Tag Archives: solitary confinement

Civil rights groups sue over alleged abuse at youth prison

Civil rights groups sued Wisconsin seeking improvements at a youth prison because guards there are still abusing children despite state and federal investigations.

The American Civil Liberties Union along with the Juvenile Law Center filed a federal lawsuit this week asking a judge to limit solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and the use of pepper spray at the Irma facility. State investigators spent all of 2015 probing allegations of widespread abuse at Lincoln Hills. The FBI has since taken over the probe.

A number of state prison officials have resigned or retired in the midst of the investigations. But no one has been charged and the FBI has said nothing about the investigation’s progress.

ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis said during a Milwaukee news conference that his group had hoped the investigations would prompt changes at the prison. But he said guards continue to violate inmates’ constitutional rights by locking them up in solitary confinement, chaining them to desks and pepper spraying them for minor infractions, prompting the ACLU lawsuit. During a visit to the prison in October, Dupuis said, he saw a boy get pepper sprayed and dragged off because he wouldn’t remove his shoes.

“Usually when ACLU shows up at a prison, (guards are) on their best behavior,” Dupuis said. “We were shocked by what we heard and saw for ourselves. If I had any reason to believe something was coming in the investigations, we may have held off.”

FBI spokesman Leonard Peace declined to comment, saying the investigation was ongoing. State Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook declined comment as well.

The ACLU and the law center filed the lawsuit on behalf of three children currently held at the prison and one child who was held there before he was moved to a mental health facility.

The filing alleges on any day up to 20 percent of the prison’s population is held in solitary confinement in tiny, unfurnished cells. They receive only an hour of education instead of the four or five they would normally get and are chained to their desks or shackled, the lawsuit alleges. Guards needlessly pepper spray inmates for minor, nonviolent infractions, sometimes using a spray meant to stop bears, the lawsuit added.

The practices are unconstitutionally excessive and cruel, the lawsuit said. The filing asks a judge to allow solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spray only in rare cases to avoid serious physical harm.

Attorney General Brad Schimel declined to defend the state in the lawsuit Tuesday because the Department of Justice ran the state’s portion of the investigation, creating a conflict, DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said. That means Gov. Scott Walker’s administration will need to hire private attorneys.

Twenty-nine states have prohibited solitary confinement as punishment for juveniles, according to the pro bono law firm Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest. Wisconsin is one of 15 states that limit the time a juvenile spends in solitary confinement; Wisconsin’s maximum is 60 days. Seven states have no limit on solitary confinement or allow indefinite extensions, according to the center.

Wisconsin lawmakers haven’t passed any measures addressing conditions at the youth prison since word of the investigation broke a year ago. Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch and Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson began circulating a bill Tuesday that would require prison guards to report child abuse to law enforcement in response to the prison allegations.

Rep. Michael Schraa, chairman of the Assembly’s corrections committee, didn’t immediately return a message. The state Senate doesn’t have a corrections committee; the equivalent body is the judiciary committee, led by Republican Van Wanggaard. His aide, Scott Kelly, said Wanggaard wants to see the FBI’s findings before drawing conclusions but is growing more frustrated with the agency for not releasing any information.

Wisconsin prison officials begin force feedings, solitary confinement protest continues

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is force feeding at least three inmates as a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years — even decades — continues for a third week.

Although the state DOC has detailed the medical conditions of the hunger strikers in publicly available petitions, the agency refuses to confirm that it has obtained court orders to force feed inmates, citing medical privacy issues. Spokesman Tristan Cook did not immediately respond to questions about how often and on whom the department has used force feeding.

Court records show the agency is now force feeding Waupun Correctional Institution inmates Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley Bey and Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name of Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki.

The food refusal campaign, dubbed “Dying to Live,” which about half a dozen inmates began as early as June 5, is aimed at pressuring the state to end the practice of holding inmates for lengthy periods of time in administrative confinement, which is intended for prisoners deemed a danger to the institution.

