* Solitary confinement may work to hold down incidents in prisons, but what happens when the inmates get out of jail?…
Brian Nelson’s years in solitary confinement left him terrified of other people, and he says he can still taste the concrete dust from his cell, even though he’s been free since 2010.
The 51-year-old is afraid to ride the bus, he takes five psychotropic drugs, and sees a psychiatrist every week. Even when he’s at a park surrounded by grass, he says everything starts turning gray, and he remembers how tiny air pockets in the walls kicked up dust whenever he would clean his cell at a now-shuttered maximum security prison in Tamms, near the southern tip of Illinois. He was confined there for the final 12 years of a 26-year sentence for murder and armed robbery.
“Those four walls beat me down so bad,” he told members of an Illinois House committee during a recent emotional hearing on the state’s solitary confinement practices.
Stories like Nelson’s have led Illinois lawmakers to push prisons to restrict the use of solitary confinement, joining a national movement that has policymakers rethinking the longstanding form of punishment that critics say has a profound psychological impact on inmates.
Monica Cosby, who spent 20 years in prison, experienced solitary confinement about 12 years ago when guards discovered lip balm in her pocket.
The typical 15- to 30-day penalty would extend for months due to what Cosby characterized as minor violations such as lying in bed at an angle that leaves a guard unable to see her face. […]
Allen Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, said current solitary confinement practices are unconstitutional, citing a similar case where an inmate who had a piece of candy in a pocket received 30 days in isolation.
Mills spoke of another inmate who was having a seizure and was sentenced to a year of solitary confinement after guards thought she was faking and pushed her against a wall to restrain her.
Mike Atchison, the Department of Corrections’ chief of operations, said that instances like these may be attributed to rogue officers. But if a person commits a serious enough offense, the language in the rules the department follows speaks to the preservation of the safety and security of the facility.
Preserving the “safety and security of the facility” was the same argument used back in the day to justify giving imprisoned gang leaders the power to hand out prison jobs. Back then, prison officials were focused solely on the problems they themselves faced (not blaming them, really, because the problems were and are huge), but didn’t consider the problems they were creating once those prisoners were released. Every now and then, they need to be reminded of this. And it’s happening again.