JACKSON, Mich — Citizens for Prison Reform is leading the charge to reduce the amount of time Michigan prisoners spend in solitary confinement calling it inhumane. The state Department of Corrections says they are already making changes for the better.
“We’re not just throwing people in there willy nilly placing people in segregation just because they’re a problem or they have an attitude so we throw them in there, they’re out of sight out of mind. That’s absolutely not the case and not how it is handled," said Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz.
The group Citizens for Prison Reform disagrees. They released a report that says 3,211 prisoners placed in solitary confinement spend more than 20 hours a day in in their cells and 378 people have been in prolonged isolation anywhere from six months to 20 years. The group acknowledges they use different terms than the Department of Corrections.
“People do not and understand what is occurring in there and this is why I’m so passionate about this work," said Citizens for Prison Reform Executive Director Lois Pullano. "We have people in there who are restrained for days. We have people in there who are hogtied.”
The Department of Corrections says the numbers aren't an accurate depiction of the situation.
“They’re adding things to this list that beefs up their numbers that makes it looks like the problem is much larger," Gautz said. "We agree with them on the general premise that there should be fewer people in segregation. We’ve taken steps over the years under the leadership of Director Washington to reduce that number.”
But Citizens for Prison Reform says the situation calls for drastic changes.
“One of our recommendations that it only be used for short times," said Pullano. "A cooling down period. And, give them something to do while they’re in there. That’s one of the other problems. When they receive these tickets, these loss of privileges, and it’s a long list of things they lose.”
Psychologists say isolating these prisoners in what could be as small as an 8 foot by 12 foot cell with nothing to see and do causes a whole host of mental problems.
“We do know about two-thirds of individuals who have experienced time in solitary confinement come out with mental illness and PTSD...post-traumatic stress disorder just from not having any interaction or entertainment," said Wayne State University Dean of College Liberal Arts and Sciences Stephanie Hartwell.
Pullano said it's "torture. I don’t know how anyone could consider it not torture," said Pullano.
The Department of Corrections says they have been leading the nation in reducing the number of people in segregation with mental illness with daily averages down to around four from highs of close to 100 people.
“Just in the last few weeks attacked with batteries that were placed in a sock and hit in the back of the head," said Gautz. "Another took a homemade knife and grabbed an officer by the throat and nicked one of their arteries in their neck. There are things that happen in prison and there’s a reason for segregation because they can’t be trusted to be around other people. They’re going to assault other staff, other prisoners, or they’re going to murder them.”
Hakim Crampton from Jackson who spent time in Wisconsin's Correctional system says he went to solitary confinement eight to 10 different times for non-violent offenses.
“Not one single time was I ever isolated for physical violence," said Crampton who is a movement capacity specialist for Just Leadership USA. "Not was I ever accused of a fight or anything of that nature. Instead, I was segregated for such things as disobeying orders, or what they call false names and titles for simply using a nickname when I signed that letter and those were violations worthy of isolating me.”
The members of Citizens for Prison Reform believe that change can be had inside prison walls but it starts with a cultural change at the top. They say they want to work with the Department of Corrections.
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