Yesterday it was announced that children under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) will no longer be housed in a privately-run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement under the terms of a groundbreaking settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The lawsuit charged that conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, operated by GEO Group, Inc., the nation’s second-largest private prison corporation and which houses youth convicted as adults, are unconstitutional.
The federal court in Jackson MS will enter a consent decree on March 22, which will likely be remembered as the beginning of the end in the US of torturing kids with solitary confinement. This is the first time a federal court will have categorically banned a state from subjecting young people to this morally reprehensible practice.
View the ACLU’s press announcement here: http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/groundbreaking-federal-consent-decree-will-prohibit-solitary-confinement-youth.
The decree will ban Mississippi’s use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment for anyone under the age of 18, even if they were convicted as adults. Furthermore, it will require that kids convicted as adults are to be housed in facilities governed by juvenile justice rather than adult standards. MDOC will be required to provide the youth with a broad variety of rehabilitative services and strong protections from sexual abuse and violence—exactly what we are demanding for Blade Reed in Indiana.
While in solitary, youths are held in almost complete isolation and sensory deprivation with virtually no human contact, without books, paper or pens, radios, pictures, access to television or any kind of recreational activity, and are denied all visits, telephone calls and even mail from their families. As we have seen with Blade Reed at the Wabash Valley Correctional Institution, if prison staff tags a kid as suicidal—which they often do with punitive motives—that kid is stripped naked and denied a mattress, which is more likely to drive a kid to suicide than to help improve his state of mind.
At the same time that this announcement was coming out of Mississippi, Indiana officials were engaged in a disinformation campaign addressed to those of us who have written to the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) about Blade Reed’s mistreatment.
In an identical form letter sent to at least two of our people, Ombudsman Bureau director Charlene Burkett, a direct appointee of Governor Mitch Daniels, made the following assertions which we know to be patently untrue: that Blade “has adjusted well in the unit where he is placed. He has received education and has done well working with administrators. They actually bring school directly to him and he is reportedly doing quite well and is working towards receiving a GED, which seems to be inconsistent with any claims of him being severely Autistic.”
In point of fact, Blade functions mentally below the level of a 12-year-old, his autism is thoroughly documented and known to IDOC, he is failing in his GED efforts, he is being harassed and tormented by the prison staff who report to the administrators with whom Blade is supposedly working so well, and he has adjusted so poorly to his adult prison setting that he has made at least two suicide attempts and was, in fact, under a suicide watch at the very time that Ms. Burkett was making her disingenuous, incredible claims.
This “ombudsman” is obviously not an honest broker, but a public relations flack assigned to the impossible task of holding back the changing tide. Ms Burkett, either tell the truth or please just keep your mouth shut! You are only making a bad situation worse and destroying your personal credibility (and possibly your career).
The situation at Wabash has taken a turn for the worse. In a shake-down yesterday of Blade’s cell, a sharp file was planted by the guards, who proceeded to call Blade a “little fucker,” a “disgrace to the human race,” and who threatened: “We ought to kill you, you little bastard.” We know the nail file was a plant; otherwise Blade would have used it last week when he tried to cut his wrists with his fingernails.
Time is running out and the situation is rapidly deteriorating. Blade is stressed and scared.
Many of us who work as juvenile justice advocates have had a growing sense that society is approaching a “tipping point” where we will collectively realize that the “justice” and “corrections” industries have gone terribly, horrendously wrong in America—so wrong that we subject many of our own children to torture in the delusional belief that we are disciplining them into better people… a degeneracy no less mad than the incestuous father who claims he is teaching his daughter to become a good wife by raping her.
“Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons,” according to Solitary Watch. This estimate is prisoners of all ages; the portion which is juveniles is not known.
“It’s been known for a long time that prolonged solitary confinement causes terrible suffering and psychiatric breakdown even in mature healthy adults—let alone in emotionally vulnerable children and teenagers,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. Solitary confinement worsens pre-existing mental illness and disabilities in kids like Blade, and kids under the age of 18 are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of solitary.
“It devours the victims incessantly and unmercifully,” Alexis de Tocqueville reported more than 180 years ago from a prison in New York. “It does not reform, it kills.”
The effects are so well understood that international law recognizes that solitary confinement can rise to torture and now prohibits solitary confinement of any person under the age of 18, strongly condemning it as a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.
Tragically, the United States has been moving in the opposite direction: since the 1990s, 47 states have actually made it easier to try kids as adults and to incarcerate them in the same harsh and dangerous conditions to which adults are subjected.
Yet this Mississippi ruling is a harbinger of things to come that will eventually sweep across the nation, including Indiana. As we know, the courts in each state unfortunately move at a glacial pace, and every state has legions of professional liars who, like Ms. Burkett, are assigned to carry out delaying actions that will only forestall the inevitable.
But Blade is running out of time right now. He cannot wait for the courts to grind through their process nor for public perception and political pressure to overcome the resistance offered by bureaucrats who paper over the state’s official brutalities. Blade needs relief now.
I got out my calculator and found that only 1 in 5 of those who have visited the Diary in the last 3 days have gone on to the petition site and signed on. I had hoped we might do better than this. Maybe it’s my fault for not being more persuasive.
I implore you to please take an extra two minutes right now to click on this link and sign the petition to stop the torture of Blade Reed at Wabash. Even though he has been released from the “strip cell,” he is still being held in solitary confinement. We must break past the barrier of official lies and get him out. Your small investment of time may help to save his life. Seriously. Truthfully.
Please visit this link now and sign the petition for Blade Reed!
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