Isolation Could Worsen Prisoners’ Mental Illnesses, Expert Testifies
During a court hearing last week about the tactic of segregating prisoners with mental illnesses, an expert said that such isolation can worsen mental health conditions, the Sacramento Bee reports (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 11/22).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
At a court hearing in late July, attorneys for California prisoners argued for a limit on the amount of time inmates with mental illnesses can be held in isolation units.
Prison officials can isolate high-risk inmates -- including prison gang leaders or accomplices -- by placing them in:
- Security Housing Units; or
- "Administrative segregation" rooms.
However, many inmates who are kept in isolation also have a mental illness
Michael Bien -- an attorney for inmates -- said solitary confinement is "worse for people with mental illness" because it could exacerbate their conditions or lead to suicide.
He said inmates kept in isolation often refuse to receive treatment for mental health problems because the care is administered in full view of other prisoners (California Healthline, 8/1).
Details of Testimony
Last week, Craig Haney -- a professor of psychology at UC-Santa Cruz and an expert on the psychological effects of solitary confinement -- was called by prisoners' attorneys to testify at the hearing.
This year, Haney has toured segregation units at:
- Mule Creek State Prison in Ione;
- The California Institution for Men in Chino;
- California State Prison in Corcoran; and
- California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.
In addition, Haney:
- Reviewed documents; and
- Conducted interviews with prison custodians, clinical staff and inmates.
He found that segregated inmates often spend 23 hours a day in their cells.
Haney said the judge should issue an order excluding mentally ill inmates from solitary confinement. He added that when inmates are placed in confinement, "appropriate treatment should not, under any circumstances, be interrupted, as it is now" (Sacramento Bee, 11/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.