Reforming Prison's Harshest Tactic

The Angola 3 case may help change the arbitrary and sometimes abusive use of solitary confinement.

Posted:
 
(Continued from Page 1)

After Woodfox's current petition for release has been adjudicated, lawyers plan to pursue the release of Wallace, who is diabetic and suffers from what his supporters say is unexplained swelling throughout his body.

"My brother's hearing is bad," Vickie Taylor, Wallace's sister, a retired security guard from New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, told The Root. "His health ain't so good. Period. He been in there so long, and that makes you feel real bad.

"But he ain't letting prison stop him," she continued. "God fixed it so that he and Albert and King remember everything from the beginning to the end ... And it was told to me by God that this is their season. My brother coming home, baby. I believe that."

A Spotlight on Solitary Confinement

Hers is a shared resolve. Other Angola 3 supporters have been fixed, not only on getting Woodfox and Wallace out of prison, but also on spotlighting the impact of solitary confinement on the broader array of people affected by it.

"Crowding, rape, long stints in solitary confinement, beatings and other abuses and forms of torture are not part of the punishment society has condoned. In fact, they are unconstitutional abuses ... precluded as torture by all international standards," psychiatrist Dr. Terry Kupers, a professor at the Wright Institute in Piedmont, Calif., told The Root. He is the author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It.

"Even if [the Angola 3] had committed the crime for which they are accused," continued Kupers, another Free the Angola 3 coalition member, "the constitutional and legally sanctioned punishment would be time in prison, not torture in solitary."  

Written comments that he submitted to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which convened a hearing last June on "Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences," noted, among other "psychopathological effects of social isolation," the "obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes ... oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger and social withdrawal" of some solitarily confined inmates.

Citing the research of psychologist and lawyer Craig Haney, author of Reforming Punishment: Psychological Limits to the Pains of Imprisonment, who testified in person before the Senate committee, Kupers added: "More than four out of five of those evaluated suffered from feelings of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, troubled sleep and lethargy or chronic tiredness, and over half complained of nightmares, heart palpitations and fear of impending nervous breakdowns ... Well over half reported violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression and feelings of overall deterioration, while nearly half suffered from hallucinations and perceptual distortions, and a quarter experienced suicidal ideation."

Solitarily confined prisoners self-mutilate at rates higher than those of the regular prison population. Once released from prison, they recommit crimes at higher rates, too, according to a solitary-confinement fact sheet (pdf) developed in 2011 by Solitary Watch, an online advocacy news site.