Introduction and call to action

Prison Insanity
"Unfortunately in our society, jails have become the largest mental institutes, and the staff isn't trained for that," says Hamblin. "We'd prefer not to have mentally ill people in jail. It's not an appro­priate use of this space, and alternatives are cheap­er. But treatment has to be [ade­quately] funded, and it's not, on either the state or the federal level." From Isthmus article , 2006 Dane county

Our mental hospitals were closed in the 90’s and were replaced in large part by prisons and jails. If you are have little money and have a mentally ill family member, there is little you can do but watch his or her behavior get destructive enough until finally someone calls the cops. Our prisons are filled with the mentally ill and they often end up in segregation because they cannot cope with the dehumanizing prison conditions and act out. There is little treatment and what there is, is almost totally ineffective.

We at FFUP have long been concerned about conditions in segregation for even mentally healthy prisoners and have advocated without success that all prisoners in segregation be allowed books and magazines from the outside, and that families be allowed to buy programs for them, buy tv’s and that all prisoners get daily exercise and access to the outside. To no avail.

What is happening to hundreds of mentally ill prisoners in Wisconsin is difficult to describe . The healthy prisoners become sick, the mentally ill prisoner harm themselves, spread feces and become forever stuck in an insane cycle of retribution and acting out .

We are starting a blog where I will include letters from prisoners and copies of the DOC rules that mandate mind boggling indifference from prison staff. As soon as the legislature begins their session this fall we will be pushing for a rule change in the admnistrative condinement division of segregation. It will be start toward better conditions. Once we know the route to getting laws and rules changed, we hope to change many.

After 9 years of prison work, we have come to the conclusion that the legislature cannot act to the benefit of prisoners. The climate is too vengeful and legislators fear for their jobs if they take a sane approach to prison insanity. The conditions for some prisoners are dire.Here is an excerpt from a recent letter of a prisoner in Waupun Segregation. It is hard reading:

“We who are confined to H.S.C. unit receive no mental health treatment whatsoever, are subjected to almost total sensory and social isolation. The so-called psychologists never do any rounds and many of us cannot take being housed on this unit and the only way that myself as well as many others deal with it is to hurt ourselves.

I have cut my throat with razors, glass and metal and wasn’t suppose to live through any of those incidents. My arms are so scarred I don’t even look human any more. And yes, I do get teased and laughed at quite a bit by staff and other inmates. However, they don’t understand that the only way I feel alive or human is when I can see the evidence of my mortality flowing from my veins and the only way these people here respond is by stripping me naked and putting me in a cold cell but then a few days later putting me back on the tier declaring me “OK”. But I’m not okay, and I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The doctor cut off my anti-psychotic meds and everyday I want to cut myself but because these people will use it against me to keep me locked in here I try and resist the urge. I don’t know what to do any more.

Honestly , I believe the fight for our rights is the only thing that is keeping me alive right now. Without the cause or the fight I have nothing. Ms Swan, I ask you to please help us to get our voices heard so that we may change things for the better so that no more human beings die in here.”

There is one point in the system where humanity can be inserted and that is Wisconsin Resource Center, (WRC)- A place where real treatment goes on. However, with a 300 hundred bed capacity, prisoners can stay there only a short time before they are cycled back to prison and often, segregation again.

What is important to note is that is not the problem of the Department of Corrections- it is our problem and our responsibility. We need treatment facilities and alternatives, drug treatment centers and good therapy alternatives out here. The DOC is doing what the DOC does best – repress. When We funnel our mentally ill to them , we are saying “do what you will- keep them out of our sight”.

three things you can do today to help :

1)read this blog devoted to raising awareness on the mentally ill. Of particular interest is a court transcript where a psychiatrist is fired for refusing to change the diagnosis of a bipolar prisoner to one that is less serious. See Brain Locke's blog for complete story: We must force the prison to change their practices while we work to open up treatment and prevention alternatives that make prison unnecessary.

2) Write one of the prisoners in segregation we list in our special needs post. You can make all the difference to them whether or not they they survive their solitary ordeal .

3) If you live in Wiscosnins, Join with us in January as we try to get the rules changed for solitary confinement- As it is now, each prison can decide whether or not they will allow prisoners in segregation to have books from the outside, tv, magazines and other property. It is one thing to deprive a prisoner of these things for a limited time , as when there is a conduct report, but in Wisconsin , mentally ill prisoners spend years in what is called "non-punitive administrative confinement" without anything to occupy their minds. We are working with the legislature to change that. Email us for more information as this is an ongoing campaign and much help is needed.
4) For those outside Wisconsin , Write one of the people listed below if you want to help with the Wisconsin campaign , or write the legislators in your district as this is a country wide problem. See our essays concerning the national plague of control unit prisons:
Here is a sample letter to legislators telling them you care what happens inside our prisons. :
Overuse and abuse of solitary confinement
Secretary of Corrections
Po Box 7925
Madison, Wi 53707
Re: Solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons
Dear Sir,
I am deeply concerned about the overuse of solitary in Wisconsin prisons. Recently it has been reported that Wisconsin leads the nation in prison suicides, and most of those suicides occur while prisoners are in solitary. We also lead the nation in having the highest per capita ratio of Black prisoners. I realize that the balancing of our present punitive system with treatment and rehabilitation is a long term project and will take the participation of the larger society but there are a few important things that can be done right now to help prisoners survive solitary confinement.
The almost total deprivation inflicted in segregation cells does not cause the inmate to become more compliant, instead he gets angry and sick. Many people spend their entire sentence in solitary and then are released to society with absolutely no social or job skills. Many are so angry they have no prospects of making a successful transition and wreak havoc on society before being returned to their cage.
I propose that certain uniform rules be imposed on all segregation units. These are small steps toward allowing the families and friends to get involved. I propose that:
1) All prisoners in segregation be allowed books sent in from the outside.
2) All prisoners be allowed access to GED and other educational programs and that family and friends be allowed to buy correspondence courses.
3) All prisoners, no matter what status they are or if they have a huge legal loan , be allowed embossed envelopes sent from the outside.( as it is now in some prisons, if an inmate has a lawsuit and is indigent, he pays for law copies and postage with a "legal loan" and if that loan gets big enough, he cannot receive money from the outside and gets only one stamp a week for the institution, has no canteen etc. )
4) All prisoners, no matter what status, be allowed to receive at least one call a week from the outside.
5) We ask that this be part of a general turn about in policy to a rehabilitative system.
6) All prisoners get outside recreation time.

Yours sincerely,

Governor Doyle: 11 East, State Capitol; Madison, Wi 53702
Representative Mark Pocan; Po Box 8953; Madison, WI 53708
Rep Tamara Grigsby; PO Box 8952,Madison, Wi 53708
Rep Spenser Black; PO Box 8952, Madison, Wi 53708

1 comment:

Barrel of Monkeys said...

Wow, and we call ourselves a modern society? Thank you for posting and bringing attention this serious issue of mental healthcare.