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TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: sp001611.txt

What is a Supermax prison?




                  I.  What is a Supermax prison?

     "Supermax" is short for "super-maximum security."  It is a
place designed to house violent prisoners or prisoners who might
threaten the security of the guards or other prisoners.  Some
prisons that are not designed as supermax prisons have "control
units" in which conditions are similar.  The theory is that
solitary confinement and sensory deprivation will bring about
"behavior modification."

     In general.  Supermax prisoners are locked into small cells
for approximately 23 hours a day.  They have almost no contact
with other human beings.  
     There are no group activities:  no work, no educational
opportunities, no eating together, no sports, no getting together
with other people for religious services, and no attempts at
rehabilitation.  
     There are no contact visits:  prisoners sit behind a
plexiglass window.  Phone calls and visitation privileges are
strictly limited.  Books and magazines may be denied and pens
restricted.  TV and radios may be prohibited or, if allowed, are
controlled by guards.  
     Prisoners have little or no personal privacy.  Guards
monitor the inmates' movements by video cameras.  Communication
between prisoners and control booth officers is mostly through
speakers and microphones.  An officer at a control center may be
able to monitor cells and corridors and control all doors
electronically.
     Typically, the cells have no windows.  Lights are controlled
by guards who may leave them on night and day.  For exercise
there is usually only a room with high concrete walls and a chin-up bar.  Showers may be limited to three per week for not more
than ten minutes.  
     "Prisoners are confined to a concrete world in which they
never see a blade of grass, earth, trees or any part of the
natural world."
     There are complaints that inmates who misbehave while in 
supermax or control units are put into "strip cells" (sometimes
at temperatures near 50 degrees with only boxer shorts to wear
and no bedding), or are chained spread-eagle and naked to
concrete beds.  Other complaints include denial of medical care,
interference with mail, arbitrary beatings, "hog-tying"
(intertwining handcuffs and ankle-cuffs), "cock fights" (double
celling inmates who are likely to attack each other), and injury
to inmates during "cell extractions."
     John Perotti, writing after having spent 10 out of 12 years
in control units, says:  "Every aspect of life in the Control
Unit is meant to debase and degrade a prisoner's very soul the
purpose being that when released to general population where
conditions are somewhat improved, the prisoner causes no problems
. . . for fear of being sent back to the Control Unit."

     Plans for Youngstown supermax.  Announcing the
groundbreaking of Ohio's new $65 million 500-bed supermax prison
to be built in Youngstown, the state's prison chief, Reginald A.
Wilkinson, is reported to have said this prison will be where
"the worst of the worst of the worst" will be confined in near
isolation.  
          "Prisoners will spend 23 hours most days in 8-by-10-foot cells where the televisions will be tuned primarily to
     institutional programs or religious services. . . . There
     will be no group prisoner movement.
          "Inmates will have no outside recreation.  Inside
     recreation will consist of a visit to a larger nearby cell,
     equipped only with a chin-up bar and a shower.  One at a
     time, they will spend one hour a day there."
     
     The "prototype", Colorado State Penitentiary.  The
"prototype" or model for the Youngstown supermax is the Colorado
State Penitentiary (CSP).  Each cell has a lidless, stainless-steel toilet, a bed, a stool bolted to the floor, built-in
shelves, and a TV with no controls.  The indoor recreation room
has a slit in the wall to let in fresh air.  
     One difference between the Colorado State Penitentiary and
the Youngstown supermax is that the housing units system in
Colorado is fully air conditioned and the proposed Ohio facility
is not.
     At the Colorado State Penitentiary, inmates enter at Level I
and are expected to proceed through Level II to Level III.  Level
I inmates have no privileges.  Prisoners at Level II have
television but programs are determined by the prison's own
station.  Prisoners at Levels I and II must wear handcuffs,
belly chains and leg shackles, and must be escorted by two guards
whenever they leave their cells.  At Level III, prisoners have
more personal freedoms and more spending money.  Level III
prisoners are "allowed to walk the fifty feet to the shower or
exercise room or telephone without escort.  Prisoners at the
different levels are mixed together in each unit, so that the
privileges of those in Level III are visible to all."

