Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin’s Q&A w/ BOP Director Charles Samuels on solitary confinement

Partial transcript of the Q&A with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, on solitary confinement. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences” was held on Feb. 25, 2014:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois):

…The law recognizes that children are to be treated differently than adults and that’s why we don’t house juvenile offenders with adult offenders and juvenile facilities are are different from adult prisons.

When it comes to solitary confinement, we know children are particularly vulnerable.

In our last hearing, we heard a devastating story of a young man, James Stewart, who committed suicide after a very brief period in solitary confinement. Many experts have called for a ban on solitary confinement of juvenile. Justice Department’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence concluded, “No where is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

I commend the state of New York for its strides in this area. I don’t believe juveniles should be placed in solitary confinement except under the most exceptional circumstances.

Now, I know the federal prison has a very limited number of juveniles under your jurisdiction and that they are generally sent to juvenile facilities. What policies and guidance does BOP have to ensure that juveniles under your jurisdiction are not placed in solitary confinement except in exceptional circumstances where there is no alternative to protect the safety of staff and other inmates?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As director of this agency, I recognize the unique needs of juveniles. In the Bureau of Prisons, we have 62 juveniles who’ve been sentenced to our custody, and these individuals are placed in contract facilities. And part of our requirement with the agreement that we have with these facilities is to provide 50 hours of various programs and to ensure that individualized training is also provided for these individuals under our care. And out of the 62 inmates currently in our system – in these contract facilities – we currently only have one individual who’s in restrictive housing. And the requirement that we have is that any individual placed in restrictive housing who’s a juvenile, there should be 50 minute checks done. We are ensuring that they are also working with a multi-disciplinary committee to ensure that all of the issues are assessed, addressed, and that we are removing the individual out of restrictive housing at the earliest date possible.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): Are there any limits to the period of time that a juvenile can be held in restrictive housing under the federal system?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: There’s no specific limit. But if an individual is going to go beyond five days in restrictive, we require that there are discussions held to at least justify why there is a continued need. And as I’ve indicated, right now we only have one individual, and it should only be used under the rarest circumstances when there is the belief that there is going to be potential harm to the individual and/or to others. But we do not support long-term placement of any juvenile in restrictive housing.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): I’d like to ask you about the issue of mental health, which I think is directly linked to this whole conversation. At our last hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked about the mental health effects of solitary confinement and about studies about how this practice affects prisoners. You responded that no study had been conducted within the bureau at that time. Now, that troubled me because the Federal Bureau of Prisons uses segregation regularly but it did not seem to be studied as it should be when it comes to serious mental health. I’m pleased that one of the five key areas of study for the independent BOP assessment is mental health. I’d like to ask you basically two questions: Do you anticipate the assessment will help provide BOP with a better understanding of the mental health effects of segregation? And without getting into some of the specific heart-breaking, gut-wrenching stories of what people do to themselves in solitary confinement, do you agree that people who exhibit this type of behavior generally need more mental health treatment and not just a lockdown?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Yes, sir, to your first question. I do believe that the assessment that’s being conducted by CNA Analysis and Solutions will provide us a roadmap to further look at our internal operation relative to mental health treatment that’s provided to our inmate population when they’re placed in restrictive housing. And as I indicated, since the hearing that was conducted in June of 2012, long before this assessment has been put in place with an audit, we have been internally looking at our operation. And we are very much in agreement with the appropriate number of mental health staff being provided to look at the specific population when individuals are placed in restrictive housing and are suffering from any type of serious psychiatric illness, and this is something that we will continue to do. And I can report since the last hearing in particular with the concern that was being raised at the ADX, we have increased our staffing for psychology services to include ensuring that our psychiatrists within the bureau are making visits to the facility. And I know that was a concern you had at that time when it was reported that we only had two psychologists responsible for treating that population.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): Has that changed? Has the number changed?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Yes, sir, it has changed. We currently have five individuals who are devoted to that population. We’re in the process of recruiting to hire a full-time psychiatrist there. But in the interim, we are also using tele-psychiatry. And I have ensured that the chief psychiatrist for the bureau in our headquarters is also visiting the facility as well, and there are a lot of things that we can do remotely. But we have increased the staffing and it is something that we will continue to stay on top of.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): Has there ever been a time since you’ve been in charge when a person has been released directly from restrictive housing to the general population, released from prison?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Yes. And that is also something that from discussion that we had in June of 2012, we have discussed extensively throughout the agency with leadership. And I do not believe that it is appropriate. It is something that we will continue to address. No one should be released based on the concern that was raised directly from restrictive housing into the general population, and we will do everything possible to ensure that we have procedures in place. And one of the things that we’ve done, sir, is we have implemented a step-down unit. And definitely for those individuals who are suffering from a significant mental illness that we don’t have those individuals going out without some form of treatment and ensuring that there is transition period.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): Last question I’ll ask relates to testimony. We have some excellent witnesses coming at the later panel. Testimony about women, particularly pregnant women who are placed in restrictive housing and solitary confinement. What have you found and what are your policies when it comes to these prisoners?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: With the female population, I can definitely tell you out of 14,008 female offenders we have in our system, right now, only 197 are in restrictive housing, which is like 1.4%. And if an individual requires placement – again, under the rarest circumstances either to ensure that there’s no threat to themselves and to others – we’re not looking to place individuals in restrictive housing. And I would also add for the record that individuals who are placed in restrictive housing, the majority of the time it’s for a temporary period. These are not individuals who are placed in for a long period of time.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois): Can you define those two terms? Temporary and long period from your point of view?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: From my point of view, if an individual – right now out of our entire population for individuals who are in restrictive housing – and I will start with our special housing unit.

