Leitura para o fim-de-semana: uma noite na solitária

Rick Raemish lidera o departamento correccional do estado norte-americano do Colorado. Para cumprir a tarefa que lhe foi delegada – reformar o sistema – decidiu conhecer melhor o que um detido sente quando é colocado na solitária. Este é o relato dessa experiência, publicada no The New York Times.

Jeffrey Smith

Jeffrey Smith

My Night in Solitary

By RICK RAEMISCH

COLORADO SPRINGS — AT 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 23, I was delivered to a Colorado state penitentiary, where I was issued an inmate uniform and a mesh bag with my toiletries and bedding. My arms were handcuffed behind my back, my legs were shackled and I was deposited in Administrative Segregation — solitary confinement.

I hadn’t committed a crime. Instead, as the new head of the state’s corrections department, I wanted to learn more about what we call Ad Seg.

Most states now agree that solitary confinement is overused, and many — like New York, which just agreed to a powerful set of reforms this week — are beginning to act. When I was appointed, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged me with three goals: limiting or eliminating the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates; addressing the needs of those who have been in solitary for long periods; and reducing the number of offenders released directly from solitary back into their communities. If I was going to accomplish these, I needed a better sense of what solitary confinement was like, and what it did to the prisoners who were housed there, sometimes for years.

My cell, No. 22, was on the second floor, at the end of what seemed like a very long walk. At the cell, the officers removed my shackles. The door closed and the feed tray door opened. I was told to put my hands through it so the cuffs could be removed. And then I was alone — classified as an R.F.P., or “Removed From Population.”

In regular Ad Seg, inmates can have books or TVs. But in R.F.P. Ad Seg, no personal property is allowed. The room is about 7 by 13 feet. What little there is inside — bed, toilet, sink — is steel and screwed to the floor.

First thing you notice is that it’s anything but quiet. You’re immersed in a drone of garbled noise — other inmates’ blaring TVs, distant conversations, shouted arguments. I couldn’t make sense of any of it, and was left feeling twitchy and paranoid. I kept waiting for the lights to turn off, to signal the end of the day. But the lights did not shut off. I began to count the small holes carved in the walls. Tiny grooves made by inmates who’d chipped away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them.

For a sound mind, those are daunting circumstances. But every prison in America has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill, and often the “worst of the worst” — some of society’s most unsound minds — are dumped in Ad Seg.

If an inmate acts up, we slam a steel door on him. Ad Seg allows a prison to run more efficiently for a period of time, but by placing a difficult offender in isolation you have not solved the problem — only delayed or more likely exacerbated it, not only for the prison, but ultimately for the public. Our job in corrections is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in.

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and expert on confinement, described in a paper published last year the many psychological effects of solitary. Inmates reported nightmares, heart palpitations and “fear of impending nervous breakdowns.” He pointed to research from the 1980s that found that a third of those studied had experienced “paranoia, aggressive fantasies, and impulse control problems … In almost all instances the prisoners had not previously experienced any of these psychiatric reactions.”

Too often, these prisoners are “maxed out,” meaning they are released from solitary directly into society. In Colorado, in 2012, 140 people were released into the public from Ad Seg; last year, 70; so far in 2014, two.

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