    II.  Who gets put into supermax prisons and control units?

     Who are "the worst of the worst" prisoners?  Supermax
prisons are justified by prison officials as necessary to control
violent prisoners and other troublemakers.  
     Different terms are used to define criteria for assignment
to control units:  administrative control or administrative
segregation; disciplinary control; local control (defined as an
inmate having demonstrated chronic inability to adjust to the
general population or presence will disrupt the orderly operation
of the prison); protective control; security control; etc.
     In the Federal Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, officials
state, less than 9 percent of the inmates came directly into the
control unit because they were involved in organized crime,
terrorist activities, drug cartels or similar crimes, and are
believed to have "special security needs."  The remaining 91
percent were determined to have been highly assaultive or escape-prone:  "25 percent were involved in prison murders or attempted
murders, 48 percent in escape or attempted escape and more than
70 percent have a history of assaultive behavior while in prison. 
[Citation omitted.]  Many inmates fall into several of these
categories."
     Supermax inmates include the mentally ill, people who file
lawsuits against the prison system, and prisoners suspected of
belonging to gangs.  They are disproportionately black or Latino,
even in comparison with the general prison population.           A pervasive criticism of supermax or control units is
that placement in them is arbitrary, not based on pre-established
standards and procedures.  John Perotti writes:  "Placement is
made on the vague concept that one's mere presence constitutes a
threat to the security of the operation of a prison, or suspected
gang ties or affiliations.  Once the label or stigma is attached
by prisoncrats, it's very hard to be removed.  It is not unusual
for prisoners in this day or age to spend years and even decades
in a control unit."
     There is evidence that the inmates most likely to be placed
in such units are there for non-violent or otherwise petty verbal
responses to guards.  According to a survey of prisoners, prison
guards and prisoners' visitors and families in 41 states, the
leading behaviors which resulted in severe disciplinary actions
were prisoners being verbally hostile to guards and prisoners
refusing to follow orders.  
     The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Human Rights
Watch and the International Human Rights Law Group, report that
non-violent prisoners of color are being wrongly identified as
gang members and are being held indefinitely in supermax
housing.  Here are some excerpts from a summary submitted to
Secretary of State Warren Christopher:
          "Prison authorities have near-complete discretion to
     assign any inmate to super-maximum security housing on the
     flimsiest of suspicions, with no due-process for the inmates
     assigned and no independent oversight or judicial review. 
     Many prisoners report to human rights organizations that
     they were remanded to maxi-maxi housing units on trumped-up
     charges of gang affiliation in retaliation for filing
     complaints, providing jailhouse lawyer services, or simply
     to coerce information from them about other prisoners.
          ". . . [P]risoners are accused of gang membership for
     merely being in the presence of other prisoners who are
     alleged to be gang members.
          ". . . [In New Jersey], prisoners' use of Afrocentric
     symbols, Swahili words, and red and green maps of Africa are
     all considered 'paramilitary' by prison officials.  A
     lawsuit filed in 1992 accuses New Jersey State Prison of
     violating the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal
     protection because of its regular practice of placing
     African Americans who hold Afrocentric views in isolated
     housing called the Management Control Unit (herein MCU). 
     The New Jersey State Prison MCU holds seventy five inmates
     who are considered a 'threat to institutional security.' 
     The regulations list no single act which might constitute
     evidence of such a threat.  Indeed, there is a separate unit
     within the prison altogether for those who have actually
     committed disciplinary offenses.  MCU is reserved for those
     who might pose a threat.  And those identified for this
     amorphous category are overwhelmingly (95 percent) African-American in a prison where the overall African American
     population is 64 percent.  None have been accused of taking
     part in any violent act nor of breaking a prison rule."

     The following statement is from one of the fourteen women in
Colorado's control unit prison (CSP):  
     "I don't belong locked up in this room by myself. . . . I
     didn't assault anyone.  I was being carried to an isolation
     cell for yelling and I had a seizure and kicked an officer
     in the groin.  He had hold of my feet.  I came out of the
     seizure cuffed to a bed.  Even the social worker testified
     for me at my classification hearing saying I did not need
     CSP.  This place not only takes your freedom it also takes
     your very being.  Your entire personality is forced to
     change to the conditions such as loneliness, frustration,
     and depression.  You know you have so much potential and you
     want to rehabilitate but you are not allowed."
     
              III.  What are the effects on inmates?

     Anecdotes.  Here is what some inmates have to say about the
effects of being confined under supermax conditions at the
Colorado State Penitentiary.

     ". . . People come in here with a few problems and will
     leave sociopaths.  Isolation causes people to become bitter,
     angry and disassociated from reality.  They become worse
     people."