McKinley Bey, who escaped during a jail transfer in 1987 after shooting a sheriff’s deputy, has been held in this status for at least 25 years, according to a federal lawsuit he filed in Milwaukee. He alleges such unending isolation — at least 23 hours a day alone in a cell — violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Roughly 100 Wisconsin inmates are being held in this type of long-term solitary confinement.

A top United Nations official has declared that such isolation beyond 15 days is tantamount to torture.

On Tuesday, 30 activists gathered in front of the Department of Corrections headquarters in Madison to protest the state’s continued use of administrative confinement, chanting “solitary is torture.”

Protester Chance Zombor said he had spent many months in solitary confinement at Waupun and Oshkosh correctional institutions. Zombor said such isolation causes inmates to become “psychologically deranged.”

The protesters presented Cook with a letter demanding an end to the “overuse and abuse” of administrative confinement, improved mental health services for inmates in solitary confinement and other steps, including allowing inmates in this “non-punitive” status to have the same access to property, such as canteen items and TVs, that general population inmates have.

“As the public becomes aware of the torturous effect of any kind of solitary confinement longer than 15 days, you can imagine the outrage and bewilderment when they learned that we have inmates who have been in solitary for decades,” according to the letter addressed to Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher.

Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.
Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.

Cook accepted the letter and told the group that corrections officials are working on possible changes to solitary confinement, which the department calls restrictive housing. But he did not respond to requests by the activists to participate in that process.

In an email, Cook said the agency is studying several changes including moving mentally ill inmates out of solitary and examining ways to increase out-of-cell time and increase programming and services for inmates in restrictive housing and administrative confinement.

In June 2015, the state reduced the maximum stint in solitary confinement for violating prison rules from 360 days to 90 days, with longer stints possible under certain circumstances.

But those limits do not apply to inmates deemed to be violent or hard to manage who are in administrative confinement. The status of each inmate in administrative confinement is reviewed every six months. McKinley Bey, however, charges in his lawsuit that those reviews are a “sham.”

McKinley Bey said force feeding entails being strapped into a “restraint chair” and having a tube placed in his nose to deliver liquid nutrition while an officer films the process, according to a letter he wrote to advocates dated June 19. He wrote that he, DeLeon, Green and another inmate, Joshua Scolman, “are strong, and are in it for as long as it take to make something happen.”

In the June 17 petition for a court order to force feed DeLeon, corrections officials said the inmate began refusing food on June 7 and had also begun refusing water and that he has a “history of serious hunger strikes.” The petition states that he is suffering from “moderate” malnutrition and dehydration.

“He appears weak, gaunt and has an unsteady gait,” according to the petition. “Mucous membranes are very dry.”

However, in a letter written after the order was issued, DeLeon said that “clearly the doctor exaggerated his medical report with the intent to force feed me, to dissuade me and other(s) to stop our strike.”

Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, "incinerates the mind and spoils the soul." On  June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.
Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, “incinerates the mind and spoils the soul.” On June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.

Inmate advocate Peg Swan said she is distressed that it took a hunger strike to highlight the problems with administrative confinement in Wisconsin’s prisons. Two states — Colorado and California — have discontinued such indefinite confinement in solitary.

“I will be rooting for the them to stop,” Swan said. “They succeeded in getting the public to think about long-term solitary, and we are pledged out here to keep the campaign going, but we don’t need them to get sick.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Maximum stints in solitary cut, but Waupun inmates left in dark

Waupun Correctional Institution officials failed to notify inmates for months that Wisconsin had dramatically lowered the maximum time in solitary confinement for rule violations, Department of Corrections records and interviews show.

One inmate, Markell Simon, charged he was tricked into agreeing to six months in seclusion because he was unaware the DOC had cut maximum sentences by 75 percent for individual offenses — from 360 days to 90 days. Another inmate, Hurcel Staples, who was released from Waupun Oct. 6, also told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that he had never been notified by prison officials of the changes in solitary confinement.

Records released to the center by the DOC in December show Waupun officials were told to post a copy of the new policy for inmates on Aug. 13 — 10 weeks after it had been enacted. The center had filed a public records request on Sept. 29 seeking verification that Waupun inmates had been notified of the new approach to solitary confinement.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab declined to answer a question about why Waupun inmates were not notified of the new policy when it was enacted June 1, saying only that staff implemented the changes at that time.

