IAHR’s October Newsletter includes four articles. The first includes details on a forum on solitary in Maryland that will take place on October 24 in Howard County. The second is an initial summary of findings from the first report published by the Virginia Department of Corrections on the use of restrictive housing (solitary confinement)in Virginia State Prisons. The third is our monthly letter from prison from MarQui Clardy, Jr. And the fourth is a disturbing report about a study that was conducted in North Carolina on people incarcerated in North Carolina prisons from 2000 to 2015 who had been in solitary confinement. Here is more evidence of how deadly solitary can be.
IAHR Next Forum On Solitary Confinement in Maryland
Virginia Department of Corrections Releases First Report on Restrictive Housing (Solitary Confinement)
Letter from Prison-MarQui Clardy, Jr.
New Study: Restrictive Housing (Solitary Confinement) Leads To Early Death
When: Thursday, October 24, 2019 from 7 to 9 pm
Where: St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 2892 MD-97, Glenwood, MD 21738
Questions? Contact Rabbi Feinberg at 202-669-7700
Refreshments will be served
Warren Rymes is a returning citizen whose sentence was commuted by Governor Hogan in August 2018. Since that time, Warren has become involved in IAHR. Warren is especially interested in solitary confinement and mental health services in the Maryland prison system. Warren advises criminal justice students in the Prison and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University. He also lectures in the Georgetown Law School. Recently, Warren began consulting with the Mayor’s Office of African American Male Engagement on a project to stop violence in Baltimore. Warren has also started his own business called 3R which assists returning citizens in their recovery, rehabilitation, and reentry.
Kimberly Haven’s journey as an advocate began when she sought to regain her own voting rights after release from a Maryland prison in 2001. As a result of Kimberly’s hard work and the support and guidance of organizations and affected individuals, the Maryland House and Senate in March 2007 approved the Voting Rights Protection Act, which re- enfranchised 50,000 residents who had completed their sentences. Since that time, Kimberly Haven has served as the executive director of Justice Maryland, the Maryland Justice Project, and project director for the Maryland Public Defender's Pre-Trial and Bail Reform Campaign. Currently, Kimberly is serving as IAHR’s Legislative Liaison to end the abuse of long-term isolation in Maryland state prisons.
Charles M. Feinberg was a congregational rabbi for 42 years. He served and led congregations in Wisconsin, New York, British Columbia, and Washington, DC. He served as a rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC from 2006 to 2015. During his career, Rabbi Feinberg has been an advocate for Central American Refugees, the poor and the homeless, for interfaith dialogue and cooperation, and for respecting the human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. Rabbi Feinberg received his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Rabbi Feinberg is beginning his fourth year as Executive Director of IAHR.
Munib Lohrasbi first developed a passion helping people with disabilities while volunteering with Best Buddies, a nonprofit that works to create opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in high school. In college, he continued this work by volunteering with Goodwill and advocating for disability rights. Lohrasbi went on to law school at the University of Maryland, where he worked in a criminal law clinic and then a disability law clinic with the National Association of the Deaf. Upon graduation from law school, he wanted to combine his passion for disability rights advocacy with his criminal justice and legal background. In the OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship, Lohrasbi works with Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) to improve conditions for people with disabilities in prison around the state. As the state’s designated protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, DRM has access to every prison in the state to inspect conditions and collect data. However, the agency has lacked capacity to undertake a comprehensive review.
Next Forum on Solitary in Virginia: Monday, December 2, 2019 at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth-El in Richmond, VA
Virginia Department of Corrections Releases First Report on Restrictive Housing (Solitary Confinement)
During the 2019 Virginia Legislative Session, the Virginia Coalition Against Solitary was able to get passed a “reporting” bill which mandates the Virginia Department of Corrections to report annually on how restrictive housing (solitary confinement) is used throughout Virginia state prisons. Its first report was released on October 10 for fiscal year (FY) 2019. Below IAHR has culled some relevant statistics from the report. In order to understand the statistics here are some definitions.