     "Check out any caged animal and you will see what happens in
     CSP.  I've seen people just crack and either scream for
     hours on end or cry, people become very depressed, anti-social and want revenge on society for building it.  In
     short CSP creates monsters and they are trying to keep
     people here for five to ten years."  

     "I have noticed a sense of total hopelessness.  I don't
     think I will ever leave.  Plus my anger has gone to the
     point of a silent rage.  It's like they want to build a
     killer.  I don't know.  It's hard to explain[.]  I am
     beginning to really hate people."

     "I also feel that I have some mental problems and so do
     they, but the medication really does nothing but slow me
     down physically and it only prolongs a problem until I get
     out.  But what then?  I want to make it out there. . . ."

     ". . . They impose a variety of petty little rules and play
     petty little games to try to break a person down mentally. 
     The DOC [Department of Corrections] realizes if they control
     you mentally, it is easier to control you physically.  And
     mental abuse leaves no evidence behind as does physical
     abuse."

     Psychological studies.  Longterm confinement under supermax
conditions is likely to have psychological consequences. 
"Studies of the psychological effects of solitary confinement
have found it can produce symptoms of paranoia, hypersensitivity
to noise, panic attacks, hallucinations and even episodes of
amnesia.  One article by Harvard psychiatrist Stuart Grassian
reported 'the emergence of primitive, aggressive fantasies of
revenge, torture, and mutilation of the prison guards' among
solitary inmates in Massachusetts."  
     People need other human beings as a reality check.  Most
people want to know the reactions of other people to what they
are thinking and feeling.  You can't do that when you are in
total isolation from other people.  Dr. Craig Haney, who is an
expert on the psychological effects of living and working in
maximum security prisons, puts it this way:  
     "[W]hen our reality is not grounded in social context, the
     internal stimuli and beliefs that we generate are impossible
     to test against the reactions of others.  For this reason,
     the first step in any program of extreme social influence--ranging from police interrogation to indoctrination and
     'brainwashing'--is to isolate the intended targets from
     others, and to create a context in which social reality
     testing is controlled by those who would shape their
     thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behavior.  Most people are
     so disoriented by the loss of social context that they
     become highly malleable, unnaturally sensitive, and
     vulnerable to the influence of those who control the
     environment around them.  Indeed, this may be its very
     purpose."
     Dr. Haney describes several different reactions.  In a
supermax, he says, the institution is in total control.  Many
supermax inmates become totally dependent upon the structure and
routines of the institution to control their behavior.  Some
become unable to set limits for themselves; they lose a sense of
how to behave without a tight external structure and enforced
restrictions.  Others lose the ability to initiate behavior or to
organize their lives around any activity and purpose; their minds
wander, they cannot concentrate or focus their attention.  "In
extreme cases, a sense of profound despair and hopelessness is
created."
     Another reaction to social isolation is social withdrawal. 
They may discourage visits from family members or friends and
stop corresponding with the outside world.  "They move from being
starved for social contact to being frightened by it."
     Some prisoners act out, even if the reaction they get from
the guards is hostile.  Dr. Haney suggests, they are "proving to
themselves that they still exist, that they are still alive and
capable of eliciting a human response . . ."
     For some inmates, the supermax environment is so painful
that they create their own reality and "live in a world of
fantasy instead of the world of control, surveillance, and
inhumanity that has been imposed upon them . . . ."
     Other inmates react with intolerable levels of frustration,
which can lead to outright anger and then to rage.  
     Occasionally, supermax inmates are put in double cells with
another inmate.  But this is experienced as intense and
intrusive, not normal social contact, and it may become a source
of conflict and pain.  
     "They are thrust into intimate, constant co-living with
     another person--typically a total stranger--whose entire
     existence is similarly and unavoidably co-mingled with their
     own.  Such pressurized contact can become the occasion for
     explosive violence.  It also fails to provide any semblance
     of social 'reality testing' that is intrinsic to human
     social existence."
     The supermax environment, Dr. Haney concludes, can be
psychologically destructive for anyone who endures it for a
significant period of time.  But those with pre-existing
psychiatric disorders suffer more acutely.  Dr. Haney talked with
prisoners who reported being suicidal or self-mutilating.  A
number of them showed him scars on their arms and necks where
they had attempted to cut themselves.
     Another expert, referring to women in the Canadian federal
prisons, says that "women are not generally a risk to others;
however many do present a risk to themselves.  Research suggests
that a punitive environment exacerbates and may contribute to
women's self-directed violence. . . . Punitive responses, such as
segregation, are inappropriate."

