Georgia’s solitary confinement facility called ‘draconian.’
Prisoners deprived of basic human needs
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