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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Juveniles Held In Solitary Confinement

While there are no concrete numbers, it’s safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands of children are in solitary confinement in the United States–some in juvenile detention facilities, and some in adult prisons. Short bouts of solitary confinement are even viewed as a legitimate form of punishment in some American schools. In several posts over the next week, Solitary Watch News will be covering the story of children in lock down. In this first post, we address teenagers in solitary confinement in adult prisons.

* Henry Weinstein, chair of the APA Caucus on Correctional Psychiatry and a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University, “believes that solitary confinement can have mental health impacts on both healthy people and those with psychiatric illness,” according to the article. “Its effects are likely similar to the mental health consequences of torture, which leave some permanently mentally impaired and others relatively unscathed.”
Different kinds of challenges to solitary confinement, through both lawsuits and legislative efforts. It is scrupulously “balanced,” presenting opinions from some who think that prolonged solitary confinement may exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses, but does not drive sane people crazy. (They might wish to conduct the experiment suggested by one prisoners in Illinois Tamms SupprtMax “Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.”)

Now 29, Manuel has spent half his life in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet. His food comes through a slot in the door. He never sees another inmate. Out of boredom he cuts himself just to watch the blood trickle. Attorneys who advocate on behalf of prisoners call Manuel “the poster boy” for the ill effects of solitary confinement….

In 1991, when Manuel arrived at the prison processing center in Central Florida, he was so small no one could find a prison uniform to fit him, Ron McAndrew, then the assistant warden, recalled. Someone cut 6 inches off the boy’s pant legs so he would have something to wear. “He was scared of everything and acting like a tough guy as a defense mechanism,” said McAndrew, now a prison and jail consultant in Florida. “He didn’t stand a chance in an adult prison.”

Within months, Manuel was sent to Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, which McAndrew called “one of the toughest adult prisons in the state.” At Apalachee, the boy mouthed off to other inmates and correctional officers and made obscene hand gestures, racking up disciplinary infractions that landed him in solitary.

On Christmas Eve 1992, he was allowed to make one phone call. He called Debbie Baigrie, the woman he had shot. “This is Ian. I am sorry for all the suffering I’ve caused you,” she remembers him saying. They began to correspond regularly. Baigrie said she was impressed with how well he wrote.

She asked prison officials to let him take the General Educational Development test and take college courses. “I got a second chance in life. I recovered and went on,” Baigrie said. “I wanted Ian to have the same chance.” But the rules of solitary forbade Manuel from participating in any kind of self-improvement or educational program. Instead, he sat in his cell day in and day out, without reading materials or human interaction, racking up more infractions for “disrespect,” which only extended his time in solitary.

After several years, Baigrie gave up. “Not because of Ian,” she said, “but because the system made it impossible for him to improve. What does it say when a victim tries to do more for an inmate than the very system that’s supposed to rehabilitate him?”…

“It’s my belief,” [Manuel said at a federal court hearing], “that the reason I haven’t been able to progress off CM (close management) all these years is the way the system is set up. One DR (disciplinary report) will keep you there for six months and those six months add up to years and those years turn into decades.” In the past seven months, prison records show Manuel received three disciplinary writeups: one for not making his bed, another for hiding a day’s worth of prescription medicine instead of taking it, and yet another for yelling through the food flap when a correctional officer refused to take his grievance form. Those reports extended his stay on the strictest level of solitary for nine months.

Manuel told the judge that in isolation he has become a “cutter,” slicing his arms and legs with whatever sharp object he can find – a fragment of a toothpaste tube or a tiny piece of glass….In the past year, Ian Manuel has attempted suicide five times. In late August he slit his wrists. A prison nurse closed the wounds with superglue and returned him to his solitary cell. When the judge asked him why he attempted suicide, Manuel said, “You kind of lose hope.”

>>Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison, described the case of Florida prisoner Ian Manuel, who was “raised in gruesome violence and extreme poverty,” raped by a sibling at age four. “When Ian was 13,” the report continues, ”he was directed by gang members to commit a robbery. During the botched robbery attempt, a woman suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound and a remorseful Ian turned himself in to the police. Ian’s attorney instructed him to plead guilty and told him he would receive a 15-year sentence.” Instead, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Ian Manuel was also featured in a powerful article by Meg Laughlin, published in 2006 in the St. Petersburg Times, on solitary confinement in Florida, which has the nation’s highest percentage of prisoner’s in lockdown. Laughlin wrote about the nearly 15 years Manuel had spent in lockdown.


Second Class Justice is a first-class new blog published by Stephen B. Bright, who heads the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. It's primary aim is "ending the unfair and discriminatory treatment of people in the criminal justice system by documenting that treatment." It's mission statement continues:

Contrary to the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws and the etching “Equal Justice Under Law” on the Supreme Court building, the kind of justice people get in America’s courts depends very much upon the amount of money they have. Poor people are deprived of their liberty – and even their lives – because they cannot afford competent legal representation. The rich and guilty often have a better chance of avoiding conviction than those who are poor and innocent.

This blog documents examples of second class – and sometimes third world – “justice” for the poor and people of color in the hope that knowledge will someday overcome the indifference, hostility and racism that have affected the criminal justice system throughout America’s history, and bring about a just, fair, humane and reliable system.

Recently, Bright described the case of a juvenile murder suspect who is being held in isolation in a county jail in Tennessee for the sole reason that his family is too poor to afford his bond, set at $500,000.

A 15-year old child, JP, charged with murder, has been locked up in a cell in the Montgomery County in Clarksville, Tennessee since July 2009 with no physical contact from a member of his family and no schooling. His mother is allowed to “visit” him by seeing him twice a week for 30 minutes on a TV monitor. She has not touched her son in over a year. She has not hugged him, or kissed his cheek, or brushed his hair off his forehead. The child has gone for over a year with no physical contact other than a correctional officer holding his arms when they move him.

This is child abuse and neglect. If a parent locked a 15-year old child away for a year with no physical contact, he or she would be charged with child abuse. If the parent refused to let the child attend school for a year, he or she would be charged with child abuse or neglect, a well a violation the state’s compulsory education laws. Yet this is precisely what the officials at the Montgomery County Jail have been doing and intend to continue until trial, tentatively set for March 2011.

The psychological damage that is taking place is incalculable. The child was held in a mental hospital for a week and half immediately after his arrest. He attempted suicide shortly after being arrested while he was in a juvenile detention center. A mental health professional at the hospital prescribed him an anti-depressant. However, once the court ruled that he would be tried as an adult all treatment stopped. Six months after he went to jail, the jail physician, who is not a mental health professional, took him off of the anti-depressant. For a number of months, the child was held in his cell for 23 hours a day, allowed only one hour a day to shower and make phone calls. He is developing quirks, he jerks a lot when he talks, twitches his head.

Unless something changes, JP could spend close to two years in jail before he is tried--in other words, while he remains, in the eyes of the law, innocent of any crime.

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