Wisconsin is among several states, including New York, that are reducing use of solitary confinement, largely in response to lawsuits and research showing that spending up to 23 hours a day with little or no human contact and little constructive activity can cause lasting psychological damage. A top United Nations official has said more than 15 days in isolation is tantamount to torture.

Wisconsin’s new policy has reduced the number of prisoners in so-called restrictive status housing by more than 200, from 1,098 at the beginning of 2015 to 892 as of Dec. 31, Staab said.

Waupun inmate Simon said in a Sept. 21 letter to the center that he voluntarily agreed to serve 180 days in solitary confinement “only because I was under the assumption and understanding that if I went to my hearing and contested the time, I would be risking receiving 360 day(s)” — the former maximum penalty. In fact, under the new policy, Simon’s maximum punishment for assault, disruptive conduct and disobeying orders could have been as little as 120 days.

Part of DOC’s new policy involves “one-on-one negotiations between an officer and an inmate,” a top DOC official told the center in a July interview. The DOC’s mental health director, Dr. Kevin Kallas, said the agency was encouraging such negotiations so discipline “could take effect now and start now rather than needing to wait for some formal process for every little thing.”

But for at least two and a half months, Waupun inmates were at a distinct disadvantage: They were not notified that maximum terms had been sharply reduced. In addition, mitigating factors, such as a documented history of mental illness, can reduce time in solitary while enhancers, such as repeat violations, can add time to the punishment, according to the new rules.

DOC records show Simon pleaded guilty in July, agreeing to serve 180 days in solitary for assault, disobeying orders and disruptive conduct after fighting with two other inmates. Under the new policy, the maximum penalty without enhancers for Simon’s offenses would have been between 120 and 180 days, depending on whether disruptive conduct was treated as a “lesser included offense” to assault that does not carry additional time.

Records provided by the DOC show at least two other inmates also may have voluntarily agreed to longer-than-maximum punishments.

Simon said he found out about the new policy through news coverage around Aug. 25 while he was still in isolation. He found the revelation “shocking.”

“In my opinion, the Waupun administration is attempting to circumvent the new policy changes made by Madison by preying on the ignorance of the inmates incarcerated here,” wrote Simon, who is serving a two-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. “None of us were aware of these revisions because there was never a memo or mention of them whatsoever by the administration.”

Staples told the center he also was unaware of the new policy while he was incarcerated at Waupun.

“They didn’t let me know any of them (changes),” Staples said. “I saw something on the news that the DOC made an agreement about how they’re going to do segregation.”

Waupun warden led changes

The lack of notification is noteworthy given that then-Waupun Warden William Pollard was co-chairman of the work group that devised the new DOC policy. Pollard, who is now the warden at Dodge Correctional Institution, has since been replaced by Brian Foster, former warden of Green Bay Correctional Institution.

In 2014, the center documented dozens of allegations of physical and psychological abuse of prisoners in solitary confinement by correctional officials at Waupun, 55 miles northeast of Madison. Corrections officials have said the inmates are lying.

Asked why Waupun failed to notify inmates of the rule changes in a timely way, Staab responded in an email, “This policy for staff to follow was implemented immediately upon completion in June.” She made no mention of inmate notification.

Staab did not answer when asked via email what steps, if any, Waupun had taken to modify disciplinary sentences that were meted out before inmates were made aware of the new policy.

The email and disciplinary records showed that Oct. 19, three weeks after the center’s public records request, Pollard did overturn two disciplinary actions taken in July and August for inmate Demetrius Thompson.

Pollard wrote that officials had failed to consider mitigating circumstances as required under the new rules that would have resulted in shorter terms in isolation. Sentences can be shortened for factors including a documented history of mental illness or if the inmate stopped the misconduct after directed by staff.

In one of those cases from July, the records show, Thompson had agreed to 150 days in solitary — 60 days longer than the maximum amount for any one offense. No other details of either incident were included in the DOC records.

