Daily Archives: July 8, 2016

Thomas Deegan Denied Parole, Held in Solitary

Phil Hudok at Hudok.info reports the following unsettling news about Thomas Deegan, whose quest for parole was recently posted here. Please continue to maintain contact with Thomas through letters, and continue to let the prison and court system know he has supporters.  As many may know, Thomas Deegan is essentially a political prisoner who is being held by the West Virginia government on wrongful charges–please run a search on his name here to find previous posts. It’s truly astonishing that he is being confined in solitary, and it does throw light on how the corporate system seeks to treat those it has deemed a threat, even as it draws attention to the horrific practice of solitary confinement.

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Image: Hudok.info

Solitary confinement is increasingly being understood to be profoundly inhumane, and a violation of international law; prolonged solitary confinement has been recognized by the UN as a form of torture.

There is a growing nationwide movement to end solitary confinement.

Some excerpts from relevant articles below, please click on title links for the full article.

Last August, the Center for Constitutional Rights posted an article pointing to New York Times coverage of their long-term research into solitary confinement, and their work to help prisoners in California challenge the cruelties of solitary confinement:

Solitary Confinement: A “Social Death” – NYT on “Shocking” Data from CCR Case

“Today’s New York Times science section features a front-page piece about the research that CCR commissioned and compiled for our ground-breaking challenge to long-term solitary confinement. “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” introduces to the public the 10 expert reports we submitted to the court in Ashker v. Brown, the class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners in solitary in California’s Pelican Bay prison. Together, this research presents an unprecedented 360-degree look at the science behind how and why solitary confinement causes irreversible physical and mental harm.

According to the expert reports, prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary experience a form of “social death” that is not cured upon release, but rather lingers as a “post-SHU syndrome” characterized by social withdrawal, isolation, and anxiety. One researcher said it was “shocking, frankly” that some prisoners endure decades of isolation. The Science Times piece is accompanied by a moving video of our clients.”

June 26 was named the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. A CCR blog post on June 24, Highlights from CCR’s anti-torture work for International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, noted:

This Sunday, June 26, is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, and every day, CCR recognizes the courage and resilience of our clients, allies, and movement partners with whom we continue to fight for justice.

It was on June 26, 1987 that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) entered into force. This international human rights treaty makes clear that there can never be a justification for torture—ever—and that it is the responsibility of every state to prevent it from happening, and punish it when it does. Yet it is a cruel reality that torture continues with impunity all over the globe, often at the hands of those at the highest levels of governments – including our own….

Challenging the torture of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons

CCR client George Ruiz is 72 years old. For 30 years, he spent every day alone — locked in a cramped, windowless cell inside the Security Housing Unit (SHU), first at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, then at Tehachapi prison. He was only allowed out for one hour a day to exercise in another concrete cell. Ruiz was not in the SHU for breaking any prison rules, but because prison officials claimed he was “affiliated” with a prison gang.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has made clear, prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture, prohibited under international law. On September 1, 2015, in a landmark settlement in our lawsuit, Ashker v. Governor of California, CCR ended indeterminate solitary confinement in California, dramatically reducing the number of people in isolation, including Mr. Ruiz.

Prisoners’ human rights may be a novel concept to some, but it is a vital issue of concern gaining visibility today, that people being incarcerated do not suffer a blanket loss of their basic human rights. The prisoners in California who endured decades of solitary and worked together with CCR to challenge and end indeterminate solitary issued this statement, thanking those outside who did not forget them:

Statement of plaintiffs on settlement of Ashker v. Governor of California

This settlement represents a monumental victory for prisoners and an important step toward our goal of ending solitary confinement in California, and across the country.  California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.  This victory was achieved by the efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters.  Our movement rests on a foundation of unity: our Agreement to End Hostilities.  It is our hope that this groundbreaking agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence.  From this foundation, the prisoners’ human rights movement is awakening the conscience of the nation to recognize that we are fellow human beings.  As the recent statements of President Obama and of Justice Kennedy illustrate, the nation is turning against solitary confinement. We celebrate this victory while, at the same time, we recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.  We are fully committed to that effort, and invite you to join us.

Their story, posted last September at CCR: After Decades of Enduring Solitary, They Joined Forces. Here’s What Happened.

Fact-sheet from Solitary Watch:  The High Cost of Solitary Confinement

In the United States today, at least 80,000 prisoners are in some form of isolated confinement, including some 25,000 in supermax prisons.

