1st February 2006
New York, NY (February 1, 2006) - Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement, a coalition of over 65 organizations, including Community Access, Human Rights Watch, and the Urban Justice Center, has issued statements from Maya Angelou, Margot Kidder, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Andrew Solomon, and Alvin F. Poussaint, MD denouncing the inhumane practice of placing prisoners with psychiatric disabilities into solitary confinement.
This outcry surfaces in conjunction with the unanimous January 10th Supreme Court decision, United States v. Georgia, No. 04-1203, which held that under the American With Disabilities Act, the State of Georgia lacks immunity from a lawsuit brought by a disabled prisoner, Tony Goodman; and the December 30th signing into law of the McCain Amendment, prohibiting cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody.
Vuka Stricevic, Director of Public Policy at Community Access, stated,
"We are delighted that these outspoken celebrities have given their
support of the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement
coalition's efforts to stop the torture of prisoners with psychiatric
disabilities currently being inhumanely housed in solitary confinement
cells. Irreconcilable with the Americans With Disabilities Act, allowing
prisoners with psychiatric disabilities to be sentenced to solitary
confinement is an egregious practice that results in sensory
deprivation, severe mental decompensation, and oftentimes suicide." Ms. Stricevic is available with background information and personal stories for reporters.
Margot Kidder, actress and political activist:
"Putting mentally ill and possibly delusional prisoners in solitary
confinement is torture, no more, no less. We were all shocked and
shamed by the disgustingly inhumane treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Should we not be equally shocked by the disgustingly inhumane torture of mentally ill prisoners here at home?"
Maya Angelou, best-selling author of "Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem" and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings":
"The mentally ill are already alone. They live in a world that is broken, terrorized and desperately alone. Putting such people who are already shattered into solitary confinement is unnecessary cruelty. It is the rust on the razor which threatens the throat. They need health, at best and human company at least."
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W. E. B. DuBois Institute for
African and African American Research; Chair of Harvard University
Department of African and African American Studies:
"[The solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners is] a horrific problem, where life itself becomes a grueling punishment and too often an unbearable torture."
Andrew Solomon, author of best-selling National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression;" board member of the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign:
"There are few practices in modern American that are more barbaric than our jailing of people who suffer from mental illness, many of whom do not receive appropriate clinical interventions, do not have the control of their illness that such interventions might enable, and are left desperate and incoherent to the worst of prison abuses.
Mental illness and the regimented life of prison do not sit comfortably
together. Prisoners with mental illness will be seen as aggressive,
troubled, and inchoate. These qualities are frustrating to the guards
whose duty it is to monitor such prisoners. They result in ever-stronger disciplinary measures. This is horrible for all concerned. Treating such prisoners for their mental health complaints would improve the quality of their lives; of the lives of other prisoners; and of the lives of the guards. It would also be humane and decent.
It would be horrible to have an overpowering psychological impetus to
commit criminal acts; there is no need to compound that horror with
solitary confinement, a state that would drive even the most sane among us close to the edge."
Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston; Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; co-author of "Lay My Burden Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans":
"Solitary confinement of mentally ill prisoners is archaic and only aggravates difficulties for all concerned. Psychotic and paranoid inmates become more psychotic and paranoid when placed in solitary.
Individuals with major depression will deteriorate with a greater likelihood of become suicidal. For the mentally ill, their condition often precludes comprehending the purpose of such confinement in the first place. Frequently, the disturbing behavior leading to placement in solitary confinement is a manifestation of mental disorder and not a
willful disobedience toward authority. Psychiatric management is more likely to lead to improved behavior than the use of harsh punishment.
To help inmates, we must begin to provide quality mental health services within our neglected so-called houses of correction. Mental health care is critical to facilitating prisoners' successful reentry to society.
In addition, inmates need appropriate follow-up services to ease
adaptation to the outside world.
Placing inmates with mental illnesses in solitary confinement is inhumane, representing the antithesis of good mental health and