SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

March 21, 2013

Oh those Prisons

By Published: March 11, 2013

Lawsuit says mentally ill prisoners in Pa. face ‘Dickensian nightmare’

    philadelphia prison

                                                                                                                                                                                            Rikard Larma/Metro.

Advocacy nonprofit the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday claiming the state Department of Correction’s treatment of mentally ill inmates is unconstitutional and ultimately results in “a Dickensian nightmare” in which prisoners’ symptoms are exacerbated, then punished with still more jail time.

At the center of the suit is the state DOC’s alleged use of Restricted Housing Units to segregate mentally ill prisoners from the general population for long periods of time.     The complaint claims mentally ill inmates are kept in “extremely small” RHU cells for up to 24 hours a day.

The isolation bars prisoners from attending religious services or participating in educational or rehabilitative programs, which are not only therapeutic, but necessary in order for the inmate to be eligible for parole.

The suit claims that prisoners with mental illnesses in RHUs “on average, serve much longer sentences than other prisoners.”   “This is a vile and inhumane way to treat people with mental illness,” attorney for the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania Robert Meek said in a statement.

“As one judge put it, solitary confinement for a person with mental illness is like an airless room for an asthmatic. Pennsylvania should give these prisoners beds in units designed to help people with mental illness, not devastate them.”

The suit claims the isolation can gravely exacerbate symptoms of prisoners’ mental illness, including “refusing to leave their cells, declining medical treatment, sleeplessness, hallucinations, paranoia, covering themselves with feces, head banging, injuring themselves and prison staff and suicide.”

Those symptoms are often regarded by prison officials as rule infractions and punished with more RHU time.

“The result is a Dickensian nightmare in which many prisoners, because of their mental illness, are trapped in an endless cycle of isolation and punishment, further deterioration of their mental illness, deprivation of adequate mental health treatment and inability to qualify for parole,” the complaint reads.    The suit is seeking an immediate injunction compelling the state Department of Corrections to provide prisoners with “constitutionally adequate mental health care.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Conditions of confinement

The suit describes RHUs as tiny, sparsely furnished concrete cells “filled with the smell of feces” whose steel doors have only a slot for food to be passed through.

The lights are often turned on around the clock, and prisoners are allowed to leave only one hour a day each weekday to exercise, often in a small, outdoor cage.

The only mental health treatment many isolated inmates receive are “drive by” visits from staffers who speak to them through the food slot, stripping away all medical privacy.

Isolated prisoners must eat every meal inside the cells, can rarely receive visitors and have highly restricted access to phones, reading materials and radios.

By the numbers

>> 800 inmates with serious mental illnesses were confined to RHUs in Pennsylvania prisons as of Dec. 10, 2012.

>> As of December 2012, the state DOC had only 141 beds available for those mentally ill prisoners.

>> 60 of those beds were inexplicably empty as of three months ago, even with the space shortage.

>> 22% of Pennsylvania prisoners have serious mental illnesses, overall, but they account for a disproportionate 33% of the population in state RHUs.

>> The cells in which RHU prisoners are locked are as small as 80 square feet.

>> RHU prisoners are permitted only 3 showers each week.

>> RHU prisoners are allowed out of their cells just one hour each weekday to exercise, often in small outdoor cages.

Profile of a prisoner

The suit offers several examples of mentally ill prisoners who have allegedly suffered due to state DOC policies. Below is the story of one inmate, referred to in the suit as Prisoner #1:

>> Prisoner #1 was admitted to the DOC in 2004 with a severe delusional disorder, but denied he had mental illness and refused medication.

>> He received disabilities services through a Special Needs Unit, but was frequently moved to solitary confinement for conduct symptomatic of his disorder – like threatening staffers he believed were badmouthing his family – that was instead treated as a disciplinary problem.

>> No health staff assisted Prisoner #1 in asserting his behavior resulted from his mental illness and his disabilities were not taken into account when punishment was handed down for his alleged infractions.

>> Prisoner #1 was on at least two occasions placed in short-term Psychiatric Observation Cells after expressing suicidal intentions.

>> Due to his adjustment difficulties, Prisoner #1 was in May 2010 transferred to a Special Needs Assessment Unit at Waymart State Correctional Institute, where his delusional beliefs were noted.

>> Prisoner #1 was in March 2011 transferred to SCI-Cresson. Despite the record of his delusions, he was again disciplined for behavior related to his mental illness by being placed in solitary confinement. He continued to express suicidal thoughts.

>> Prisoner #1 hanged himself in the prison’s RHU two months later.



4 Prisons could be in line for closing

Nelsonville facility for older inmates might be spared

By Alan Johnson THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH 12-12-12

Ohio might have to close four prisons under budget-cut scenarios being considered by Gov. John Kasich’s administration.

A fifth prison that seemed almost certain to close, the Hocking Correctional Facility in Nelsonville — a small prison that houses older inmates — will get a reprieve, it now appears.  Prisons chief Gary C. Mohr said the situation has changed since he sent a preliminary budget proposal this fall to the Office of Management and Budget.

But if the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction faces a 10 percent budget cut, more drastic steps will have to be taken, including the possible closing of four prisons, Mohr said in his earlier letter. While specific prisons were not named, the list would include three large facilities and one “special-population prison.”

The result, Mohr predicted, would be an immediate worsening of overcrowding to 154.1 percent of prison capacity statewide, from the current 128 percent.  Further, a reduction in the number of corrections officers would push the inmate-to-officer ratio, now 7.2-to-1, to 8.6-to-1, resulting in “unsafe conditions for staff, inmates and the general public,” Mohr wrote.   Even if his agency ends up with a no-cut, continuation budget, prisons will end up with $45 million less overall than this year, simply because of inflation.

The Kasich administration is reviewing budget submissions from all state agencies as it prepares a budget blueprint for the 2014-15 biennium. The proposal will be unveiled Feb. 5 and must be approved by the legislature by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. The submissions by individual agencies are not locked in but are starting points, state Budget Director Tim Keen indicated.

After initially saying the Hocking prison would close under either scenario, Mohr sent a letter to the staff yesterday, saying he had changed his mind about the need to close it. He said the prison population, which was expected to go down 10 percent, is now projected to drop by only 4 percent.  As a result, “The agency’s need for prison beds is higher than expected,” Mohr said, resulting in his ruling out shuttering the Hocking facility.   The 10-percent budget-cut outlook would also mean fewer inmates could be diverted to community corrections facilities.

Kasich declined to comment yesterday on the possibility of closing prisons, saying, “I don’t have all the details on that.”

Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing prison employees, said he hopes that the state won’t have to close any prisons.   “We’ve been working diligently with (the state) for quite some time to keep costs down and increase efficiencies,” Mabe said. “As long as we can continue to work together, a lot of things are possible.”

(My comment:  

I know how morbid this all is, and  am sorry to be hitting anyone in the face with this stuff.  But I keep reading all these pitiful stories of lack of concern for people once they aren’t in the mainstream of life with us anymore.      I don’t know what the answer is, but we can’t turn our backs on these people and become deaf, dumb and blind to basic needs that all humans share.  Or should.    I keep amassing these stories thinking to post them – – and then I don’t;   wind up tossing them out, because most of it is so gross.  

Two of the stories recently had to do with the ridiculous rates  that prisoners are being charged when they can get an opportunity to make a call out to home or their attorney etc.,. When it is a toll call and it almost always is – they are being gouged big time and often have to reverse the charges.  The phone companies in cahoots with the prisons share in the extra fees being charged.  It is disgraceful.   I know it sounds like a ‘mad-woman’ doing her usual rant, but I swear, I saw it in the Dispatch only a month or two back.   

Then more recently, I read that Kasich etal what with all their budget slashing  still going on even though, apparently, our state is doing so well with our fantastic unemployment rates Kasich is so proud of, . .   .    .   is still struggling to make ends meet.  Now he wants to cut the prisons cost factors by farming out the feeding of the prisoners to catering services.  One wonders how this can be justified or in any way  able to be cost saving.   Is the plan to feed prisoners like we “slop the pigs”?  Or maybe all Corn and Soy – you know that genetically modified stuff they say is so nutritious and cheap?. . .we are feeding to cattle and its making them sick.  But hey Monsanto’s science says its nutritious and look how cheap it is.  We can feed the world – why not start here in the prisons?   

I just hope everyone remembers that the purpose of eating is to gain nourishment, not being poisoned.  All have a right to decent food.  I thought prison inmates did the cooking and so on.  With government contracts on purchasing power, one would think that feeding the population would not be a financial burden beyond reason.  How could catering or bringing the food in be cost saving?  Is someone making up his own facts again?  Or trying to pay off one of his contributors? 

Oh Crap, when do we vote again?  Want to get rid of them all so badly – – all except our A.G. DeWine, . .  that man is a gem and a keeper.  has it all. . grit and integrity!   Jan)


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