Recently, Andrew Cohen, contributing editor to The Atlantic, wrote concerning a one-page “Suicide Prevention” memorandum issued by Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr. to all federal prisoners in the midst of ongoing litigation over conditions at ADX Florence, CO. (Memo accessible via link.). Cohen offers:
Each of you may read such things into this memo. But none of you will be able to read it and reasonably conclude that the Bureau of Prisons is planning to help solve the problem by hiring more doctors and psychiatrists. The June civil rights complaint, in the case now styled Bacote v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleges that there are only two mental health professionals responsible for the care of 450 prisoners at Supermax. With such a ratio, it’s ridiculous to think that even those inmates who want to accept Director Samuels’ kind invitation are going to be successful in doing so.
Nor can anyone read the July 20 memo and reasonably conclude that the Bureau of Prisons intends to modify its rules, which prohibit the use of psychotropic drugs in its “Control Units,” the most secure detention portions of its prisons. That’s the essence of the complaints in both pending cases: The Constitution requires adequate medical treatment, including mental health treatment, but often the inmates who need medicine the most are the ones who cannot by policy and practice get it.
Nor, finally, can anyone read Director Samuels’ memo as indicative of a shift in prison policy that will encourage the reporting of staff abuse of mentally ill prisoners. The Bacote complaint alleges that, at ADX Florence, the prison “watchdog” official responsible for investigating allegations of official misconduct is marriedto the prison official who is responsible for “all correctional functions” at the facility. How could an inmate take Samuels up on his invitation and expect much of a growl from the watchdog?