Step-Down Program (SDP): “The Virginia Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Segregation Step Down program utilizes evidence-based practices (EBP) to provide a safe and secure way for offenders in Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) to earn their return to the general population."
Shared Allied Management (SAM) Units “mean a general population environment used to promote safety within institutions by avoiding the use of restrictive housing to manage vulnerable populations that typically require a high level of services from security, mental health, or medical staff." [§ 53.1-39.1.A of the Code of Virginia]
Here is a summary of some of the relevant data for FY 2019:
- There were 484 people in short-term restrictive housing (RH) at the end of FY 2019. 58% of these were black, and 41% were white.
- 162 people were released directly to the community from short-term restrictive housing (RH).
- There were 7,331 exits from restrictive housing (RH) and 7,121 entries into RH during the fiscal year. Some of the exits and entries may apply to the same person. That is the same person may have been placed into restrictive housing (solitary confinement) more than once. However, the percentage of prisoners placed in solitary may be quite significant.
- About 26% of these were released from restrictive housing (RH) within 5 days and another 26% are released within 14 days. This means that 48% were there for more than 14 days.
- The Department distinguishes between short-term restrictive housing and the Step-Down Program (SDP), but it's not clear whether there are people in long-term restrictive housing who are not participating in the Step-Down Program (SDP). It also appears that people in certain step-down pods may not be counted as being in restrictive housing, even though their conditions of confinement are much more restrictive than people in general population.
- There were 37 people in the Step-Down Program (SDP) at Red Onion State Prison at the end of Fiscal Year 2019. 30 of these were black. 24 had minimal or mild mental health impairment, and the other 13 had no mental health impairment.
- 32% of people who were in the SDP during the fiscal year were released within 6 months, and 48% were released after 6 to 12 months. 20% of stays in the SDP units were longer than a year.
- The report shows that 29% of stays in short-term RH (3,166) were for 30 days or more.
- Virginia prisoners are assigned a mental health classification ranging from MH-0 to MH-4, the latter indicating the most severe impairment. 167 people whose mental health classification was MH-2 were in short-term restrictive housing. It appears that no one classified above MH-2 was in restrictive housing at all. This raises questions about prisoners' mental health evaluations and warrants further exploration. The report gives the impression that everyone who has a mental health impairment greater than MH-2 is in a SAM (Shared Allied Management) pod, but IAHR has heard from a few men who have been told they qualify for placement in a SAM unit, but cannot be placed there because the SAM units are at capacity.
- 98 people in short-term RH had moderate vision or hearing problems or mild, controlled hypertension, or asthma.
- 200 people in short-term RH and 17 in the SDP (Step-Down Program) were receiving Hepatitis-C treatment OR had systemic allergies OR were diabetic OR were on psychotropic medications.
Letter from Prison
Microcosm of the Macrocosm essay
The function of the criminal justice system is ostensibly to protect society by removing criminal offenders from it. There are additional purposes, but this is the most basic, most universally accepted of them. But what constitutes a society? More importantly, what happens to members of a society when you remove them from it? Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines a society as "a group of human beings bound together by shared knowledge and culture." By this definition, it can be posited that prison institutions are their own individual, microcosmic societies. Though we've been removed from the macrocosm (free world society), the social instincts and inclinations which are part of our human nature do not change. We simply fell into the social roles of a different society where the commander in chief bears the title of Warden, instead of President; institutional rules are the laws of the land; and order is enforced by correctional officers, instead of police officers. This microcosm functions much the same as the macrocosm. For example, violating institutional rules will result in judicial action - being summonsed to a disciplinary hearing - where the charged offender will either be found innocent or guilty. A guilty verdict may result in the offender being arrested and locked in the Segregation Housing Unit, which we refer to as "jail."
