Colorado’s Head of Department of Corrections, Rick Raemish, changed his thinking about Solitary Confinement (known as Ad Seg) after spending 20 hours in a cell. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he wrote,
“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. …
“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 Solitary Confinement “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”
“Eventually, I broke a promise to myself and asked an officer what time it was. 11:10 a.m. I felt as if I’d been there for days. I sat with my mind. How long would it take before Ad Seg chipped that away? I don’t know, but I’m confident that it would be a battle I would lose.”
See: My Night in Solitary (by Jeffery Smith)
We need a nationwide revision to our tendency to use prison as a one-size-fits-all consequence for crime. We’ve created a serious and often overlooked national crisis in overcrowded prisons. The average citizen is unaware of how bad things are and of the growing tax burden it creates.
Many people view prison as a place to put people for protecting society but, as recidivism rates show, protection of public safety requires more than putting criminals out of sight for a period of time.
According to recent statistics, one out of every 100 Americans is behind bars. One in 36 Hispanic adults and one in 15 black adults is incarcerated (including one in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34). A report from the Pew Center found that one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 and that one in 100 black women is in prison.
Overcrowded prisons make it far more difficult for prison staff to provide efficient and effective environments with reforming outcomes that help to reduce recidivism. We need more community interest and involvement in seeking solutions and providing alternatives.
More importantly, we need to address the crisis of broken families in our communities that is often the story behind the story. It saddens me to see young people in prisons largely because they were never given the kind of nurture and discipline that could have fortified them against criminal activity.
I pray for our Judges as they face daily decisions that most of us would not want to make. I especially commend those who are seeking alternatives to prison for non-violent criminals.
We need more community conversations and action plans for implementing better solutions to this nationwide crisis.