     Court decision.  A federal court in California has
considered the relationship between mental illness and
confinement under supermax conditions.  A summary of the court's
opinion says, the court
     "noted that a prison designed for particularly violent and
     problematic prisoners will inevitably end up with a
     disproportionate number of the mentally ill, since they
     often violate rules and cause management problems. 
     Moreover, for some inmates, the severity of conditions in
     the SHU [Security Housing Unit] exacerbates previously
     existing mental illnesses or results in the development of
     psychiatric symptoms that had not been previously
     observed."
The court found that mental health staff had no input into
housing decisions even when removal was necessary to effective
mental health treatment.
     The court concluded that extreme isolation in the Security
Housing Unit at Pelican Bay was not unconstitutional as applied
to all prisoners.  But if segregation conditions "inflict a
serious mental illness, greatly exacerbate mental illness, or
deprive inmates of their sanity, then defendants have deprived
inmates of a basic necessity of human existence--indeed, they
have crossed into the realm of psychological torture."  

               IV.  What are the effects on guards?

     Anecdotes.  Here are a few glimpses of the guards as seen by
inmates of control units in Colorado and Ohio.

     "The officers have the power to do whatever they choose to
     do to an inmate in here simply because he's who he is and
     holds that position, and the inmate is who he or she is. 
     And nothing is done about it as long as nobody is killed or
     attention is not brought on the institution or the
     administration. . . . These guards have prisoners in a total
     control situation and environment, which nobody on the
     outside knows . . ."

     "The staff here thinks they can do anything they want and
     get away with it!  They talk shit to all the inmates and
     then when you say something back, they take your level,
     write you up to strip your cell...They change the rules
     anytime they want to and there's nothing you can do about
     it. . . . If the staff thinks you're kicking or banging your
     door, they will take away your level.  Even if you weren't
     doing nothing, maybe one of your neighbors were.  They just
     treat us like we are animals, not prisoners.  They love it
     because they get away with everything they want to. . . ."

     "Some guards tell you they are racist."

     "I've seen guys get handcuffed behind their backs and beat
     up by eight or nine police over here for refusing a direct
     order.  Nowhere in my code of penal discipline handbook does
     it say that for refusing a direct order, an inmate shall be
     handcuffed behind their back and beat up by eight or nine
     police officers here.  There are other ways of disciplining
     the inmates of this facility and also I would like to tell
     you how the police change all of their rules to manipulate
     the prisoners to their satisfaction. . . ."

     "To argue a point with them can get you a ticket ranging
     from 'disrespect' to 'inciting a riot' depending on how
     angry they are."

     "There is a lot of fear on the behalf of the inmates from
     reprisals by the staff here if we even mention [Lucasville]. 
     We aren't allowed to talk about what took place there
     [Lucasville] or as one of the staff here put it to me, 'You
     know what will happen to any individuals who start bringing
     up Lucasville don't you?'  This was said to me as a threat
     after I said something about it in passing and was over
     heard by staff.  I know first hand what happens to
     individuals who mention it because of a friend of mine that
     did.  He was blackballed by the CO's [commanding officers]. 
     First and second shift CO's would come in everyday and tear
     up his cell and lockerbox.  He was threatened for taking the
     problem of being harassed to the inspector.  His letters
     started getting 'lost'.  His phone access became denied.  He
     was taken to have his head shaved in the middle of winter
     cause his hair was to 'long'. . . ."

     "They just try to keep us in fear.  It doesn't work.  It
     just makes the majority hate the system even more. . . .
     When you've seen every rule twisted to meet a corrupt
     administration and being beaten, abused and tortured for
     control reasons[,] attitudes get bad."

     The Director of Public Information at Colorado State
Penitentiary told visitors from the Rocky Mountain Peace Center,
"We want them (the prisoners) to hate this place."

     Why do guards act this way?  One explanation is that the
guards are isolated and lack normal human contact with the
prisoners in control units.  Discussing the supermax at Pelican
Bay, Dr. Haney says:
          "I believe that the existence of such brutality can be
     attributed in part to the psychology of oppression that has
     been created in and around this prison.  Correctional staff,
     themselves isolated from more diverse and conflicting points
     of view that they might encounter in more urban or
     cosmopolitan environments, have been encouraged to create
     their own unique worldview at Pelican Bay.  Nothing counters
     the prefabricated ideology into which they step at Pelican
     Bay, a prison that was designated as a place for the 'worst
     of the worst' even before the first prisoners ever arrived. 
     They work daily in an environment whose very structure
     powerfully conveys the message that these prisoners are not
     human beings.  There is no reciprocity to their perverse and
     limited interactions with prisoners--who are always in cages
     or chains, seen through screens or windows or television
     cameras or protective helmets--and who are given no
     opportunities to act like human beings.  Pelican Bay has
     become a massive self-fulfilling prophecy.  Violence is one
     mechanism with which to accommodate to the fear inevitably
     generated on both sides of the bars."