The records show that another inmate, Theodore Duerst, agreed July 31 to 90 days in isolation, although the new maximum penalty for his offense, disobeying orders, is 30 days. On Aug. 25, Duerst agreed to a punishment of 120 days for again disobeying orders — four times the maximum under the new rules. Duerst’s offenses were refusing to move into a cell he deemed too hot and refusing to continue rooming with an inmate with whom he had trouble, according to the records.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the lack of notification of Waupun inmates could provide a basis for shortening their time in solitary.

“A person still in solitary should be able to challenge the continuation of a sentence that is longer than what was authorized at the time the sentence was imposed,” Dupuis said.

The Rev. Jerry Hancock said the incident demonstrates the DOC “is not sincere” in enacting the less punitive rules. He added the lack of notification by Waupun bolsters the call by his faith-based group, Wisdom, for “effective, independent oversight” of the agency.

“It proves conclusively a need for an outside monitor for the … implementation of solitary confinement policies in DOC,” said Hancock, a minister of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ and a former prosecutor. “Without an outside monitor, there is no reason to trust the DOC when it comes to implementing this policy.”

Funding for this report came from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


Chelsea Manning faces indefinite solitary confinement for possessing Vanity Fair magazine

The U.S. military maintains that it is committed to “a fair and equitable process” in the case of national security leaker Chelsea Manning and other prisoners accused of breaking rules at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

The response comes after Manning’s lawyer disclosed that the transgender Army private faces charges at an Aug. 18 hearing (today) for allegedly having a copy of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover and an expired tube of toothpaste, among other things. The maximum penalty is indefinite solitary confinement.

The former intelligence analyst was convicted in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks while working in Iraq. The transgender anti-war activist is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking reams of war logs, diplomatic cables and battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website in 2010.

In a statement to the AP, Army spokeswoman Tatjana Christian said Manning’s case wad pending before a disciplinary board, which is “a common practice in correctional systems to hold prisoners accountable to facility rules.” The military released no details of the alleged conduct that led to the disciplinary report against Manning.

Manning’s attorney, Nancy Hollander, said the prison charges include possession of prohibited property in the form of books and magazines while under administrative segregation; medicine misuse over the toothpaste; disorderly conduct for sweeping food onto the floor; and disrespect. All of the accusations relate to conduct on July 2 and July 9.

Some military legal experts familiar with the facility expressed skepticism that Manning would be punished with indefinite solitary confinement.

Victor Hansen, a retired Army judge advocate who teaches at the New England School of Law in Boston, said conditions at Fort Leavenworth are less restrictive than for inmates in the federal prison system because inmates with a military background have some experience following orders and do “not chaff at rules and regulations like someone who has not had exposure to that.”

Hansen said it is unlikely that prison officials would go after Manning just for having reading material and that there has to be more behind the charges than either the military or her supporters are saying.

Most discipline in the military is progressive and meted in a measured way, with the solitary confinement reserved as kind of “the nuclear option.”

Michael Navarre, an adviser to the National Institute of Military Justice and former Navy judge advocate, said Fort Leavenworth is well run, well organized and known to keep “a good rein on inmates.”

“My impression has always been that the military  has fewer prison-violence and serious-offense issues than other systems do,” Navarre said. “And so I would think there would be a less prevalent use of solitary confinement.”

Solitary confinement is common in civilian prisons, jails and detention centers across the United States, where there are an estimated 80,000 people in solitary confinement on any given day, said Alexis Agathocleous, deputy legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Mid-morning on Aug. 18, supporters of Manning delivered petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures urging the military to drop the charges.

Chase Strangio, Manning’s attorney at the ACLU, said, “During the five years she has been incarcerated, Chelsea has had to endure horrific and, at times, plainly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. She now faces the threat of further dehumanization because she allegedly disrespected an officer when requesting an attorney and had in her possession various books and magazines that she used to educate herself and inform her public and political voice. I am heartened to see the outpouring of support for her in the face of these new threats to her safety and security. This support can break down the isolation of her incarceration and sends the message to the government that the public is watching and standing by her as she fights for her freedom and her voice.”

Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, added, “The U.S. government has a terrifying track record of using imprisonment and torture to silence free speech and dissenting voices. They’ve tortured Chelsea Manning before and now they’re threatening to do it again, without any semblance of due process. Perhaps the military thought that now that Chelsea is behind bars she’s been forgotten, but the tens of thousands who signed this petition are proving them wrong. Chelsea Manning is a hero and the whole world is watching the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of whistleblowers, transgender people, and prison inmates in general.”

Nancy Mancias, of the peace group CODEPINK, said, “The recent charges are inappropriate, extreme and ridiculous, Chelsea Manning has done a great service by leaking U.S. war crimes in Iraq. Manning should have a right to legal counsel when requested, and threatening to her isolate from community is inhumane.”

 

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Amnesty International: Prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prison is inhuman

The U.S. government’s practice of holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement in a federal super-maximum security prison amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is in violation of international law, according to Amnesty International, the global human rights group.

Amnesty, in a new report titled “Entombed: Isolation in the U.S. Federal Prison System, documented the severity of conditions that prisoners face in the maximum facility near Florence, Colorado, that is known as ADX Florence.

“You cannot overestimate the devastating impact long periods of solitary confinement can have on the mental and physical well-being of a prisoner. Such harsh treatment is happening as a daily practice in the U.S., and it is in breach of international law,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director.

The report deals with the physical and psychological impact of confining inmates to solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day. The conditions in ADX have led to some prisoners practicing extreme self-harm or committing suicide. Symptoms resulting from being held in isolation for extended periods include anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypertension, extreme paranoia, perceptual distortions and psychosis.

ADX Florence has a capacity for 490 male inmates. Most prisoners there have been convicted of serious offenses in prison such as assault, murder or attempted escape; others have been convicted of terrorism offenses.

Prisoners spend a minimum of 12 months in solitary confinement before becoming eligible for a reduction in the restrictions of their detention. Amnesty said that the reality is many prisoners spend much longer in isolation. One study produced by lawyers found the average length of time an inmate would spend in isolation was 8.2 years.

Most inmates are held in cells with solid walls and a barred, air-lock style chamber in front of a solid metal door, to ensure they have no contact with other prisoners. One small slit of a window allows them a view of the sky or a brick wall.

Furniture in the cells is made of poured concrete and consists of a fixed bunk, desk and a stool, as well as a shower and a toilet. Meals and showers are taken inside the cells and medical consultations, including mental health checks, are often conducted remotely through teleconferencing.

Amnesty’s report details several examples of a prisoner’s mental health deteriorating dramatically whilst in solitary confinement.

In September 2013 a prisoner with a history of mental illness hanged himself in his cell after reportedly spending more than a decade at ADX with only intermittent mental health care. He suffered psychotic symptoms which had allegedly been ignored in the days before his death.

There are now worrying signs that the U.S. government plans to expand its use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Plans for Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, a new supermax prison, include provisions for solitary confinement, replicating the system at ADX.

“This is the ultimate form of warehousing prisoners and the idea that the US government is planning to expand the practice in the face of international concern is truly worrying. The use of such forms of solitary confinement goes beyond legitimate correctional measures and strays into cruel and inhuman treatment,” said Guevara-Rosas.

“The U.S. government must ensure that solitary confinement is only ever used in exceptional circumstances as a last resort and should never be used for prolonged or indefinite periods of time. No prisoner who has a mental illness or who is at risk of mental illness should ever be held in solitary confinement.”

Amnesty International visited the ADX facility in 2001, but since then all visit requests have been denied. Information in the report has been gathered through a range of sources including court documents available through lawsuits and other information provided by attorneys representing ADX inmates, as well as policy directives issued by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The practice of prolonged solitary confinement is not limited to ADX. Amnesty International’s report notes that other federal facilities also confine prisoners in prolonged isolation in Special management units.

In some cases prisoners are held in isolation even before they have stood trial. The Metropolitan Correction Centre in New York, also known as “Little Gitmo,” is used to house pre-trial detainees in solitary confinement for months or even years before they face trial. Detainees have little access to natural light and no provision for outdoor exercise.