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Cell captivity blames many prisoners for long-term health problems

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Pamela Winn, like her nine-month-old granddaughter, may not even know how to connect with people, even loved ones. With her arms crossed, she said with tears, “I’m sitting quietly, but I don’t know what to say. What should I do?” “I don’t have my social skills anymore.”

On such a day, Win, who lives south of Atlanta, suffers from the memory of a 6 x 9-foot cell that had been in the cell for eight months more than a decade ago. She said she now feels “safest when I’m alone”.

Craig Haney, a professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said this was a common paradox of cell confinement.Instead of coveting someone else’s company after being freed from Social isolation, Many ex-prisoners want the exact opposite.

“Loneliness forces prisoners to live in an empty world,” he said. “And they adapt to it.”

Studies show that cell confinement (isolating prisoners for weeks, months, years, and sometimes decades) has devastating effects on their physical and mental health. When released to the general prison people or the outside world, they can face a series of problems such as heart damage and depression. They are often sensitive to light, sound, smell, or touch. Like Win, they may have a hard time reading social cues. People “become a source of anxiety, not support,” Haney said.

And the coronavirus pandemic may have exacerbated the situation.

Many advocates believe the numbers are underestimated, but prior to the pandemic, the estimated number of people in prison cells in the United States ranged from 50,000 to 80,000 on certain days. .. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that medical isolation, that is, separating people with infectious diseases from others, should not rely on cell confinement. However, at the height of the pandemic last year, up to 300,000 imprisoned individuals were lonely, according to estimates by the criminal justice-focused nonprofits Solitary Watch and The Marshall Project.

“Prisons and prisons, like many organizations, acted with fear,” said Tammy Greg, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “They thought that the only way to prevent people from infecting each other was to simply make them lonely.”

Cell confinement can serve many goals, from punishment to protection. And it’s called a lot — protective management, restricted or safe housing, administrative or disciplinary quarantine, or just a “hole.”

“The conditions are essentially the same. It’s an extreme deprivation of meaningful social contact,” Haney said.

Under the so-called Mandela Regulations, named after the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, the United Nations associates more than 15 days of cell detention with a form of torture. More than half of all US states have introduced or passed certain laws that limit or regulate the use of cell confinement, for example limiting juvenile practices. However, it is still widely used in American prisons and prisons.

Prisoners in cell usually live in small cells for up to 23 hours a day. There is almost no sensory irritation like sunlight. Access to reading materials, educational programs, and personal property is restricted or nonexistent. Prisoners can spend an hour in a recreation yard, a similarly isolated area, usually surrounded by or surrounded by concrete walls, with safe high windows that open for fresh air. increase.

Analysis by researchers at the University of Colorado and Human Rights Watch suggests that more than half of all prison suicides occur in cells. According to a survey conducted by the New York City Department of Health, the rate of self-harm in prisons is 10 times that of the average prison population.

Isolation can be particularly unstable for people with existing mental health conditions, often exacerbating the underlying problem that causes people to end up behind the bar in the first place. “It’s a downward spiral,” Haney said.

A Florida State University study published earlier this year found that prisoners with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia, are up to 170% more likely to be left alone for extended periods of time. I did. In many prisons, experts are worried that mental health treatments do not exist, making things worse.

But even among people without history mental health If there is a problem, it may not be possible to predict who is vulnerable to the harmful effects of cell confinement, including suicide.

A trained and registered nurse, Pamela Winn was imprisoned in 2008 and subsequently imprisoned in federal prison for six and a half years for medical fraud. When a 53-year-old African-American woman with a red curl sits at a ranch house, her mind goes back to what she said was the darkest time of her life.

She said she was a healthy woman when she entered a federal camp south of Atlanta. She was also 6 weeks pregnant. One day, I fell while trying to step into the van while being restrained. Three months later, she had a miscarriage and was placed in a cell because she was told to be a medical observation.

A few months later, she was transferred to a city prison, where she was again lonely. This time it is for protection. For a total of eight months, she lived in two facilities in a small cell with an iron bed, a thin foam mattress, and a metal sink with a toilet.

“There are no windows, no mirrors, no clocks, no concept of time,” she said. She was allowed to leave the cell for an hour a day. With the staff, she could take a shower three times a week.

In the beginning, she recreated the traumatic memory of the night she lost her baby. Eventually, she joined when the other prisoners shouted in their cell.

“I acted. I threw things at the wall. I was angry,” she said. Before she went to bed, she prayed that God would take her. “But I kept waking up.”

In Haney’s experience, prisoners who develop strategies to withstand the intolerable loops of laziness are more likely to survive. Some individuals, “if not,” force them to maintain their routines in order to act as if their lives were consistent.

Win said she developed the strategy: she will start the day by praying. She imagined what her two teenage sons were doing. She was doing sit-ups and mental exercises to remember the street names. After loneliness, she served most of her sentence in a federal prison in Florida and was released in 2013.

She said she was hurt for the rest of her life in her cell. To date, she has high blood pressure. Paranoia is always a companion. Her house is surrounded by a sturdy wooden fence with a security gate and has two Rottweilers. The small space makes her uneasy, and she can’t tolerate strangers getting too close like a line in a coffee shop.

While she struggles to connect with her granddaughter, Win keeps a diary and hopes she will one day understand when her granddaughter is old enough.

“She can read it and learn everything in my heart and mind … if I’m still here, if I’m not here, wherever I am.”

Both Haney and Greg said prisons and prisons had alternatives to long-term extreme quarantine. Mental ill prisoners engaged in disciplinary action should be placed in treatment-oriented units, Haney said.

For those who act violently, cell confinement should only be a short-term solution aimed at rapidly escalating the explosion, Greg said. Then those individuals need to go to a unit that provides programming to address the root cause of their behavior. This may mean isolation from the general prison population, but the time for complete isolation will be shorter.

A similar model can be applied to lone prisoners for their own safety, such as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. Haney said it could be placed in smaller units with access to education and training with individuals who have undergone a thorough risk assessment.

Prisoner advocates hope that cell confinement in the United States will eventually become a concept of the past. In April, New York became the first state to codify the United Nations Mandela rules banning prison cells for the 15th consecutive day when the Standard Minimum Rules for the Cell was enacted. The law will come into effect in April next year.

After Win was released from prison, she founded Restore HER. This is a non-profit organization advocating ending mass imprisonment of colored women, especially pregnant people. She also helped enact legislation banning pregnant women’s huts in Georgia and North Carolina.

“What I’m doing now gives me some reimbursement,” she said.


Call for the end of cell confinement


© 2021 Kaiser Health News.
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Quote: Cell detention accuses many prisoners of long-term health problems (October 8, 2021).

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Cell captivity blames many prisoners for long-term health problems

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