     At least some of the guards' conduct is encouraged by
official policy.  Here is a summary of the California Department
of Corrections cell extraction procedure:  

     "Once a decision has been made to 'extract' a prisoner from
     his cell, this is how the five-man cell extraction team
     proceeds:  the first member of the team is to enter the cell
     carrying a large shield, which is used to push the prisoner
     back into a corner of the cell; the second member follows
     closely, wielding a special cell extraction baton, which is
     used to strike the inmate on the upper part of his body so
     that he will raise his arms in self-protection; thus
     unsteadied, the inmate is pulled off balance by another
     member of the team whose job is to place leg irons around
     his ankles; once downed, a fourth member of the team places
     him in handcuffs; the fifth member stands ready to fire a
     taser gun or rifle that shoots wooden or rubber bullets at
     the resistant inmate."

     The misuse of force by staff was the major issue in the
Pelican Bay litigation.  Forcible cell extractions were conducted
when there was no imminent security risk and often with an
extremely high degree of force.  Written policies were
incomplete and inconsistently followed.  Investigations into the
use of force were described as "counterfeit investigation[s]
pursued with one outcome in mind:  to avoid finding officer
misconduct as often as possible. . . [N]ot only are all
presumptions in favor of the officer, but evidence is routinely
strained, twisted or ignored to reach the desired result."
     The court found "the undeniable presence of a 'code of
silence' at Pelican Bay. . . [T]his unwritten but widely
understood code is designed to encourage prison employees to
remain silent regarding the improper behavior of their fellow
employees, particularly where excessive force has been alleged. 
Those who defy the code risk retaliation and harassment."

            V.  What are the effects on the community?

     What happens when prisoners who have been in control units
for a long time are released either to the general prison
population or to the community?
     Jerome G. Miller, president of the National Center on
Institutions and Alternatives, says such prisons "don't have any
shot of making these guys less dangerous. . . . They come out
very, very dangerous, much more dangerous than they were when
they went in.  There's no evidence this reduces recidivism.  They
sit and simmer."
     Inmates are unprepared for release.  The Rocky Mountain
Peace Center reports that isolation of prisoners from their
families and friends makes it much harder for prisoners to
integrate into society when they are released.  "People who have
been placed in isolation often suffer from Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder after they are released. . . . Isolation at CSP will
have long term effects, will result in loss of social skills,
ability to relate and in ability of inmates to form
relationships.  CSP is creating long-term negative psychological
and social problems in prisoners."  
     The Rocky Mountain Peace Center recommends:  "Communications
with families and friends should be encouraged, so that prisoners
have a community to go back to when they get out.  This includes
access to regular contact visits and phone calls."
     People are being put on the street from CSP without any
help, training, or money.  Like other prisoners, they may come
out embittered and unemployable.  But those who have experienced
prolonged social deprivation under supermax conditions may never
recover the ability to be of use to themselves or anyone else. 
     The effects of solitary confinement have been known for more
than a century.  The following is a quotation from an opinion by
the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890:  "[E]xperience demonstrated that
there were serious objections to [solitary confinement].  A
considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short
confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was
next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently
insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood
the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases
did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any
subsequent service. . . ."
     
