Ge­or­gia’s soli­tary con­fine­ment fa­cil­ity called ‘dra­co­nian.’

Pris­on­ers de­prived of ba­sic hu­man needs

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY KATE BRUMBACK

AT­LANTA | Ge­or­gia’s most re­stric­tive soli­tary con­fine­ment fa­cil­ity de­prives pris­on­ers of ba­sic hu­man needs and risks caus­ing them psy­cho­log­i­cal harm, ac­cord­ing to an ex­pert re­port filed in fed­eral court.

The re­port was filed as part of an on­go­ing chal­lenge to the con­di­tions in the Spe­cial Man­age­ment Unit (SMU) of the Ge­or­gia Di­ag­nos­tic and Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Prison in Jack­son. U.S. District Judge Charles Wei­gle un­sealed the re­port in an or­der filed Tues­day.

The unit “so se­verely and com­pletely de­prives pris­on­ers of mean­ing­ful so­cial con­tact and pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal stim­u­la­tion that it puts them at sig­nif­i­cant risk of very se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal harm,” wrote Craig Haney, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Cruz. “That psy­cho­log­i­cal harm may be ir­re­versible and even fa­tal.”

Mr. Haney, who has toured max­i­mum-se­cu­rity pris­ons in about two-dozen states as well as fed­eral max­i­mum-se­cu­rity fa­cil­i­ties, writes that the unit is “one of the harsh­est and most dra­co­nian” he has seen.

Mr. Haney vis­ited the Ge­or­gia SMU in Oc­to­ber and did cell-front in­ter­views with some pris­on­ers and more in-depth, con­fi­den­tial in­ter­views with 11 of them. His re­port in­cludes har­row­ing de­tails of pris­on­ers harm­ing them­selves: cut­ting them­selves, try­ing to hang them­selves, eat­ing fe­ces and drink­ing urine.

The South­ern Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights filed a mo­tion last week ask­ing the judge to or­der prison of­fi­cials to im­prove the con­di­tions im­me­di­ately. It’s ac­com­pa­nied by state­ments from 25 pris­on­ers who are held there cur­rently or have been pre­vi­ously.

The state has said in court fil­ings that the pris­on­ers haven’t been de­prived of any rights pro­tected by state or fed­eral law.

Lawyers for the pris­on­ers have been talk­ing with Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials about mak­ing im­prove­ments and are hope­ful pos­i­tive steps will be taken, but they were con­cerned about the slow pace of change, said South­ern Cen­ter man­ag­ing at­tor­ney Sarah Ger­aghty dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Mon­day.

In­mate Ti­mothy Gumm, 42, has been in prison since 1995 serv­ing a life sen­tence for rape. He filed the ini­tial law­suit on his own in 2015. The South­ern Cen­ter took up his case in 2016 and ex­panded it into a class-ac­tion law­suit.

Gumm was put in the SMU in Jan­uary 2010 af­ter he was ac­cused of try­ing to es­cape from Telfair State Prison. That dis­ci­plinary re­port was quickly ex­punged, but he re­mained in SMU un­til July 2017, he said in a state­ment filed with the mo­tion.

The SMU is di­vided into six wings, A through F, that cor­re­spond to a three-tier pro­gram. Pris­on­ers be­gin in the low­est wing and are sup­posed to spend about 90 days in each be­fore mov­ing up to the next, the mo­tion says. That would mean they could get through all six in about 18 months and, ul­ti­mately, be moved to an­other prison.

But many lan­guish in the SMU for years, fac­ing ar­bi­trary bar­ri­ers to ad­vance­ment and the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing trans­ferred to the low­est wing to start over for any per­ceived mis­con­duct, the mo­tion says.

The 192 cells mea­sure about 6 feet by 9 feet. The solid metal doors have a small glass win­dow with a slid­ing cover. Guards pass meals through a slot. A small ex­te­rior win­dow at the back of each cell is cov­ered by a shield.

“Some more es­tab­lish­ment, cor­po­rate Democrats get very scared by this term but if be­ing a demo­cratic so­cial­ist means that you be­lieve health care, hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion and the things we need to thrive should be a ba­sic right not a priv­i­lege, then count me in.”

— Ac­tress Cyn­thia Nixon, a can­di­date for New York gov­er­nor

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