Tag Archive for suicide

Recipe for a Dark Future: Kids in Solitary Confinement

Door to SolitaryAmy Fettig of the National Prison Project and Matt Simpson, of the Texas ACLU have tackled a rough topic- one to which advocates for juvenile justice should pay heed — the plight of juveniles in solitary confinement.

16 and Solitary: Texas Jails Isolate Children is their examination of this problem, and I would venture to call it required reading. Using data from a recent report,  Conditions for Certified Juveniles in Texas County Jails, by researchers at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, they provide even more ammunition in the battle to get our juveniles out of adult prisons.

Here is one key passage that I believe provides a good summation:

While in solitary confinement, children’s mental and physical health is severely compromised. The LBJ report notes the broad consensus among mental health experts that such long-term solitary confinement is psychologically harmful for adults. For children in solitary confinement, the impact is even more traumatic. Children experience time differently than adults, have a special need for social stimulation, and are damaged by forced isolation more quickly and severely than adults. It is also true that young people’s brains are still developing, which places youth at a higher risk of psychological harm when healthy development is impeded. But the psychological harm is not limited to developmental issues — it often means life or death. As the report notes, the risk of suicide and self-harm, including cutting and other acts of self-mutilation, increases exponentially for children in adult jails who are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities.

Lives are quite literally on the line here. The difference between juvenile and adult psychology is thrown into stark relief when you look at the impact solitary confinement has on each. But that’s not all. In addition to the hazards these practices pose to the incarcerated, they also hold a dim outlook for those outside the prison bars.

Reviewing the data, the LBJ report notes ‘the impact of prolonged isolation may have mental health consequences that will make it difficult for these youth to reintegrate, and may increase the likelihood that they will recidivate.’ Solitary confinement hurts children and ultimately undermines public safety.

Once more it all comes down to foundations laid in childhood. Even though the rationale often presented is that the kids are put in solitary to protect them from the adult prison population (something that does need to occur), doing so simply damages them in other ways.

Children do not belong in adult facilities. As a matter of fact the vast majority would be better served by community programs, substance abuse / mental health aid, and other rehabilitation-oriented approaches. This is a fact proved over and over again by studies from both sides of the political aisle.

As publishers we have tried to address these issues both through our most recent book, Born, Not Raised, and through the news round-ups we present on this blog. We can only hope that by helping to put a human face on the kids behind bars we can mobilize people to make effective, and fiscally sensible, change.

Suicide in Jail: A Special Report

It is always gratifying to see solid, in-depth reporting. Today I’d like to share an excellent example of such an instance – a special report on the Emmy-Award winning interactive news talk show Richard French Live.

French, who has interviewed personalities ranging from Presidents Obama and Clinton to Sen. Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, takes on the troubling topic of prison suicide.

The conditions in our penal system are often in the news because of brutal or substandard conditions. Inadequate supervision, use of unusual force, inmate violence, drugs and other reprehensible conditions are no longer surprising when they turn up in the news.

In two of our books we have looked at the plight of women in prison and the shameful state of juvenile justice. Here is another look at the system that examines the conditions faced in a New York facility that primarily houses male inmates.

(Since this is a full length report I’ve embedded a playlist with all the parts in the proper order for ease of watching.)

Across the Pond: Incarcerated Women in the U.K.

Maggots in my Sweet PotatoesThe situation of women in prison is well known to us at HUMANE EXPOSURES.

Our book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time, is the first in a photojournalistic series addressing the social issues of child abuse and neglect, homelessness, incarceration, and the special needs of women behind bars. It would seem that the sort of personal narratives shared in that work are shared by the women incarcerated across the Atlantic in the U.K.

Thea C. Garland, a reporter for Global Post, sheds light on the changing view of women’s incarceration that arrived with the new administration last May. The new Secretary of Justice, Kenneth Clarke, has stated that he believes there is no link between falling crime rates and rising levels of imprisonment. Evidently, he has begun a campaign against short prison sentences. In addition, Prime Minister David Cameron seems to share his views, having called short jail terms “meaningless.”

Garland brings us some startling statistics about the global extent of these issues:

Not since the mid-19th century have there been so many women in British jails. Britain’s female prison population has increased 60 percent since 1997, compared to a 28 percent increase for men.

‘Practically every country in the world, rich and poor, is seeing their social fabric disintegrate as more and more women are being charged and held in custody, often long distances from families,’ the World Health Organization noted in a report last year.

The numbers that Garland reports for the U.S. are also unsettling:

While women make up only 7 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2000 and 2008, the female prison population in America rose by 23 percent. More than half of women in federal prisons said they were mothers.

“Down under,” another former British colony is not exempt from the trend:

In Australia, the imprisonment rate for women rose by 209 percent between 1984 and 2003, but only 75 percent for men, according to the report ‘New Gender Rights for Women Prisoners and Offenders.’

In Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time, the photographs of Susan Madden Lankford are accompanied by the words and stories of women and workers in a California women’s jail. These women’s crimes are often intertwined with prior abuse, mental health problems, and addiction issues. Garland holds a British mirror up to these narratives and finds the reflection to be quite similar:

A report by a British penal reform charity, The Prison Reform Trust, revealed that a staggering 70 percent of British female prisoners had two or more mental health problems; more than a third said they had attempted suicide at some point. More than half of women in British prisons had suffered from domestic violence and one in three had been sexually abused, according to the trust.

The Howard League for Penal Reform states that women account for roughly 50% of all incidents where harm was self-inflicted, but make up only 5 % of the total prison population. With a 50% rise in incidents of this nature between 2003 and 2007, the numbers look grim.

Follow the  link below to read  the rest of  Garland’s article — it is thoughtful and dense with information. When you’re done, stop back and let us know your thoughts.

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Source: “UK: When jail doesn’t work,”  The Global Post, 08/05/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.

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