Transcript: Testimony of Bureau of Prison Director Charles Samuels on solitary confinement – Feb. 25, 2014

Partial transcript of the testimony of 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:

Good afternoon, Chairman Durbin and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the use of restrictive housing within the Bureau of Prisons.

I cannot begin my testimony without acknowledging that today is the anniversary of the death of Officer Eric Williams. Officer Williams was stabbed to death last year by an inmate while working alone in a housing unit at the United States Penitentiary Canaan in Waymart, Pennsylvania.

We will always honor the memory of Officer Williams and all the courageous bureau staff who have lost their lives in the line of duty. These losses underscore the dangers that bureau staff face on a daily basis.

Our staff face the same inherent dangers as other law enforcement officers throughout the country. We house the worst of the worst offenders to include some state inmates who we house at the state’s request and we do so with fewer staff than most other correctional systems.

As you know, the federal prison system is extremely crowded, operating at 32% over capacity system-wide and 51% over capacity at our high-security institutions. Both the high-crowding and low-staffing levels contribute to the rate of violence in our prisons.

Last year alone, more than 120 staff were seriously assaulted by inmates, most often in our high-security institutions. In addition, nearly 200 inmates were seriously assaulted by other inmates.

Despite these challenges, our staff interact with nearly all inmates in an open setting without weapons and physical barriers.

It is not uncommon for one staff member to be on a recreation yard with hundreds of inmates who engage in various activities.

Our staff encourage inmates to take advantage of their time in prison to improve their lives by participating in programs such as psychological treatment, education, cognitive behavioral therapy, job training, drug treatment and other available programs.

Since the hearing held by the subcommittee in June 2012, I have focused attention and resources on our use of restrictive housing.

Over the past 18 months, we have accomplished a great deal in terms of reviewing, assessing, and refining our approach to restrictive housing.

We understand the various negative consequences that can result from housing inmates in restrictive housing. Such placement can interfere with re-entry programming and limit interactions with friends and family.

However, please note the large majority of inmates remain in general population for their entire prison term.

In response to the concerns you have raised and because it is the right thing to do, we have implemented numerous innovations to ensure the bureau is using restrictive housing in the most appropriate manner.

We continue to experience decreases in the number of inmates housed in various forms of restrictive housing. This reduction is attributable to a variety of initiatives we have put in place over the past 18 months.

We have had several nationwide discussions with wardens and other senior managers about restrictive housing, mental health of inmates, the discipline process, and other related issues.

With respect to specialized mental health treatment, we recently activated a secure mental health step-down unit that provides treatment for maximum custody inmates with serious mental illness who might otherwise require placement in restrictive housing.

And we have plans to activate a treatment unit for high security inmates suffering from severe personality disorders that make it difficult to function in our populations.

We have activated a re-integration unit to help inmates adapt to the general population after an extended stay in restrictive housing that was often prompted by their perceived need for protection.

In addition, we initiated a gang-free institution that allows inmates to safely leave their gang affiliations to abort restrictive housing and work toward a successful re-entry.

We’re in the midst of an independent, comprehensive review of our use of restrictive housing. The review team has completed almost half of the site visits. We expect the report to be issued by the end of 2014, and we look forward to the result of the evaluation to consider making additional enhancements to our operations.

Chairman Durbin, I assure you that I share your commitment to provide federal inmates with safe and secure housing that supports physical and mental health.

The mission of the Bureau of Prisons is challenging, but the continuing diligent efforts of our staff who collectively work 24 hours each day 365 days per year we protect the American public and we reduce crime.

Again, I thank you, Chairman Durbin, and Mr. Cruz and the subcommittee for your support of our agency, and I’ll be pleased to answer any questions as you or other members of the subcommittee may have.


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