The Prison Ministry Project and Solitary Confinement

At noon on October 1 at the State Street entrance to the Capitol, the Prison Ministry Project will help lead a rally to reduce the abuses of solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons.

This not a theoretical or public policy issue, as our colleague Kate Edwards points out,

for some inmates it is a matter of life and death. I hope you can join us at the Capitol.

~ Jerry Hancock

 

 

Plea to End Solitary Confinement from Reverend Kate Edwards

              As an ordained Buddhist chaplain, I have spent hundreds of hours volunteering inside the walls of Wisconsin prisons. I have personally heard unrelenting hours of screaming and banging coming from inside the segregation unit at the maximum security prison in Portage. I have stood inside one of the very small, windowless solitary confinement cells in the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, formerly called the Supermax, in Boscobel, and I know men who have spent literally years in those barren cells 23-24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

I have witnessed the correctional officers suiting up in riot gear for a violent cell extraction of a prisoner in segregation. I have seen the anguish of men who, hopeless and overwhelmed with despair in a segregation unit, have now been given yet another year in solitary because they’ve attempted suicide. What kind of world is this where self-harm and mental illness are considered to be brutally punishable offenses?

Perhaps you feel that some criminals have committed crimes so heinous that years of solitary confinement in a windowless cell are justified. Perhaps you also feel that some inmates are so dangerous that there is no other way to keep the staff and other inmates safe.

I ask you to think again.

In January of this year, Rick Raemisch, a former Dane County sheriff and the former head of our Wisconsin Department of Corrections, spent a night in a solitary prison cell in Colorado, where he is now the head of their DOC. He wrote about that experience in an op-ed in the New York Times, and he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee reassessing the use of solitary. Raemisch’s conclusion was that solitary confinement is "overused, misused, and abused." In his testimony, he stated, “By placing a difficult offender in isolation, you have not solved the problem — only delayed or more likely exacerbated it, not only for the prison, but ultimately for the public. Our job in corrections is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in.”

Simply consider the fact that over 95 percent of Wisconsin’s prisoners will one day be released to live among us. Sometimes they are even released directly from some version of solitary. Torturing these people is not reasonable or sane as a correctional policy, and it is not reasonable, safe, or moral as a public policy. It is way past time for Wisconsin to step into the forefront of the movement that will ultimately eliminate solitary confinement from our prisons nationwide.

 

 

 

 

Posted on September 23, 2014 at 8:23 am in Featured Content.

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