Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lynds' Statement to Senate Judiciary Committee on Solitary at OSP

Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights,
and Human Rights on Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons
July 19, 2012

Statement by Alice and Staughton Lynd


“[W]e are satisfied that assignment to OSP imposes an atypical and significant hardship
under any plausible baseline.”
Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 223, 125 S.Ct. 2384, 2394.

As volunteer attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio

Foundation, we were two of the attorneys who represented the class of prisoners at the

Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a “high maximum security” institution built in reaction to

an uprising at Ohio’s maximum security prison in 1993. See Austin v. Wilkinson, 189

F.Supp.2d 719, 722-23 (N.D. Ohio 2002).

When we first learned that Ohio was planning to build its “supermax” prison in

Youngstown, not far from where we lived, we read articles by experts including Craig

Haney and Stuart Grassian, and cases such as Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1265

(1995). We collected statements by prisoners who had experienced prolonged solitary

confinement. One of them wrote to us about the lingering effects of having spent two

years in solitary confinement:

This kind of treatment scars an individual for life. . . . To say that one loses his

self-esteem and dignity is a gross understatement. . . . I have never felt like the

same person since then, nor shall I ever, because I'm not the same person

anymore. . . .

Even after 13 or 14 years, I can still feel the anger, resentment, and the

hate. The loneliness and pain were at times more than I wanted to bear, and I

often contemplated death, but revenge drove me on. Bizarre thoughts abound in a

depraved and/or deprived mind--thoughts so scary that you dare not tell anyone

else. At first, these thoughts scare you, but then through rationalization you

justify them and they comfort you. Eventually you even start acting those

thoughts out at any given opportunity. Your feelings become calloused and

desensitized--you forget how to feel your pain and the pain of others as well.

You lose those human qualities and values that are so important to life.

You stop punishing yourself with guilt, because what you did is far less than what

is being done to you. You forget what compassion is, because none is shown to

you. You’re afraid to even dream, because all hope is gone. But worst of all, you

lose your ability to forgive, and you learn how to hate with a passion that

becomes your only driving force.

We corresponded with and became acquainted with men on Ohio’s death row

who were among the first prisoners to be transferred to OSP when it opened in May

1998. We made the first visit to any prisoner in that institution in June 1998.

By the summer of 1999, we had a list of one hundred prisoners at OSP who had

written to us about conditions of confinement and lack of notice as to why they were

placed at OSP or how they could appeal. From time to time we would contact the prison

administration to raise concerns based on what we were hearing from the prisoners at

OSP. We contacted the prison administration when we heard that Anthony Williams had

been on suicide watch, was returned to his cell, and the guards were taunting him. A

week later the Warden’s Assistant phoned us to tell us Anthony Williams was dead. He

asked us what OSP could do to give the prisoners more of a sense that life was worth

living.

Alice Lynd sent a form letter to approximately 100 prisoners at the Ohio State

Penitentiary, enclosing a form asking prisoners the following question: “If someone

asked you, WHAT COULD OSP DO TO MAKE YOU FEEL YOUR LIFE IS MORE

WORTH LIVING, what would you say?” Here are some of the responses we received.

This situation has me so depressed that it is like I can just feel myself

slowly slipping down into what seems to me a bottomless black pit. This cell

feels like a tomb to me. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. . . . I just

can’t handle it. . . .

[W]hen a prisoner is involve[d] in an incident, if there is a cell open on

the “wall side,” it’s highly likely they will be transferred to that cell. . . . It seems

that the prisoners in those cells suffer from a higher level of despair and

foreloneness [sic] than even the rest of us.

After the third suicide attempt, we assembled a team of lawyers and filed a class

action claiming violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution

of the United States. The cruel and unusual punishment claims pertaining to medical and

mental health care and lack of outdoor recreation were settled. The due process claims

were tried, appealed, and affirmed in part and reversed in part in a unanimous decision by

the Supreme Court of the United States in Wilkinson v. Austin, supra.1 Before a prisoner

can be placed in supermax confinement, he must be given notice, hearing, and the

opportunity for two levels of appeal. The decisionmaker must provide a short statement

of reasons that can serve as a guide for future behavior. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. at 2396.

Imbedded in the classification policy that the District Court found acceptable

upon remand, binding in Ohio and of relevance to other states, are the following due

process rights.

Cost was among the interests considered both by the District Court and the Supreme
Court. “The cost of keeping a single prisoner in one of Ohio’s ordinary maximum-
security prisons is $34,167 per year, and the cost to maintain each inmate at OSP is
$49,007 per year. See Austin I, supra, at 734, n.17.” Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. at 2397.
8

Despite these procedural improvements, it remains the case that some prisoners

have been retained at OSP for more than a decade without the opportunity to be in the

same space at the same time with any other prisoner. Too often the security level review

is meaningless inasmuch as there is nothing the prisoner can do to convince the

decisionmakers that he can be safely housed at a lower security level.

We have received letters from supermax prisoners in other states where

conditions of confinement and classification procedures are worse than at OSP. While

cells at OSP have a narrow window (as one prisoner put it, you look out first with one

eye and then with the other), some supermax prisons have no windows.

Prisoners do not learn how to “cage their rage” by watching programs on the

institutional TV channel and filling out paperwork. They need normal human contact

and feedback. They need hope! One prisoner wrote to his mental health counselor

asking for a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning.

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