DEAR DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS: It’s not about being in a single cell, it’s about never getting out of it

500 bed control room finishedFollowing the release of AFSC’s new report on prisoner isolation in maximum-security prisons, Still Buried Alive: Arizona Prisoner Testimonies on Isolation in Maximum-Security (2014), ADC representative Doug Nick attempted to dismiss the claim that Arizona prisons use solitary confinement calling it archaic. The Phoenix NPR affiliate KJZZ quoted Nick as saying,

“The state has single cells, of course…If you have a predatory inmate, a violent inmate, an inmate who is a threat to somebody else, clearly there’s a reason to have a single-cell environment for their safety, of the institution, and the safety of the other inmates.

Further confirming that the Arizona Department of Corrections has no understanding of the critiques leveled against it by AFSC or any other prisoner rights advocates, Nick seems to suggest that being in a single cell is the problem, and not the fact that over 2,000 prisoners – and soon 500 more in ASPC Lewis – barely leave their cells for years at a time. Single, double, or tripled bunked, when prisoners aren’t allowed out of their cells and are confined to a space the size of a bathroom for years at time it causes mental, physical, and psychological damage that often cannot be undone. It drives people crazy, makes them suicidal, and results in physical deterioration.

Mr. Nick and all ADC officials, we have a solution to your lack of understanding just how terrible solitary confinement and maximum-security prisons can be: READ OUR REPORT! Here is an easy-to-use link for finding it and then reading it. We’ve compiled testimonies from 41 of your prisoners, and organized the most powerful and representative quotations by theme and focus for your ease and understanding. Seriously, READ OUR REPORT! We’ll even promise to send you a hard copy via the good ol’ United States Post Office so you don’t get a headache from your computer screen. The only headache you’re likely to get is from reading about the frighteningly scary descriptions of what it does to someone to be locked in a cage and barely get out year after year after year.

But just in case that’s too much for you, here are a few people addressing the exact point you tried to use to deflect the poignancy of the prisoner testimonies contained in Still Buried Alive:

“It doesn’t matter if a convict is locked in a cell with another convict as long as such convict is confined to a cell 24 hours a day. That is considered solitary confinement – in my opinion it’s worse when there are two in a cell confined 24 hours a day because it’s more frustrating seeing a stranger every day and dealing with his habits and attitudes.” (p. 11)

And let’s not forget that solitary confinement and isolation are more about the lack of meaningful human interaction than the actual space:

“Isolation at Browning Unit is 24/7. Time spent in a shower is worse isolation than cells. Time spent at recreation in a 10’ by 20’ concrete box with 20’ high walls is still isolation. You see no one, there is no one to converse with. There is no activity except to stand, exercise, or walk in a circle. This is harsher than being in the cell. Most people do not have regular visits. This is still isolation, being locked in a box with glass between you and the visitor. Going to medical is usually associated with an illness. Plus, most people rarely go to medical. We can talk to our neighbors, we cannot see them. There is no window. No together time. We have to shout over the run and hearing is not easy. Browning is 24/7 isolation. We do not get one hour a day outside of a locked box. We leave one box and go to another box.” (p. 13)

And finally:

“Maximum facilities don’t need to be 24-hour lockdowns. But they should be monitored frequently with greater staff. SMU I is short staffed as it is! And ADC is asking for money for another max facility?! That’s crazy.” (p. 23)

To read the full report, follow this link.

**Check back tomorrow and the rest of the week for more highlights from AFSC’s work on solitary confinement!

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