Articles Posted in Supermax

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This past Sunday’s New York Times featured a profile of the Cook County Jail (IL), “[t]he largest mental health center in America.” Writing separately, Nicholas Kristof offered “[a] few data snapshots:

• Nationwide in America, more than three times as many mentally ill people are housed in prisons and jails as in hospitals, according to a 2010 study by the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center.

• Mentally ill inmates are often preyed upon while incarcerated, or disciplined because of trouble following rules. They are much more likely than other prisoners, for example, to be injured in a fight in jail, the Justice Department says.

• Some 40 percent of people with serious mental illnesses have been arrested at some point in their lives.

Against this backdrop comes another compelling story from Andrew Cohen, writing for The Atlantic. Cohen gives insight into the “High Security Mental Health Step-Down Unit” at USP Atlanta, “believed to be the first federal prison program ever designed and implemented to provide substantial long-term care and treatment for high-security mentally ill inmates.”

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From Guernica magazine comes a thoughtful article about the import of prison tourism. Writing about sight-seeing at the former Alcatraz federal prison, S.J. Culver notes how the tour reflects changes made in the face of objections from the federal Bureau of Prisons:


In the 1980s, the National Park Service attempted to develop some progressive exhibits addressing not only alternative histories, but also issues like human rights. Strange and Kempa write that lefty rangers developing and promoting these projects faced censure:
Bureaucrats in the Bureau of Prisons charged that [one] display was inaccurate and unduly critical. One exhibit featured barbed wire and electric chairs while another interactive exhibit allowed tourists to listen to former captives talk about corruption and brutality in contemporary prisons. This was an instance when one state agency (National Park Service) had invited outside players to participate in site interpretation, to the dismay of another government department (Bureau of Prisons) driven by its own image-management objectives.
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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.