The similarities don't end there. Like the free world society, which is divided into nations and groups that share common ancestry, religions, and cultures, our prison "society" is also divided into nations (Aryan Nation, Folks Nation, United Blood Nation, Nation of Islam, Nation of Gods and Earths, etc.) that each have their own social structures, beliefs, teachings, ideologies, and in some cases, proprietary language that non-members can't understand. These nations also have their own internal laws and, to a degree, systems of self-government to ensure accountability for their members. When conflicts arise, the heads of these Nations often convene to attempt diplomatic resolutions.
Each one of us also has our own unique address (housing #, cell #, bunk #) where we live, and where the mailman comes every weekday to deliver our mail. We have real barbershops, medical and dental offices, dining facilities, churches/mosques, schools, and a library. We even have gyms where we go to participate in (or observe) various events, and where our organized sports teams compete against each other.
Weekday mornings are a frenzy, with inmates rushing up and down the "boulevard" - some heading to school, others to work. Tardiness in either could result in write-ups, suspension, or termination. Like the macrocosm, most jobs here are 40 hours per week, and we're paid hourly wages with chances to advance and earn raises. Our paychecks are deposited directly into our savings accounts at the end of each pay period. Of course, since there's a job market in prison, there's also an actual, micro-economy here. We buy, sell, and trade food, clothing, electronics, and other items. Canteen products are what we use as currency, and to accumulate it, we create our own businesses and services. We have "investors" - inmates who lend canteen (currency) to others in exchange for a return, plus interest. Our "cleaners" are inmates who offer clothes washing, ironing, and sewing services. Our "bakers" are inmates who make and sell cakes, pies, cookies, and pizzas that aren't sold through commissary. Some prisoners are "electronics repairmen" who fix, alter, even upgrade our TV's, music players, headphones, and other devices. There are "jailhouse lawyers" who offer professional level legal services. We even have artists who create and sell custom portraits, sculptures, and greeting cards. No one would expect there to be such a robust goods/services exchange in prison, but tens - if not hundreds - of millions of dollars' worth of goods are circulated through our economy every day.
All societies are comprised of good people who follow the rules and bad people who break them. Our microcosmic society is no different. Though prison is comprised almost exclusively of free world society's rule breakers, here the majority of prisoners have fallen into the roles of productive "citizens" who choose to live good lives and do right. Those are the above-mentioned prisoners who attend school, work, and run their own services for a living. But prison also, inevitably (and ironically), has its very own criminal underworld of rule breakers who create all kinds of illegal/unauthorized services to gain their currency. Most notably is the drug market. There are drug dealers who make a living smuggling/trafficking/selling illegal narcotics in here. There are also bootleggers who sell "home-brewed" alcohol, which is prohibited in here. There are even "weapons dealers" who make a profit selling shanks. Whether positive or negative, most aspects that define a society are in some way mirrored here.
Prison is a complex, unnatural, and understandably misunderstood environment, which is one reason it has been connoted such an unpleasant reputation. But when you think of the day-to-day activities of people behind bars, remind yourself that incarceration does not take away the thoughts, actions, and inclinations that make prisoners human. It is also not human nature to create societies of chaos and lawlessness. Whatever negativity may exist here, the overwhelming majority of us understand that it is incumbent upon us to be responsible, productive, "law-abiding citizens" in this microcosm we now inhabit. That's what should be more widely acknowledged, for if we can live civilly in the microcosm, we can most certainly do so in the macrocosm to which we will one day return.
A newly released study conducted by a group of scientists, and published by the Jama Network journal, found that people held in solitary confinement during their incarceration had a “significantly” higher likelihood of dying within the first year of their release back into the community. The study used data from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety tracking nearly 230,000 incarcerated people in a state prison between 2000 and 2015. Based on the study, Inverse reported that people held in solitary were 24 percent more likely to die within a year after their release than people not held in solitary. Seventy-eight percent of the people who died committed suicide and 54 percent were murdered. Additionally, people held in solitary were 127 percent more prone to die from an opioid overdose within the first two weeks of being released.
Click here to read the abstract and the full research paper which is 11 pages.