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

Partial transcript of the Q&A with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) 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. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this hearing.

I think everyone here shares a number of common objectives wanting to ensure that all federal prisoners are held in humane manner, that respects their inherent dignity as human beings, and at the same time that upholds the objectives of sound…policy, both allowing an opportunity for rehabilitation when possible and ensuring to the maximum extent possible the safety of other inmates and of prison guards entrusted to guard some of the most dangerous people in the country, if not, the world.

Mr. Samuels, I appreciate your service and your being here today and engaging in this important discussion.

And I’d like to ask some questions to further understand your testimony and the scope of solitary confinement within the federal prison system.

You testified that roughly 215,000 inmates in the federal system, and that compares to about 1.2 million incarcerated in various state systems. And am I correct that the overwhelming majority of the 215,000 in the federal system are in the general population at any given time?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons:
Yes, sir. The majority of the inmates are in general population. Also, the majority of the inmates in the system spend their entire period of incarceration in general population. We’re only talking about a very, very small percentage.

Right now, 6.5% out of our entire population is in some form of restrictive housing. And when you break that number down, as I’ve mentioned, administrative detention, which is temporary, and also with the disciplinary segregation, they’re given a set number of days and/or months that they have serve.

In a prison environment – and I would hope that everyone understands – it’s all about order. And if we do not have order, we cannot provide programs. We’re constantly locking down our institutions.

Since the hearing in 2012, we have reduced our restrictive housing population by over 25%. Within the last year, we have gone from 13.5% to 6.2%. So, reductions are occurring.

We are only interested in placing individuals in restrictive housing when there is a legitimate reason and justification.

With our system being so large, we have over 20,000 gang members in our system. They are watching this hearing. They’re watching our testimony very, very closely. For the reason being if they see that we will lower our standards, will not hold individuals accountable, it puts our staff at risk, it puts other inmates at risk.

And this is why I mentioned in my oral statement that not only are we looking at staff being injured and harmed – our staff are putting their lives on the line every single second of this day to protect the American public. But we’re also having inmates within the population who are being harmed by these individuals, who have no respect – I mean, no respect – for others when it comes to their safety.

We cannot afford at any time to say that for those individuals who assault staff, assault inmates, there’s no accountability. This is no different than in society. If individuals violate the laws and they hurt citizens, they are removed from society and either placed in a jail and/or prison. If these individuals attack police officers, they are removed; they’re not given second chances where we say “Do not do it again.”

My staff, as I’ve indicated, are putting their lives on the line every single day. They have to know that there is accountability for the actions of others.

Now, for treatment and working with those individuals, we are going to continue to do that. That’s our mission.

95% of the individuals with the Bureau of Prisons at some point will be released. We have a duty – we have an obligation – to everything to ensure that for that captured population, we are working to change their behavior. Many of these individuals come in with significant issues. We have to address those issues and we will continue to do it.

I also believe it is very, very important for the subcommittee to know that when you look the peer level for mental health, we have approximately 94% of the inmates within our system who have no mental illness. 94%. That’s 187,264 inmates.

We have the Care Levels 1, 2, 3, 4. When you take it to Level 2, you’re talking about 10,809 individuals who have been diagnosed with some type of mental illness that would require on average our mental health staff engaging with these individuals once a month.

When you go even further for Care Level 3, we have 555 inmates who would require intensive interaction and treatment. And to the concerns that were raised earlier, we need to make sure that these individuals are receiving access, that there is quality time with the mental health providers.

And for the most serious cases we have in the bureau, out of our entire population, 286 individuals are diagnosed with an acute mental illness. Same thing for that population.

But I think everyone needs to know that for our entire population, the majority of these inmates do not suffer from a significant mental illness, and they are [participating in] program, they are in our institutions doing the right thing and not causing us problems. But it’s that very, very small number who will do anything – I mean, anything – to hurt others.

I’ve been in the Bureau of Prisons now going on 26 years. I have talked to inmates – I had inmates tell me, “If you release me to the general population or if you take me out, I will kill someone.” I have a duty and obligation to protect the staff, to protect the inmates. And when someone is willing to tell you if you do it this is what I’m going to do, I mean, there are huge issues with that.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas):
Mr. Samuels, I appreciate your decades of service, and as someone who has spent a significant portion of my adult life in law enforcement, I certainly am grateful – as I’m sure as every member of this committee – for the service of many employees of the Bureau of Prisons, many of whom risk their lives to protect innocent citizens everyday. And it is not an easy job that you are doing, and it’s a very important job.

I’d be interested in the judgment of the Bureau of Prisons, what is the affirmative value of solitary confinement and in what circumstances should it be employed? And what are the risks? What are the downsides to using it as a tool in our prisons?

Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons:
Thank you, Sen. Cruz. The value of restrictive housing in the Bureau should only be used when absolutely necessary for those individuals who pose a threat to others and the safety and security of the facility. And that is to ensure we’re protecting staff, inmates, and the general public. It should never – ever – be used as a means of being viewed as we’re retaliating against individuals. I mean, we’re trying to correct their behavior.

I strongly support ensuring that we do not use it just for the sake of we can and we are not being held accountable, no different than the state systems who are also looking at these issues.

And the one thing that I do appreciate with this issue being raised is this is now a national issue. It is a national discussion.

The Association of State Correctional Administrators, which I’m a member of, immediately after the hearing, we all met. We talked about the best practices and what we should be doing. Because when you look at state systems, the federal systems, and even at the local level, you have many, many definitions of what restrictive housing means. And so we’re working together, and at some point, the Association of State Correctional Administrators will be releasing a survey where they’re reaching out nationally to all the 51 jurisdictions to ask everyone, “Provide us your best practices”, and this will be posted on the website. And I note just from the discussions that we have had – and when I say we, my colleagues – the Secretary, the Commissioners, and the Directors for state corrections – we are moving in the right direction to define what we believe for our profession is appropriate. We are also looking at the issue regarding cultural issues, because you have to understand where we’re moving and where we’re headed, we are trying to change a culture and not just within the Bureau of Prisons but practices that have been in place for long periods of time.

I’ve gone out at your request, Mr. Chairman, to visit the states where practices have been in place to look at what they’re attempting to do and what they’re doing. And I’m very, very mindful of the concern. And I’m the director who firmly believes in treating inmates respectfully, ensuring that they are living in a humane environment because our actions will dictate to these individuals what our country is all about. And we are not there to judge these individuals. We are there to ensure that they serve their time, they pay their dues to society, and hopefully put them in a better situation so when they’re released they are productive citizens and the goal of them never returning.

So I don’t see a downside with individuals who are not abiding by the rules because if they are not abiding by the rules within the prison, I mean at some point when they’re released, there’s no accountability. So we have to hold them accountable because if they go out and they continue with that behavior, guess what – they’re coming back. And we will do everything possible to try to get them to turn and move away from that negative behavior. But it requires intensive treatment.

I’m also looking at ensuring that we are developing a cognitive behavioral therapy program for those individuals who are within our restrictive housing units so they’re not just sitting there. We want there to be active engagement, of showing them “Hey, we can offer you this”, but they have to be willing to accept the olive branch. We don’t want to just leave individuals sitting there.


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