Transcript: Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels’ testimony on solitary confinement before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on June 19, 2012

Partial transcript of testimony of Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on solitary confinement. The hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences” was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on June 19, 2012:

Thank you, Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Graham. I want to thank you for inviting me to testify today on the important issue on the role of segregated housing in corrections.

Inmate safety and well-being is of the upmost importance for the bureau, as is the safety of our staff and the community at large. As such, we do all that we can to ensure that we provide outstanding care, treatment and programming to federal inmates, giving them the best opportunity for successful re-entry to their communities.

In order to provide these important services, it is critical that we run our institutions in a safe and orderly manner. Prisons must be secure, orderly, and safe for our staff to be able to supervise work, provide training, conduct classes and run treatment sessions.

When institutions are not safe, inmates have diminished access to programming opportunities.

Further, unsafe institutions place staff and other inmates at risk and pose a danger to the community at large.

The bureau houses inmates in the least restrictive conditions as necessary to ensure the safety and security of the staff, inmates, and the public.

The vast majority of our inmates are housed in general population units and are able to move freely about the compound during the day and evening.

Inmates at our lower security levels – minimum and low – have greater freedom than those at the higher security institutions – medium and highs.

Inmates who are disruptive and aggressive towards others endanger the safety and security of our institutions. Accordingly removing and segregating them from the general population allows us to continue to operate the institutions with open inmate movement.

Fortunately, very few inmates require separation from the general population at any point in time. We only undertake these conditions of confinement when absolutely necessary. This allows us to maximize the use of staff time and space.

As you know, the bureau population continues to increase and limited budgets have prevented us from increasing our capacity and our staffing to keep pace with this growth. We face dramatically increasing inmate to staff ratios in extreme levels of overcrowding, about 40% of over capacity systemwide with 51% over capacity in our high security institutions where our most violent offenders are housed.

When inmates are placed in restrictive housing, there are a variety of significant safeguards in place to ensure inmates’ due process rights are protected.

Additionally, inmates’ mental health are always a factor in decisions regarding segregated housing. Bureau psychologists are integrally involved in the restricted housing placement process, and all staff that work in these units receive training and input from psychology services above and beyond our general staff training.

Let me take a moment to address the concept of solitary confinement or isolation. All inmates in our restricted housing units have contact with staff, out of cell time for recreation, and an opportunity to program.

Accordingly, we do not consider any inmate to be held in isolation, though we are aware that some might use this term to refer to all restrictive housing placements regardless of the extent of contacts with other individuals.

The bureau primarily uses three types of restricted housing to maintain safety and security: special housing units, special management units, and the administrative maximum security institution in Florence, Colorado – ADX.

I have discussed the specifics in each of these units in detail in my written statement, with the exception of ADX, which houses our most violent and dangerous offenders, for example, offenders who have murdered staff members or who have been involved in multiple inmate homicides.

Virtually all inmates in our restricted housing units are housed with other inmates, and all inmates within restricted housing have access to staff throughout the day. They’re also provided time outside of their cells for indoor and outdoor recreation almost always with other inmates. And they continue to have access to re-entry programming.

At the ADX, inmates are housed in single cells and have very limited contact with other inmates. However, they have individualized contact with staff throughout the day. Extensive safeguards are in place to ensure we continue to provide security and a high level of care for medical and mental health for all inmates regardless of where they are housed.

Chairman Durbin, this concludes my formal statement. I appreciate you raising an important issue of segregated housing within prisons. The use of…restricted housing, however limited, remains a critical management tool that helps us maintain safety, security, and effective re-entry programming for all federal inmates.

Again, I thank you and Mr. Graham for your support for our agency. The mission of the bureau of prison is challenged by maintaining high levels of security and ensuring inmates are actively participating in evidence-based re-entry programs would serve and protect society.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you or Mr. Graham may have.

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