CDCR admits mentally ill inmates are being held in solitary confinement

A California prison official admitted that mentally ill inmates are being held in solitary confinement at security housing units in Corcoran, Tehachapi, and Sacramento state prisons.

Testifying before the Assembly and Senate public safety committees on Oct. 9th, Kelly Harrington confirmed that mentally ill prisoners are held in solitary confinement, but he assured lawmakers that all inmates are evaluated for mental health issues before they’re placed in a security housing unit.

“A lot of those inmates are determinate SHU terms. So they committed some type of crime in prison, either stabbing assaults or batteries. So that’s when they get those security housing unit terms,” said Harrington, Deputy Director of Adult Institutions at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Before they go to SHU, they are placed in administrative segregation, and those inmates are evaluated by our mental health clinicians prior to going into the security housing units or AdSeg in the security housing units.”

He said inmates diagnosed with mental health issues are either assigned an enhanced outpatient (EOP) or correctional clinical case management system (CCCMS) level of care while they being held in solitary confinement at state prisons in Corcoran, Tehachapi, and Sacramento.

According to Harrington, inmates who suffer from less serious ailments that require prescription medications are assigned to CCCMS. Inmates with severe mental health issues are assigned to the EOP level of care where they are seen more often by clinicians.

“If they’re placed in a mental health program, then they’re constantly monitored,” said Harrington. “And so our mental health clinicians interact with them daily if they need to and on an ongoing basis.”

Harrington said EOP inmates are placed in psychiatric services units (PSUs) where they participate in group therapy and “they’re taken care of by mental health clinicians a lot closer.” However, the inmates are usually confined in telephone booth-sized cages – or “treatment modules” – during their group therapy sessions.

At the hearing, Harrington made a point of stressing that there are no inmates with mental illness being held in Pelican Bay’s security housing units. Pelican Bay’s SHU is notorious for its harsh conditions and near-total sensory deprivation.

“The inmates that are in Pelican Bay SHU – the Security Housing Unit – we’re not allowed to place mental health inmates into those units up there,” said Harrington.

However, Harrington did not say whether inmates are evaluated for mental health issues brought on by prolonged and extreme isolation after they were placed in Pelican Bay SHU.

Prominent psychiatric experts such as Dr. Craig Haney and Dr. Terry Kupers have repeatedly highlighted the severe negative impacts of solitary confinement on the mental health of inmates.

Kupers said inmates held in isolation often suffer from paranoia, headaches, chronic sleep deprivation, and Haney observed that solitary confinement “precipitates descent into madness” for many prisoners, who end up committing “self-harm and mutilation”.

“Solitary confinement causes massive psychiatric damage,” said Kupers at a UC Hastings panel in March. “50% of successful suicides in prison occur among the 3% to 8% of prisoners locked up in isolation.”

Haney expressed concern about the “disturbingly high concentration of mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement” at a hearing before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in June 2012. Haney said mentally ill prisoners should be “categorically excluded” from solitary confinement.


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  1. Pingback: Alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in California | What The Folly?!

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