by David M. Reutter
A federal class-action suit filed in June 2017 paints the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania essentially as a solitary confinement warehouse filled with prisoners who suffer from serious mental illness. The suit alleges that prisoners are given crossword and Sudoku puzzles in place of counseling or treatment.
In 2009, USP Lewisburg was converted to a Special Management Unit (SMU) where prisoners spend 23 hours per day in their cells. According to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the “SMU is a multi-level program whose mission is to teach self-discipline, pro-social values, and the ability to co-exist with members of other cultural, geographical, and religious backgrounds.” Any prisoner whom the BOP determines is in need of “greater management” and meets other specific criteria can be sent to the SMU, which is supposed to be non-punitive.
The SMU has three levels with a one-year completion period. Level 1 takes 6-8 months and requires compliance with behavioral expectations. Level 2 lasts 2-3 months and requires demonstration of potential for positive “community” integration, and Level 3 requires 1-2 months and demonstration of positive “community” interaction skills.
“Individuals suffering from serious mental illness who are not properly treated find it very challenging, if not impossible, to meet these milestones, and find themselves being cycled through the SMU program multiple times and frequently ending as ‘SMU FAIL,’” the lawsuit states. “In practice, most men in the SMU program never receive any mental health evaluations, let alone necessary follow-up mental health services.”
Until recently, USP Lewisburg practiced “double-cell solitary confinement.” The lawsuit claims this “creates a powder keg environment” that results in “frustration and anger” among prisoners due to double celling and “having to deal with another person’s idiosyncrasies.”
The suit also alleges that “perfunctory interviews” to screen prisoners for mental illness result in inadequate determinations for SMU placement.
Additionally, mental health treatment is reportedly lacking. “Private face-to-face mental health contacts do not occur at USP Lewisburg,” the complaint states. Counseling sessions occur through the cell door in the presence of a guard and cellmate, “and within earshot of the men housed nearby.” If a prisoner is removed from his cell, he has “short, five to ten minute, conversations in the shower with psychological staff,” according to the suit.
Further, medication is often denied. “Men who were previously diagnosed with mental illness by the BOP and prescribed medication at other BOP facilities are routinely taken off their medication when they arrive at USP Lewisburg. When the mentally ill act out, they are subjected to ‘four pointing,’” where they are restrained on a bunk by all four limbs. Often, their misconduct is related directly to their mental health problems. [See article, p.58].
One of the named plaintiffs in the case, prisoner Richard C. Anamanya, “has received multiple diagnoses of mental illness and other mental health concerns, both inside and outside” prison. While at USP Lewisburg, his medication was discontinued without explanation and his only mental health “treatment” consisted of conversations at his cell door “and the receipt of ‘packets’ containing crossword puzzles and colorable cartoons.”
The complaint, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, remains pending. See: McCreary v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:17-cv-01011-YK-SES.
Additional source: www.npr.org
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Related legal case
McCreary v. Federal Bureau of Prisons
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 1:17-cv-01011-YK-SES|