Thursday, September 14, 2017

Terry Allen Kupers's "Solitary"

Terry Allen Kupers is an award-winning psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology. As one of the nation’s foremost experts on the mental health effects of solitary confinement, he has testified in over two dozen class action lawsuits about jail and prison conditions, the quality of mental health care “inside” and the effects of sexual abuse behind bars. He is a frequent consultant to the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Human Rights Watch and the author of Prison Madness.

Kupers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It is the story of Willie Russell, an inhabitant of Mississippi’s Death Row when it was inside Unit 32, a supermaximum security unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and a plaintiff in a historic class action lawsuit where I had the privilege to serve as a psychiatric expert witness:
The temperature rises rapidly, and life in the cell becomes unbearable. In the summer heat at Parchman, this one aspect of the punish­ment cells would make them entirely unacceptable by any standard of human decency or of health and mental health minimum standards. But in addition to this cruel and entirely excessive and punitive measure that clearly serves no legitimate penological objective, Mr. Russell reports that his cell is always filthy, the rain pours in through the walls onto his bed, the toilet floods the cell with backflow from other prisoners’ toilets, there are bugs everywhere, the cell is filled with mosquitoes at night, he cannot sleep at night because the lights are on 24 hours per day, he is not permitted to have a fan, he is not permitted television or radio and there are no activities, and he is even more isolated than other prisoners on Death Row because the Lexsan shield over his door makes it impossible for him to talk to anyone. For two years, he was permitted no mattress, no pillow and no sheets, and had only a blanket and the concrete for a bed. This kind of punitive deprivation and degradation is barbaric, and shocking to human sensibilities. It is the kind of cruel and unusual punishment that is well known to cause intense anxiety and rage, psychiatric breakdown, and in a large proportion of cases, suicide.

…. But clearly the treatment of Mr. Russell constituted torture. Those who have spent a long time in a solitary confinement unit, much like those who have been tortured during war, suffer lasting damage and never make a complete recovery. In the big picture, the decimation of life skills, destroying a pris­oner’s ability to cope in the free world, is the worst thing solitary confine­ment does. In that process are all the elements of torture even without hoods, waterboarding, or electric wires.
Enough said about the horror of supermax solitary confinement. In the book I proceed with more stories plus a discussion of the alternative to solitary: rehabilitation, quality mental health treatment and humane conditions in our prisons.
Learn more about Solitary at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue