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Prison Conditions

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Can a convicted felon vote?

Many people including felons would tell you no. However, in 41 states & Washington DC, the answer is actually YES, with some qualifiers. This means that the commonly held belief that felons are disenfranchised citizens forever is not necessarily true;

In 2 states, Maine and Vermont, a convicted felon can vote even while he/she is in prison.

In Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Washington DC, your right to vote is returned to you the minute you walk out the prison door. (This includes people who are on parole or probation)

In California and Colorado, you may vote while on probation, although not parole.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin felons can vote after completing their entire sentence, including parole and probation. The danger here, is that some states are beginning to include the payment of any fees, restitutions and/or fines in with "completion of sentence".

There are a few states with special restrictions.

  • In Arizona and Maryland, you lose your right to vote forever, after your 2nd felony conviction.
  • In Tennessee, you are disenfranchised for life if your conviction was before 1986.
  • Washington is the same as Tennessee, although the year is 1984.
  • Delaware allows voting rights to be restored for certain felons after 5 years, others are still permanently disenfranchised.

That brings us to the states that actually do bar convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives. the culprits are:

Alabama - Florida - Iowa - Kentucky - Massachusetts - Mississippi - Nevada - Virginia - Wyoming

It's important to spread this news around, encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, and work on the 9 states that disenfranchise felons for life.


Maintaining family contact while incarcerated is a prisoner's best chance to stay out of prison after his/her release. There are different ways inmate visits can happen.

  • The inmate and his/her visitor are separated by a glass window. Some places have phones for them to talk through, others have vents in the glass.
  • Face to Face or Contact - The inmate and his/her visitors are able to sit together, usually at a table. In most places, they are able to hold hands during the visit, and exchange a brief hug at the beginning and end of the visit.
  • Family Visits - also known as "Conjugal Visits", these visits offer the inmate and his/her family a chance to spend time alone together to function as a family. Often thought of as visits for sex, they are much more than that. The family is able to cook and eat a meal together, watch TV, nap, read to the kids, things that families do together.
  • Video Visits - the prisoner sits in his/her cell (or other designated area) and the visitors sit in a "visiting room", each in front of a monitor. The "visit" is transmitted by televideo technology. There are a handful of county jails and one Super-Max prison in the mid-west that use this type of visits. The state of New Mexico used Video Visiting in their state prisons for a couple of years. Happily, New Mexico has a new head for its DOC and one of his first actions was to stop the use of Video Visits.

Visiting rules are different in every state, and so are the types of programs available to inmates and their loved ones.

Visitation is not only important to the inmates and their respective outmates, it is vital to society as well. 600,000 or more inmates are released into the community every year. Family support, and contact with the outside world are crucial to their ability to transition succesfully. Prison advocacy groups need to lead the way by setting up volunteer programs and by lobbying DOC's and legislatures in every state to improve visiting conditions.

"Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful, committed people
can change the world." ~Margaret Mead


As budgets continue to shrink medical care for prisoners continues to be something people question. In a position paper on their web site, the ACLU writes, Prison officials are obligated under the Eighth Amendment to provide prisoners with adequate medical care. This is based on the Supreme Court ruling in Estelle v. Gamble, in 1976. This principle applies regardless of whether the medical care is provided by governmental employees or by private medical staff under contract with the government. The article goes on to say, "Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain' proscribed by the Eighth Amendment."

While the diseases that affect prisoners are unique to this patient population in prevalence and disease severity, many class act lawsuits against state and federal prisons have brought to light the issue of medical neglect within prisons. Human rights activists argue that prisoners, despite having broken the law, deserve the same quality of medical care as law-abiding citizens, as consistent with the premise of the Eighth Amendment. However, many Americans believe that prisoners, by nature of committing crimes, have self-condemned themselves to "serving time" and societal retribution, have lost their rights. Few would argue that prisoners should be medically neglected; however, the general temper of public opinion toward prisoners enables the public to turn their heads and forget those behind bars.

A study, The Health Status of Soon-To-Be-Released Inmates: A Report to Congress, was produced by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and highlights the dismal health status of confined individuals and the threat they pose to outside populations. Growing numbers of incarcerated individuals suffer disproportionately from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, mental illness, substance addiction and many chronic diseases. Corrections departments are overwhelmed by the high cost of providing medical care and face serious challenges to providing treatment to patients. Untreated patients jeopardize the health and safety of prison and jail staff, institution visitors, prisoners and the communities to which they return.

According to the report, inmates released from prison or jail comprised 35% of the US population infected with tuberculosis in 1996 and accounted for 17% of the AIDS infected population. Nearly 330,000 imprisoned individuals tested positive for Hepatitis C in 1997 and approximately 1.4 million Hepatitis C infected individuals left prison or jail in 1996. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state of Michigan alleging that some prisoners infected with Hepatitis C were not notified of their status or educated on how to prevent disease. Last year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that numerous prisoners in New Jersey were released into the community never knowing they had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C. Infected persons can unwittingly spread the disease to loved ones and sexual partners.

The impact on the health of US communities is something legislators and DOC officials need to keep in mind as they continue to trim budgets. As prisons are institutions of security, it is more likely that issues of security will be financially supported before issues of health care. Only few states possess budgetary systems in which funds for security do not compete with funds for health care. Additionally, in some states the state director of medical services is not a physician, but rather an individual with a business background who is adept at cutting costs---and cutting programs that may improve the quality of health care for prisoners. Unfortunately, in the long run, costs that are saved today, for example by inappropriately or not treating patients with the hepatitis C virus, may greatly fall short of the costs of health care that will be paid in the future when the patient may require treatment for end stage liver disease.

Even if there were no budget constraints, prisoners would face numerous barriers to care when seeking health care. Before seeing a health care provider, a prisoner must first fill out a medical request form that is reviewed before that prisoner is granted access to see a physician. In many cases, Medical Technical Assistants or MTA's, who have minimal medical training, decide whether or not a prisoner will see a doctor and if so, whether it will be in an urgent or routine care clinic. The ability of MTA's to remain objective during triage is controversial, given that they are also considered to be members of the custodial staff. Consequently, MTA's may be influenced by security issues, when making crucial health care triage decisions, which may present another barrier to a prisoner accessing care.

Being granted allowance to be seen by the prison doctor is not an assurance that it will happen. First, a prisoner may be required to pay a minimal but for many unaffordable co-pay fee for care. Second, many prisoners wait for prolonged periods of time during a day to see a physician. If the clinic closes before care is received, they may have to postpone medical attention for another day. This issue is complicated by the fact that by going to the clinic, many prisoners miss a day of work. In some prisons, a missed day at work results in another day added to a prison sentence. This policy is a disincentive to patients seeking the attention of health professionals when necessary. As such, prisoners may prolong seeking medical care until a problem is more advanced, more threatening and more difficult to manage.

Prisoners who take medications also face difficulties in accessing care. First, prisoners must wait in line to receive their medications. Aside from the wait, this policy can result in the deterioration of patient confidentiality, for other prisoners present may be able to identify another prisoner's medications. As a result of this potential breech of confidentiality prisoners may choose to not take their medications, to not seek treatment for known HIV infection or to avoid being tested. Medication regimes are further complicated when there are interruptions like a security lock down in the dispensing of medications. These interruptions can contribute to the development of drug resistance or can lead to the exacerbation of a medical condition. Additionally, prisoner patients may not be able to take medications as directed, for example with food or on an empty stomach, due to the prison policy on the dispensing of medications in "med lines".

Many prison health clinics also lack a structured means of practicing preventive care and of offering health education programs and materials. Follow-up with the prison physician, or more commonly an outside consulting physician, may also be unstructured and inconsistent. Some prisoners note that outside physician orders are not followed when the patient returns to the prison.

The general public, which includes health care workers and correctional staff, tend to see prisoners as unlawful, dangerous, manipulative, unpredictable and irreparable. In many cases the sentiment of "lock 'em up and throw away the key" is lauded. As prisoners have "lost their rights" by committing and being convicted of crimes, it is easier for the general public to see prisoners as less than human or to not see prisoners at all. Unfortunately, the ability of the general public to not consider prisoners, results in the prison system being further shielded from the public eye and the compassion for prisoners being lost. Moreover, as the culture of prison circles around punishment, it becomes an institutional conflict to provide "care" to inmates. This pervasive culture can threaten the human rights of prisoners, including their right to receive medical care.

These biases towards prisoners greatly impact the care that prisoners receive while imprisoned. The myths about prisoners are many. One myth, despite the fact that most prisoners have not committed violent crimes, is that all prisoners are dangerous and need constant surveillance and restraints "if necessary". This perception often times results in the development of fear toward prisoners and in response to that fear, the excess use of force when physically managing prisoners, for example, shackling prisoner/patients to their beds when they are hospitalized. Unfortunately these demeaning practices result in the further disempowerment of prisoners, and contribute to the continued belief that all prisoners are dangerous. Furthermore, the bias can go unnoticed by the general public, including physicians, and thereby result in the deference of standard medical examinations to security issues, and hence less than optimum medical care.

Other myths to overcome as they negatively impact prison health care, are that prisoners are drug seekers, non-compliant with medications, not interested in health, malingerers and manipulative. While some prisoners may possess these characteristics, it is vital to remember that these traits are myths and not truths. The general public, including health care professionals, need to remember that prisoners are people. Physicians to become aware of and to evaluate their own biases when caring for all people, imprisoned or not, and to maintain humanity when providing care to prisoner patients.

The mission and policies of prison institutions, are also obstacles in providing quality health care to prisoners. Prisons are places where people who have been convicted of crimes are securely housed, apart from the rest of society. The mission of a prison does not include the provision of quality health care. As such, there is often antagonism within correctional institutions between staff members who help secure prisoners and uphold the prison mission, and staff members who "mother" or "coddle" the prisoners. Unfortunately, the latter group is comprised of those health care providers and staff members who advocate for the health care rights of prisoners and hence work outside of the prison culture.

Prisons as an institution are also not subjected to external review. There are no organizations that assess quality of care or that set and insure standards of care in prisons. There are also no federal or state mandates that require prisons to seek accreditation, for example as hospitals seek JCAHO accreditation. As such, most prison health care systems function independently, are not kept in check and remain isolated from the outside medical community. The ability of prisons to remain isolated from outside review is strengthened by policies that impede the media from reporting the realities of prison life and prison health care. The result is that what happens behind prison walls is silenced, not challenged and not rectified.

The members of Movement Building believe that numerous changes in prison policy, programs and procedures are necessary if health care in prisons is to improve. Many of these changes must occur within the prison institution to strengthen prisoner access to urgent care, preventive care, chronic care, and/or specialty care as needed, and health education materials. Other institutional changes must address the issues of assuring patient confidentiality, facilitating prisoners in taking partnership in their health care decisions and providing continuity of follow-up care, especially when an outside physicians is consulted. Unfortunately, these types of changes may rely on transforming the prison culture. The mission of prisons may need to be redefined, correctional staff members retrained and the health care budget reevaluated.

Other useful links:


According to the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, there were 49,013 prisoners over the age of 55 in our state and federal prisons in 1997. That is more than double the number incarcerated in 1990, yet NCIA research indicated that 44 states and the federal bureau of Prisons have no official definition or classification system based on age.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, the physical lay out of some prisons may be a hardship for elderly prisoners. Long distances between living units and support services, steps, crowding, limited climate control and other architectural barriers may need to be modified to meet the different needs as prisoners age.

In 1991, the NIC found 13 states with special programming for the elderly. Programs included physical plant structure, health, nutrition, recreation, work, pre-release programs, and hospice services as appropriate.

In 1997 14.8% of Oregon's inmates were 45 and older. In January of 2004 that number had risen to 19.4%. The Prison Population forecast put together by the Oregon Department of Corrections does not include any information on the number of elderly prisoners expected in the next 10 years.

Looking at a description of the health services provided to Oregon inmates, there doesn't appear to be any services that address the health issues many women face as they age. Hospice Care is provided, but it is geared toward terminal illnesses, and you only become eligible for it when you have a prognosis of six months or less to live. Reading through the list of nursing protocols, there is no mention of arthritis, alzheimers, osteoporosis, or menopause.

Nationally, 51.9% of elderly inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. NCIA research concludes that they present a very low risk of reoffending after release. In fact, the recidivism rate among the older inmates who have been released is 1.4%. The NCIA concluded, if the 2539 nonviolent offenders 65 or older in 34 states and the federal bureau of prisons were released, the savings to the nation in the first year would be more than $175 million. They added that this process could take place with virtually no threat to public safety.

The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) provides nonpartisan fiscal and policy advice to the California Legislature. The following is an excerpt from their analysis of the California Department of Corrections Budget for 1996-97.

The number of inmates age 60 and over could exceed 47,600, two decades from now. Because older inmates tend to have more significant medical problems, the "graying" of the CDC population could be costly to the state. They believe that the state could achieve significant correctional savings in the long run, while not sacrificing public safety, by identifying and providing the fast-growing population of aging inmates with alternative forms of punishment or parole outside of a traditional prison setting. This approach would free up prison cells for violent, serious, and career criminals still in their prime crime-committing years.

In their view, the public safety risks inherent in the transfer of aging inmates to nontraditional custodial arrangements are lower than the risks posed to public safety of having less prison space available for younger and more dangerous criminals.

They believe several options exist for responding to the impending boom in the population of aging inmates:

  • Conversion of Existing State and County Facilities to Geriatric Prisons. Declining patient populations are likely to result in the closure of some state mental hospitals, state centers for the developmentally disabled, and county medical facilities. For example, the 1996-97 Governor's Budget Summary proposes the closure of Camarillo Developmental Center and State Hospital. Some of these facilities may be capable of being modified to hold aging inmates who do not pose a significant security risk.
  • Broadening of "Compassionate Release" Parole. Existing laws permit the courts to release on parole any prison inmate upon the recommendation of either the CDC or the BPT. In the past, however, the CDC and the BPT have only rarely initiated the so-called "compassionate release" on parole of aging and very sick inmates. In 1995, the Legislature approved a bill intended to broaden the use of compassionate release for inmates deemed to be "permanently and totally physically incapacitated" as well as terminally ill inmates within six months of death. This measure was vetoed by the Governor, who objected that the bill removed the BPT from the compassionate release process for certain inmates convicted of violent crimes.
  • Early Release of Aging Inmates.The state could establish a procedure for the early release of aging inmates deemed to pose a low risk to public safety. The Legislature could limit any such releases and placement on parole to aging inmates who were committed for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and who had spent a certain amount of time (for example, ten years) in prison.
  • Establish a Home Detention Program for Aging Inmates. Instead of paroling aging inmates, the state also has the option of officially maintaining them in CDC custody but assigning them to home detention under electronic monitoring. The program could conceivably include the home of an inmate's family, group homes, or nursing homes dedicated to serving the medical and other needs of this inmate population. The Legislature could target the same limited population that might otherwise be considered for an expanded compassionate release program.
  • Establish Aging Inmates as a Target Population for Realignment Legislation. One option the Legislature might consider is to define aging inmates as a candidate population for transfer to county custody.

The California Board of Parole and Pardons under Governor Grey Davis's tenure seemed to total ignore recommendations like those above. In fact Davis was quoted as saying, "They'll parole in a pine box," when asked about it. Desperation is at a high level for many in California's prisons (and of course prisons across the country). Please read this letter anne Rose Pearce, with After Seventeen Years received from Ilena Currey. She is an inmate at Chowchilla Correctional Facility in California.

Dear Ms. Pierce,

As far as the California governor, Gray Davis is concerned, any lifer is now serving life without possibility of parole due to him vetoing all propositions that can assist or help inmates, especially lifers and geriatrics.

Last week a lifer who was 76 years old died in the shower while living with general population. Another one, 85 years old died in the infirmary and another one died at 74, moved on the whim of a psychiatric inmate...There is no geriatric unit, just general population units. We die of abuse, neglect, and disease. The mentally handicapped, the totally disabled and physically handicapped are all crowded into cells with rowdy, cruel and undisciplined inmates who don't care about anything or anyone but themselves. This is obviously not compatible. In fact, geriatric women are not dangerous, but harmless, especially after serving their time.

Governor Davis has stated that no lifers will parole except in a pine box. If the elderly can not get the care and proper housing they require, at least allow them to die a dignified death, not barned (warehoused) and abused.

Approximately 400 of us would take the black pill if it were made available. Let Governor Davis take that to the taxpayers and allow us to go in peace. The geriatrics could be released to family or support groups to reduce expense and burden in prisons for the tax payers. Why are we being held like political prisoners?

I am a 78 year old Dog Rib Canadian Indian woman, and I request the right to die.


Ilena P. Currey

It is to be hoped that all states (including California under their new governor) will start paying attention to the issues of aging prisons and make adequate plans for their care, including compassionate releases where appropriate.



This article was put together with information from; The National Campaign to Stop Control Unit Prisons;Shadow Figures: A Portrait of Life on Death Row by Suzanne Donovan; Inmate Protest Continues - Terrell Unit by Michelle C. Lyons; The Prison Reform Activist Center; and The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown.

"Super Maximum Security. Sounds safe doesn't it? Certainly no one wants to see more crime victims, or correctional officers and prisoners being hurt or killed, but are Super Max prisons going too far?

The Super Max is the most secure prison in the Nation. A $60 million, state-of-the-art, high-technology fortress of steel, concrete, and barbed wire. It is where the worst of the worst are shipped when society decides they can no longer be tolerated. It is a place where these most violent offenders are strictly controlled; everyone is watched; everyone is monitored.

To call the Super Max cold and unfriendly would be a profound understatement. Visitors to one of the highest-security prison in the Nation first notice the fences--12-foot fences crowned with razor wires. They see the six guard towers, and the rolls of razor wire, and the armed guards who are not only authorized to use their weapons, but are instructed to shoot to kill. To enter the facility itself, the walls of which are reinforced with seven layers of steel and cement, visitors must pass through metal detectors. Their hands are stamped with a secret code in ultraviolet dye--that is to keep inmates from escaping by impersonating visitors.

A control unit prison is in a state of permanent lockdown, a usually-temporary condition used to control and suppress disruptions within a prison by severely restricting prisoners' rights. More than simply fulfilling "security needs," control units employ sophisticated methods of behavior modification which not only controls violence but any form of resistance at all. The creation of control units has not reduced the level of violence within general prison populations. In fact, assaults on prison staff nationwide rose from 175 in 1991 to 906 in 1993."

While the specific conditions in control unit prisons vary, the goal of these units is to disable prisoners through spiritual, psychological, and/or physical breakdown. This goal is accomplished through systematic programs of oppression, including:

  • Years of isolation from both prison and outside communities while being housed in solitary or small group isolation. Prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 22-23 hours a day, in cells that are usually 6 feet by 8 feet. Physical contact is prohibited during visits. Phone calls for prisoners generally cannot exceed ten minutes a month. No congregate dining, exercise, or religious services are permitted. In Florence, prisoners are shuffled through remote-controlled electronic doors to their destination, without ever seeing another human being.
  • Extremely limited access to services such as education, recreation, worship, or vocational training.
  • Physical torture such as forced cell extractions*, strap-downs, hog-tying, beating after restraint, and provocation of violence between prisoners. *"Cell extraction" is the term for the forcible removal of a prisoner from a cell.
  • Mental torture such as sensory deprivation, forced idleness, verbal harassment, mail tampering, disclosure of confidential information, confessions forced under torture, and threats against family visitors.
  • Sexual intimidation and violence, usually against women prisoners by male guards, using strip searches, verbal sexual harassment, sexual touching, and rape as a means of control.
  • Prisons are often built near environmental hazards. Prisoners have gotten cancer and lead poisoning from contaminated water. At least one control unit is in an area with dangerously high levels of uranium radiation. Oregon built its newest prison about 15 miles from the Umatilla Army Depot storage bunkers for chemical weapons including WWII style mustard gas.

A survey by the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that thirty-six states now operate some form of super-maximum security prison or unit within a prison.

The Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in California is built to hold 1,056 prisoners in near-total isolation. Prisoners are confined to their eighty square foot cells with solid steel doors for twenty- two and one half hours a day. They are allowed out only for a ninety minute ``exercise'' period alone in an empty concrete yard the size of three cells with twenty foot high walls and metal screens overhead. Guards open the sliding doors by remote control and use loudspeakers to direct the prisoners in and out. Prisoners moved off the cell-block for any reason are shackled and flanked by two guards wielding truncheons. Except for the sound of a door slamming or a voice on a speaker, the SHU is silent.

A priest hired by the prison delivers communion through a small, knee-high food slot in a solid steel cell door. ``If you ain't wrapped too tight, 23-hour lockdown can be enough to make you explode,'' says the priest. Guards are armed with ``nut- guns,'' wide-bore guns that fire wildly caroming, acorn-sized ``nuts'' at prisoners from close range. ``It's a miniature cannon,'' the priest explains. ``The recommended technique is to fire at the floor so that the acorn ricochets.'' Prisoners hit by the nuts can be maimed. ``One guy lost his eye, and since I arrived here three years ago, an acorn took off a guy's nose and plastered it to his cheek''

Contact with the outside world is severely limited for men at the SHU and MCF in Indiana's Super-Max facilities. Visits take place in a small cubicle with the handcuffed and shackled inmate separated from visitors by plexiglass. They talk via telephone, and can make no physical contact. Daily visits are allowed to MCF prisoners, who also have regular access to telephones. At the SHU visits are allowed only once every 14 days and phone calls twice monthly. All phone calls must be collect, making them very expensive for the recipients. These constraints make it difficult for the men to maintain connections with people on the outside, deepening their isolation.

Terrell Unit is part of a new super-max prison in Texas. The cells on death row are designed for one inmate. They are 6 feet x 10 feet, with a solid steel door. Inmates spend 23-24 hours/day in their cells. When they have recreation, they are alone in the yard. They do not attend work programs, are not allowed TV and only those on top disciplinary status have radios.

The maximum security prisons known as the Ellis and Estelle units are also in Texas. Estelle is the first stop for newly condemned prisoners. The men under death sentence then go to Ellis for processing. Most of them will never leave Ellis again until their scheduled execution, when they take the van ride downtown to the death chamber at "the Walls," the system's oldest prison. The average length of time between conviction and execution in Texas is now more than nine years; it's not uncommon for an inmate to live on the Row for a decade or more.

The majority live out their time in individual cells, 5 feet by 9 feet, equipped with a 6-foot bunk, a steel sink, and a toilet. There's no air conditioning. There is no exercise equipment on the Row. The men clean their own cells. They are issued clean pants and a shirt every three days, and underwear, socks, and a towel every day. Showers, a 10-minute daily ritual, are taken alone.

Those who choose to can work a regular four-hour shift at the garment factory or at a handful of other jobs; some are barbers or Death Row porters, who help serve food to men in lockdown. They are moved to the H wings, where most of them live in double cells, 10 feet by 9 feet, with another man. When a prisoner's execution date arrives, however, he has to leave the work program and move to a higher security Administrative Segregation wing until five days after his stay of execution, if he has received such a stay.

One of the biggest concerns raised about the super-maxes is the length of time which some men are confined in them. IDOC regulations have kept prisoners at MCF for a minimum of two years, and three years at SHU. HRW found at least three prisoners who had been at MCF since it first opened. These lengths of time, in conditions described by some as "sensory deprivation", may be far too long. The American Correctional Association characterizes isolation for "excessively long periods" as "damaging to human beings and counterproductive as a safety measure." Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who has extensively studied solitary confinement, says it "can cause severe psychiatric harm." Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, whose landmark ruling condemned the infamous Pelican Bay prison in California, concluded that prolonged solitary confinement "may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate."

In fact, under the rules, a prisoner convicted of a minor crime could end up in a super-max because of violating a variety of prison rules which endangered or threatened no one! The due process safeguards in the civilian court system are denied to inmates charged with violating the disciplinary code in prison. When the consequences of these hearings are so severe, it is easy to understand why inmates clamor for greater safeguards.

Most of the men confined in these facilities will eventually be released. Their experiences while imprisoned not only provide them with few, if any, tools to help them function effectively in society, but for many has embittered them in frightening ways. The psychological scars they carry greatly increase the possibility that they will carry out future acts of violence. "People will be twice or three times as bad when they are released from these facilities," says State Representative Charlie Brown of Gary, one of the few critics of the super-maxes in the state legislature.

There is no transition for inmates whose sentences expire at the MCF or SHU. They are given no opportunity to interact with other inmates or live in a less restrictive environment. Men who have been incarcerated for long periods of time in ordinary prisons have a difficult adjustment on their hands. Releasing men directly from such isolation is asking them to accomplish a nearly impossible task.

Carp was told that "each year 80 inmates are released right from super-max onto the streets." While HRW knows of no studies of what happens with such men, there is strong anecdotal evidence that the results are deadly.

Our Constitution is supposed to provide safeguards against "cruel and unusual punishment". Is there any other way to characterize building design and the treatment given to prisoners in a Super-Max facility?

Is this the best system we can devise to deal with our prison inmates? We should be able come up with a model that will keep us safe, and still treat prisoners humanely. RELATED ARTICLE: Putting Prisoners in Isolation Units Causes More Problems Than It Attempts to Correct
By Christine Lehmann

"The conditions in maximum-security housing units (SHUs) are so inhumane that prisoners often become psychotic. Locked up often for months in brightly-lit cells no larger than 10 feet by 8 feet for nearly 24 hours a day, prisoners are allowed minimal contact with guards and other prisoners and have to eat alone in their cells, according to forensic psychiatrist Terry Kupers, M.D., of Oakland, Calif.

Extreme isolation and sensory deprivation create what Kupers calls SHU syndrome. The symptoms include an inability to concentrate, heightened anxiety, intermittent disorientation and confusion, a sense of unreality, and a tendency to strike out at the nearest person when the breaking point is reached, Kupers told Psychiatric News. Kupers has served as a psychiatric expert in more than a dozen class-action lawsuits filed by prisoners protesting the deplorable conditions including inadequate mental health care.

The term SHU syndrome was coined by Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian, M.D., who studied the effects on prisoners of living in a SHU at a state prison in Massachusetts, said Kupers.

Mentally ill prisoners are disproportionately sent to the SHU because they have trouble coping with prison conditions and thus act out and break the rules. Their psychiatric condition and lack of mental health treatment also makes them more vulnerable to mistreatment and rape by other prisoners, said Kupers, who served as a consultant to the Human Rights Watch team investigating super-maximum security units in state prisons in Indiana."

Click here to read the rest of this article in Psychiatric News.

For more information about Segregation Units, visit these links:

  • Control Unit Prisons (SHU) Control units are supermax prisons that have been designed by government and prison authorities to control the thinking of prisoners, to determine what the prisoners will think about, through carefully contrived sensory deprivation tactics and by focusing the attention of prisoners on immediate concerns. These strategies disable prisoners through psychological, physical, and spiritual breakdown in order to compel mindless compliance by humiliation, intimidation, and demoralization.
  • MACC has a wealth of information about the state of Criminal Justice in our country, including an article on Super Max prisons.


Use of the death penalty has been a hotly contested issue around the globe for many years. Nation after nation have abolished its use today. Most of the nations still using Capital Punishment have laws in place to prevent the execution of offenders who are mentally retarded (some nations include the mentally ill in this ban) and those who were under the age of 18 when they committed their capital crimes.

The United States doesn't have a national policy on these issues, and laws vary from state to state. 12 states have laws abolishing the Death Penalty completely. In June of 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that it was "cruel and unusual punishment" to execute an offender who was mentally retarded. States still vary on the mental illness issue.

The death penalty for juvenile offenders has become a uniquely American practice, in that it appears to have been abandoned by nations everywhere else in large part due to the express provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and of several other international treaties and agreements. Since 1990, juvenile offenders are known to have been executed in only seven countries: China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Of the 38 states using Capital Punishment, 19 have laws allowing them to execute offenders who were under 18 years of age when they committed their offense. Recently, in 2004, the Supreme Court has accepted a case that will cause them to review their stand on the execution of juveniles. In addition to the case they're hearing, 4 young men who were scheduled to be executed in the next few months have been granted stays until after the Justices have made their decision.

There are lots of sites about the death penalty on the Internet. The majority of them take a stand against it. To visit some of best information centers, use the links below.

  • Oregon Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty - Tells how to join, list volunteer opportunities, gives a history of the Death Penalty in Oregon, and more.
  • The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty - has basic information about the death penalty as well as campaigns and actions you can participate in if you are opposed to capital punishment.
  • The Death Penalty Information Center- provides articles, graphs and tables with extensive info on the Death Penalty issues around Clemency, Costs, Deterrence, Federal Death Penalty, Foreign Nationals, Innocence, International, Juveniles, Life Without Parole, Mental Illness, Mental Retardation, Race, Representation, U.S. Military, Victims, Women, and more.
  • The American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center has several articles about the Death Penalty, including the following; Overview of the Juvenile Death Penalty Today, Evolving Standards of Decency, Adolescent Brain Development and Legal Culpability, FactSheet: The Juvenile Death Penalty, and Fact Sheet: Edward Capetillo, Whose scheduled execution in Texas for March 30, 2004 has been stayed.
  • Amnesty International USA is also solidly against the execution of juveniles. Visit their site to read; The Exclusion of Child Offenders from the Death Penalty Under General International Law" ,Indecent and Illegal: the Death Penalty Against Child Offenders" and more.
  • LOST SOULS - is a web site about The Death Penalty and the Mentally Ill/Mentally Retarded Offender. Of the 38 states using the death penalty, only 12 of them have banned the execution of people who are mentally ill/mentally retarded. This site features the stories of some of the people on death row who are mentally retarded and invites you to participate in the campaign to stop their executions.
  • MORATORIUM 2000 - An international campaign to call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. There is a Moratorium 2000 campaign directed specifically at the ...UNITED STATES. Sister Helen Prejean is leading this campaign. She would like 1 million signatures from US citizens to present to the UN along with the international signatures.
  • Our Row Of Friends In Texas - The site has combined with other Texas death row sites to provide information about those incarcerated at the Polunsky Unit (formerly Terrell Unit) in Livingston, Texas . There are pages with prisoner's writings, their individual cases, and campaigns that are ongoing... because, Human Rights are International.