Justice Department Accuses PA Prisons of Misusing Solitary Confinement

Details from a harrowing report.

As New York state reforms its solitary confinement practices, a Department of Justice report slams the conditions of solitary in Pennsylvania prisons. Too many inmates are being put there (nationwide, prisons tend to do this for disciplinary reasons, not because of the severity of the crimes committed), and too many in solitary exhibit signs of untreated mental illness.

The Justice Department found that over a recent one-year period more than 1,000 prisoners deemed to have mental health problems had been in solitary confinement for at least three months, and nearly 250 for a year or more. Pennsylvania state prisons house just over 50,000 inmates.

Some of the worst stories you may have heard about life in solitary, according to the report, are happening in our backyard.

The report said the total number of inmates in solitary deemed to have severe mental illness or intellectual disability was about 115, but the real number is higher because the state undercounts those subpopulations, the Justice Department said.

The federal government described conditions as “dehumanizing and cruel,” listing examples such as uncleaned feces on walls, denial of bedding material or clothes and verbal abuse from guards.

“Some prisoners alleged that officers had encouraged them to kill themselves,” the report said, describing one inmate who tied a bedsheet to a vent and stood on a toilet as if to commit suicide. “According to the prisoner, the officers told him that they ‘wanted to see his feet dangling,’ and chanted, ‘1 … 2 … 3 … kill yourself,’ repeatedly.”

More at the Inquirer.