government doesn’t track suicides by law enforcement officers, although line-of-duty deaths are tallied. But an awakening of sorts — from the halls of Congress to the prisons of California — is under way.

Earlier this month, the California peace officers association completed the first major step of a partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, by analyzing the results of a 61-question survey from more than 8,600 corrections and parole officers statewide. The responses serve as the basis for an ambitious plan to develop, test and implement a range of mental health services for officers across the state’s prison system.

The survey was designed by Amy E. Lerman, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Berkeley, and lead researcher of the Correctional Officer Health and Wellness Project. The survey asked respondents about a range of topics that include their experiences with violence, suicidal thoughts, and how prisons can improve. The union distributed the survey and promised a free barbecue to the correctional facility that produced the highest participation rate.

Lerman shared a sample of the results with The Marshall Project: Three of four corrections officers said they had seen someone killed or seriously injured at work; when asked about PTSD, 65 percent of officers said they had experienced at least one of its symptoms; about one in nine reported having thought about, or attempted, suicide.

“We need more research,” Lerman said. “We need to know what works, and what type of investments makes a difference.”  To read the rest of this article, click here.

ORIGINALLY FILED Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 7:00 a.m. ET

Next Newsletter will be issued on August 15, 2017

Have a rewarding summer!