                           Conclusions

     There are many recommendations as to what should be changed
in the administration of control units and supermax prisons, such
as that only the truly violent prisoners should be put there;
people with mental illness should be moved to a facility that
meets their needs; there should be hearings before confinement in
a control unit for more than 30 days, with regular and fair
review hearings, placement and exit criteria; taunting and
retaliation by guards should be prohibited; prisoners should have
access to 3 hours per day of sunlight and outdoor activity; there
should be congregate religious services, educational and training
programs; children should be allowed contact visits with parents;
citizen oversight groups should have access to information, etc. 
     Those proposals for improvements take for granted that
supermax prisons exist--maybe even should exist--and are here to
stay.  But supermax prisons are not the only way to deal with
prison violence.
     In Scotland, the Barlinnie Special Unit (BSU) was
established in 1973 after the death penalty was abolished and
there was a rash of assaults against prison officers.  The chief
evaluator gave this description of the BSU:
     "[O]fficer-prisoner relationships were modified to resemble
     nurse-patient relationships; prisoners were given a
     significant role in decision-making; they were held
     responsible for their own behavior and that of their peers;
     and they were taught to verbalize their aggressive feelings.
     . . . On entry to the unit, prisoners gain relative
     autonomy; they become responsible for forming their own
     daily routine; together with others, they become responsible
     for the day-to-day running of the community.  In such a
     setting a prisoner is less able to display anti-authority
     feelings because he can have some influence in decision-making.  As control is less overt, it is less likely to
     stimulate resistance."
Assaultive behavior was dramatically reduced and behavioral
changes were observed almost from the point of entry to the
unit.
     We, too, must find a better way.


Compiled by Alice Lynd
March 1996
                             APPENDIX

                  Excerpts from Madrid v. Gomez
          No. C90-3094-TEH (N.D.Cal., January 10, 1995)
         Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order

     Prison officials are "entitled to design and operate the SHU
[Security Housing Unit] consistent with the penal philosophy of
their choosing, absent constitutional violations. [Citation
omitted.]  They may impose conditions that are "'restrictive and
even harsh'" [citations omitted]; they may emphasize idleness,
deterrence, and deprivation over rehabilitation.  This is not a
matter for judicial review or concern unless the evidence
demonstrates that conditions are so extreme as to violate basic
concepts of humanity and deprive inmates of a minimal level of
life's basic necessities.  [Citation omitted.] . . ."
     In this case, the conditions at issue primarily affect three
inmate populations:  (1) those who are being disciplined for
committing serious rules violations, (2) those who the CDC has
determined are affiliated with a prison gang, and (3) those who
are otherwise considered security risks because of disruptive or
assaultive behavior.  The severe restrictions on social
interaction further defendants' legitimate interest in precluding
opportunities for disruptive or gang related activity and
assaults on other inmates or staff.  [Footnote omitted.]  For
those serving short-term disciplinary terms, they also serve a
punitive function.  Other aspects of the conditions in the SHU,
however, appear tenuously related to legitimate penological
interests, at least with respect to those inmates that are
segregated in the SHU not as a disciplinary measure, but for
other reasons.  For example, it is not clear how the lack of an
outside view, the extreme sterility of the environment, and the
refusal to provide any recreational equipment in the exercise pen
(even a handball) furthers any interest other than punishment,
and the defendants have not advanced one. . . ."
     . . . "The Eighth Amendment [against cruel and unusual
punishment] simply does not guarantee that inmates will not
suffer some psychological effects from incarceration or
segretation.  [Citation omitted.]  However, if the particular
conditions of segregation being challenged are such that they
inflict a serious mental illness, greatly exacerbate mental
illness, or deprive inmates of their sanity, then defendants have
deprived inmates of a basic necessity of human existence --
indeed, they have crossed into the realm of psychological
torture."
     "Here, the record demonstrates that the conditions of
extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation
found in the Pelican Bay SHU will likely inflict some degree of
psychological trauma upon most inmates confined there for more
than brief periods. . . . [W]e are not persuaded . . . that the
risk of developing an injury to mental health of sufficiently
serious magnitude due to current conditions in the SHU is high
enough for the SHU population as a whole, to find that current
conditions in the SHU are per se violative of the Eighth
Amendment with respect to all potential inmates.
     "We can not, however, say the same for certain categories of
inmates: those who the record demonstrates are at a particularly
high risk for suffering very serious or severe injury to their
mental health, including over paranoia, psychotic breaks with
reality, or massive exacerbations of existing mental illness as a
result of the conditions in the SHU.  Such inmates consist of the
already mentally ill, as well as persons with borderline
personality disorders, brain damage or mental retardation,
impulse-ridden personalities, or a history of prior psychiatric
problems or chronic depression.  For these inmates, placing them
in the SHU is the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a
place with little air to breathe. . . .
     ". . . [S]ubjecting individuals to conditions that are 'very
likely' to render them psychotic or otherwise inflict a serious
mental illness or seriously exacerbate an existing mental illness
can not be squared with evolving standards of humanity or
decency, especially when certain aspects of those conditions
appear to bear little relation to security concerns.  A risk this
grave -- this shocking and indecent--simply has no place in
civilized society. . . ." 


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