We have approximately 9,400 individuals who are in restrictive housing. Only 15% of those individuals are in there for periods longer than 90 days, and that would be based on sanctions relative to discipline and/or administrative detention, which when you look at the two categories – discipline is a sanction imposed for violating a rule, which we definitely need to maintain order within facility.

If individuals do things that warrant them being placed in restrictive housing, that’s temporary. And or individuals who require long-term placement within restrictive housing, which we can look at individuals for various reasons. Due to threats to the facility, harm to others, and ensuring that we’re doing our best to keep the individual safe, that sometimes require longer periods of incarceration.

Specifically, when you look at the control unit, where we have a net population – a significant number of individuals – 47% to be exact – out of the 413 inmates who are at the ADX, 47% have killed other individuals, and that is a combination of them murdering individuals before they have come into the system and they have either murdered other inmates and/or staff within the system. Those individuals require longer periods of placement in restrictive housing.

However, for those individuals, I am not saying – and I would never advocate – in any way we are giving up on those individuals. This is where the intensive treatment and ensuring that those individuals are being given adequate time out of their cells for recreational time and other things that we deem appropriate to ensure that when those individuals need to be pulled out that the assessments by our psychology staff, psychiatrists that we’re taking all of that into consideration.

And I am 100% behind ensuring that we’re not causing any more damage to an individual who is placed in that setting. But I have to state that to ensure the safety of other inmates, to ensure the safety of our staff, these are individuals that only represent a small number within our entire population. It is less than one-fifth of a percent. When you look at the 215,000 inmates in our agency, the number is very, very small.

Even when you look at the discipline, for as large as our population is, you’re only talking about 1,500 inmates out of a population of 215,000. So, it’s a very small number.

We will continue to reduce the number as best we can. And I am committed that in our population, it is better for us to manage inmates in general population. It’s better for everyone because those individuals need to have the opportunity to participate in programming. And when we’re looking at recidivism reduction, we want them to receive all the intensive programs that we can provide. And when the inmates are not being given those opportunities, you are looking at the issue and concern relative to threat to public safety, and we do not want to be a part of anything that causes – that’s not being able to carry out the mission. That is one of the most important things that we’re responsible for at the Bureau of Prisons.

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