Mental fatigue, anxiety and hopelessness, welcome to today’s US federal prison experience
Last week, an FDC Miami inmate was pulled from a pipe running through the top of his cell after hanging himself with a noose made from clothing and bedding. The inmate is not dead but remains in a local Miami hospital following his injuries. The outcome will not be good according to those who know the situation but have asked that they not be identified. In June, an inmate held at FDC Miami awaiting trial after being extradited to the United States to stand trial for a felony, died of related complications with COVID-19. Prison is a bad place to be these days. In the general population of U.S. citizens, there are soaring cases of depression. Mental stress affects us all and prisons are
The Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) experience has changed dramatically since COVID-19, as the agency changed protocols to help control the contagion of the virus. To date, over 10,000 BOP inmates have been infected and over 1,000 BOP staff. These numbers are likely much higher as the BOP’s efforts to test inmates have been called into question by legislatures, federal courts and inspection bodies. The Office of the Inspector General is currently conducting a series of remote inspections of facilities housing BOP detainees across the country. These inspections will assess whether the facilities managed by the BOP, contracted establishments and contracted residential reintegration centers are complying with available guidelines and best practices regarding the prevention, management and containment of potential COVID-19 outbreaks in communities. correctional and residential reintegration facilities. As part of this work, the OIG is examining the use by the BOP of home confinement and other early release authorizations provided for by the CARES law. While the BOP has placed 7,566 inmates in home confinement since mid-March (as of August 28, 2020), there have been 117 inmate deaths and 1 staff death. The OIG performed a remote inspection of FCC Lompoc and published a report on the establishment’s management of COVID-19 outbreaks where more than 75% of inmates at this facility have tested positive. The understaffing of medical staff, understaffing of prison staff and lack of attention to screening protocols led to the disastrous response to Lompoc.
There is little comfort for those in prison, but it is the visits of family and friends that provide the experience. Visiting someone in prison is one of the most rewarding experiences someone can give to another human being, and it is even more rewarding to be the recipient. Not to be forgotten is a boost to the life of the inmate who believes he is both alone and, worse yet, forgotten. These visits also offer those on the inside hope that there will be a future and an encouragement to those on the outside that they will once again be family beyond the fence. However, there have been no social visits to the BOP since March 13, 2020, when the OBP suspended them due to COVID-19. There has been no announcement when these tours will resume. Further isolation also occurred when men and women were locked in high security institutions in order to create social distancing between inmates. While such treatment of these federal inmates has been inhumane, it is certainly effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19 … but at what cost? We may be living with the long-term mental effects of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
I spoke with Elisabeth kelley, (full audio interview available here) a lawyer and author who has written two books on mental illness and prison, her most recent, “Representation of people with intellectual disabilities. “” Someone who does not have a diagnosable mental illness before going to prison, may very well develop one during the pandemic due to deep anxiety, depression and later caused PTSD by the trauma associated with COVID-19 conditions in federal prisons, ”Kelley said.
Beyond prison, depression and anxiety are high in our country as we have high unemployment, an uncertain economic future, racial tensions, protests and a struggle to take control of COVID-19. It is even more complicated for those who are in prison and those who have relatives in prison. About 41% of adult respondents nationwide reported symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression during the third week of July 2020. By comparison, only 11% of US adults reported these symptoms in a similar survey completed early 2019.
Since March, the BOP has instituted modified operations that have suspended most programs and recreation. Some of these programs could have led to credits for the acquisition of additional skills to function in the company as well as to an additional placement in a halfway house. Most of this has been put on hold during the pandemic. For the tens of thousands of inmates who are in county jails awaiting placement in a permanent BOP facility, many have waited months just to get to a jail where there are activities, books, a game. of society, everything to stimulate their spirit. In a situation that I know personally, an inmate was called back to court as part of a plea and cooperation agreement. He left his BOP prison in February for a court appearance and returned in late August, months later after a brief court appearance. The distance between the courthouse and the prison was less than 200 miles. Most of this “transit” time, the person, a minimum security inmate, spent most of the eight months locked in a cell for more than 20 hours a day.
People without any disciplinary violation are placed in what is in effect solitary confinement. Beyond that, people who are placed in solitary confinement for the purpose of punishment are really not told when the segregation will end. So besides the uncertainty, there is no incentive for these people to behave. “The lack of supportive services in prison,” Kelley said, “runs deep for those who have already been diagnosed with mental illness.”
For those who don’t have a mental illness, Kelley is calling them neurotypical, there are enormous pressures on their mental capacities. “There are no visitors to the institutions as in the past. So right off the bat you have the foundation, the scaffolding, of support for the inmate just gone. Beyond that, there have been cuts in social workers, chaplains and other resources that provide well-being support but also give these people an element of hope, ”Kelley said.
Government prosecutors generally oppose compassionate release requests based on the COVID-19 protocols in place, citing that these are policies that provide a safe environment for inmates. The use of solitary confinement for the segregation of sick, COVID-19 positive, or quarantined inmates for those who may be on the verge of release is an ongoing concern, Kelley said. Make no mistake, “Kelley said,” these people don’t get the single room at the St. Regis Hotel, they are put in segregation, in segregation for up to 23 hours a day, fed intermittently. , no idea when they are going to be released, no traditional access to communication (email and phone), so they don’t understand how their family is doing. Even the possibility of contacting their own lawyers, although permitted, is difficult to organize. “
Kelley said, “We knew even before the pandemic that when we put neurotypical people in solitary confinement, they would likely develop depression, anxiety and PTSD due to the trauma associated with the ordeal of the prison experience. ” When I asked Kelley if she considered what is happening in prison right now as a ‘trauma’ she said to me, ‘this is magnified because of the uncertainty, the isolation, the lack of resources in the prison. the community and even beyond, the public is now focused on the fact that prisons are understaffed, unclean, unsanitary and dangerous. But these institutions have been like this for generations. Now we are faced with the reality that prison staff walk into the prison and bring the disease with them. “
Kelley concluded our interview with a powerful statement: “We are only now really feeling the negative effects of mass incarceration in this country. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to figure out the problem.