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How One of America's Harshest Isolation Units Was Exposed From the Inside

Society & Culture  (tags: abuse, crime, culture, ethics )

- 34 days ago -
In February 2015, a Georgia prison inmate mailed a handwritten complaint to the federal court in Macon, saying heâEUR(TM)d been held in a windowless cell for nearly 24 hours a day for five years.


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Phyllis P (232)
Tuesday February 19, 2019, 12:54 pm
That longshot filing, written on 11 pages of loose-leaf paper without a lawyer’s help, persuaded a skeptical judge to listen, and to eventually force Georgia to open up its isolation unit to outsiders. A social psychologist who’d studied prison conditions for 40 years was shocked at what he saw: metal cells without openings, including one smeared with blood; mentally ill prisoners screaming in anguish; and a crudely drawn sign that said, “HELP.”

The psychologist’s report, released publicly last year, led to a settlement in which the state agreed in January to curtail its use of solitary confinement — a small step in America’s slow-moving shift away from a practice that human rights advocates call torture.

“It’s no longer a conversation about is this something we should be doing,” said Sara Sullivan, who leads the nonprofit Vera Institute’s work with state prison systems to curtail solitary confinement. “There’s a lot of momentum for this. But we still have a long way to go.”

Phyllis P (232)
Tuesday February 19, 2019, 1:28 pm
Gumm’s handwritten lawsuit made it to U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle, who acknowledged having “serious reservations as to the ultimate validity” of Gumm’s claims. Laws aimed at curtailing frivolous lawsuits make it hard for inmates to protest prison conditions, and judges set a high bar for hearing such complaints. But Weigle noticed that several other of the 180 or so inmates in the Special Management Unit at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison were making similar claims. He eventually let Gumm’s complaint go forward, and assigned lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights to represent him free of charge.

Once the nonprofit civil rights firm got involved, the lawsuit picked up speed. Other inmates joined. And Weigle allowed the center’s two lawyers, Sarah Geraghty and Ryan Primerano, to hire University of California, Santa Cruz social psychologist Craig Haney, one of the country’s top experts in solitary confinement conditions, to tour the unit and talk to inmates there.

“I saw things there I’d never seen before,” Haney told NBC News.

Visiting in October 2017, Haney said he was struck in particular by cells, about 7 by 13-and-a-half feet, with solid metal doors and metal shields over windows, that he said “hermetically sealed” inmates inside. Brief recreation time was confined to outdoor metal cages.

MmAway M (522)
Tuesday February 26, 2019, 5:14 pm
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