Solitary confinement goes by many names, including administrative segregation, disciplinary confinement, security housing, and restricted housing, but it normally consists of 22- to 24-hour lockdown in a small cell. Terms in solitary confinement often extend to months, years, or decades. Solitary confinement has been found to cause serious psychological damage. Studies have also shown that it increases recidivism and fails to reduce prison violence.

Solitary confinement is also expensive, in large part because of added staffing costs. One study estimated that the average per cell cost of housing an inmate in a supermax prison is $75,000, as opposed to $25,000 for an inmate in the general population.

From The Daily Beast, news of a new documentary, titled, “Solitary”:

The Agony of Solitary Confinement: It’s Like Being ‘Buried Alive,’ Prisoners Say

A new documentary goes inside a supermax prison to discover what it’s like being in solitary confinement—a practice experts now describe as unnecessary and prisoners say is torture. Watch an exclusive clip here.

Here’s what it’s like to be in solitary confinement in a supermax prison—you are locked into your 8- by-10-foot cell for 23 hours per day, where the lights are on all the time. There are no windows in your cell to let in sunlight. Your only view is the window in the cell door that looks out onto a sterile cellblock.

When you are allowed out for one hour of recreation per day, you must first be strip-searched. Then you are shackled hand and foot and taken by two guards to a small wire cage that is your “exercise” yard. You are not allowed to talk to the guards, or to the other prisoners who may be exercising in the cages next to you. You are then shackled again, and led back to your cell. All meals are served to you through a slot in your cell door. If you’re very lucky, you will be allowed outside twice a week where, shackled to a table in the middle of the cellblock, you will perform menial labor, like wrapping packets of sporks and salt in napkins that will be placed in the prisoners’ meal trays.

Imagine living like this year after year after year.

“I don’t think solitary as it currently exists, the lack of any human contact of any sort, is necessary in any case,” says Kristin Jacobson, whose film Solitary, shot at the Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Va., debuts this week at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival and will be broadcast later this year on HBO. “This is the United States. We have a Constitution, we condemn the abuse of human rights elsewhere, and just because you’ve committed a crime you have not given up your rights as a human being.”

Solitary confinement has, in fact, been part of American penology since at least 1829, when Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary housed prisoners in isolation, hoping that the silence would encourage them to think about their foul deeds and become truly penitent (thus the term “penitentiary”).

But the practice really took off in the 1980s, when harsh drug laws, gang activity and mandatory sentencing saw the prison population increase dramatically. “Solitary grew rapidly just about everywhere; it tracks with the growth in the prison population, and prison overcrowding,” says Jean Casella of Solitary Watch, a Web-based organization providing research and news about solitary confinement in the U.S.

From another political prisoner, heroic whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who revealed many sordid truths about the Iraq War, and was kept in solitary confinement for 9 months, in her May op-ed at The Guardian:

Solitary confinement is ‘no touch’ torture, and it must be abolished
I spent about nine months in an isolated cell behind a one-way mirror. It was cruel, degrading and inhumane

May 2, 2016 by Chelsea E Manning

solitary_050216Shortly after arriving at a makeshift military jail, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in May 2010, I was placed into the black hole of solitary confinement for the first time. Within two weeks, I was contemplating suicide.

After a month on suicide watch, I was transferred back to US, to a tiny 6 x 8ft (roughly 2 x 2.5 meter) cell in a place that will haunt me for the rest of my life: the US Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Virginia. I was held there for roughly nine months as a “prevention of injury” prisoner, a designation the Marine Corps and the Navy used to place me in highly restrictive solitary conditions without a psychiatrist’s approval.

For 17 hours a day, I sat directly in front of at least two Marine Corps guards seated behind a one-way mirror. I was not allowed to lay down. I was not allowed to lean my back against the cell wall. I was not allowed to exercise. Sometimes, to keep from going crazy, I would stand up, walk around, or dance, as “dancing” was not considered exercise by the Marine Corps.

Chelsea Manning is in the news this week for hospitalization that was initially reported as a suicide attempt by a CNN reporter and then retracted. She is currently back in military jail at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she is serving a shocking  35-year sentence. She, like Thomas Deegan, compel us to look at what is going on in our midst today with the prison system. Incarceration in American prisons, which is already off the charts, spiked with the inhumanities of solitary confinement, is perhaps something all those of us who are outside prison walls need to become a lot more aware about and speak out about, in this peculiar time period we are living through of heightened oppression on all sides.