Transcript: Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A with ACLU’s Margaret Winter & Professor Keramet Reiter at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of Sen. Loni Hancock’s (D-Oakland) Q&A with Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Keramet Reiter, Assistant Professor at UC Irvine, at the joint legislative hearing on “Segregation Policies in California Prisons: Current Conditions and Implications on Prison Management and Human Rights” on Oct. 9, 2013:

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland):
…What are the other alternatives? Which we get asked a lot. And in my reading, there were a number that were mentioned, such as short-term cell confinement in the general population. A kind of – every parent knows – grounding essentially. Or short-term loss of work privileges or program privileges or visitors. But something that would not be as extreme as SHU and would allow people to earn back the places that they had been.

And then the other thing that was mentioned was better training of correctional officers to defuse situations within prisons, again, in much the way school teachers are now trained to recognize and defuse potentially violent incidents or bullying incidents in schools.

And I wondered if you have any experience with that? And if there are other things we should be looking at as alternatives?

Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the National Prison Project for the American Civil Liberties Union:
I, couple of years ago, negotiated a consent decree with the Mississippi Department of Corrections concerning –

[Adjusted microphone]

I recently negotiated a consent decree with the Mississippi Department of Corrections concerning their treatment of youths who are sentenced as adults in Mississippi. And in Mississippi, youths from the age of 13 years old on can be – they’re convicted as adults and were housed with adults. And as part of that decree, solitary confinement was simply prohibited. It was categorically prohibited.

But the sort of things that you suggest, like a brief time-out, is an alternative. An alternative is that these are kids who still are getting schooling so the teacher will come to their cell. They still have the punishment of not being with their classmates, but they’re in-cell – the person coming to them.

In the adult context, when they were getting people out of solitary in the super max, one important principle that they came up with was that it just can’t be sticks. There has to be carrots. Because what the prisoners kept saying was, “All we can do is lose the little that we have”. And that just throws people into total despair. They came up with a series of rewards, not just punishments but rewards, that people can achieve by being infraction-free. One of those, for example, and this is an extremely poor state, was these little MP3 players and a prisoner who has been in – and this is a guy who has a really, really bad escape from a maximum security facility and he has been in solitary for – one of the few in Mississippi – for decades. I mean, for like 3 decades or something. And he said what an unbelievable difference that makes to have music.

So the department actually gives them something – a special meal, an additional visits from the family – not just once a week but “Hey, you can have an extra visit this week”, “You can have an extra telephone call with your family”.

So there’s all sorts of small rewards that in the context of prison are hugely meaningful. And you can use that system as an alternative to simply cutting everything off to control behavior.

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland):
Thank you. I think we need to know more about what some of the alternatives are that others have come up with…

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One Comment on “Transcript: Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A with ACLU’s Margaret Winter & Professor Keramet Reiter at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: Analysis: California taxpayers foot high costs of long-term solitary confinement | What The Folly?!

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