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Articles by James Ridgeway

Audit of Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons: An Inside Job Reaches Foregone Conclusions

Audit of Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons: An Inside Job Reaches Foregone Conclusions

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

A long-awaited audit of the use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recommends minor reforms while affirming the overall legitimacy and efficacy of a system that holds more than 10,000 people in extreme isolation.

At 242 pages in length, the Federal Bureau of Prisons: Special Housing Unit Review and Assessmentprovides a wealth of detail (though relatively little quantitative data), and a number of obvious, highly circumscribed findings. It notes inadequacies in mental health care and “reentry preparedness” for people in isolated confinement, and criticizes the BOP for some inefficiencies and inconsistencies in its policies and practices. But as an overall critique of solitary in the federal system, it is vastly inferior to an earlier report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the BOP did not know whether its use of “segregated housing” had any impact on prison safety, how it affected the individuals who endure it, or how much it all cost American taxpayers.

The nature of the assessment should surprise no one. While it describes itself as “an independent, outside review,” the audit ...

Under Fire, the Federal Bureau of Prisons Audits its Use of Solitary Confinement - and Buys a New Supermax Prison

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

Amidst growing criticism of its abundant use of solitary confinement, the federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly set in motion an “internal audit” to review its “restricted housing operations.” The audit, which has been contracted out to a Washington think tank and will be conducted largely by former corrections officials, seems unlikely to bring any dramatic change to the lives of the more than 12,000 people being held in isolation in the federal prison system. Meanwhile, the federal government has completed the purchase of a prison meant to house still more isolation cells.

The audit fulfils a pledge made by BOP director Charles Samuels last year, following Congress’ first and so far only hearing on solitary confinement. [See: PLN, October 2012, p.1]. At that hearing, convened by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Samuels acknowledged under questioning that he didn’t know how many people with mental illness were in isolation in federal prisons, and was short on details about the BOP’s use of solitary confinement.

Since that time, controversy surrounding the BOP’s use of solitary has only grown. Current lawsuits are challenging the treatment of ...

Solidarity and Solitary: When Unions Clash with Prison Reform

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

On January 4, 2013, Tamms supermax in southern Illinois officially closed its doors. The prison, where some men had been in solitary confinement for more than a decade, had become notorious for its brutal treatment of prisoners with mental illness – and for driving sane ...

Fortresses of Solitude

Supermax prisons and solitary confinement units are our domestic black sites – hidden places where human beings endure unspeakable punishments, without benefit of due process in any court of law. On the say-so of corrections officials, American prisoners can be placed in conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for months ...

The Other Death Sentence: More than 100,000 Americans are destined to spend their final years in prison. Can we afford it?

The Other Death Sentence: More than 100,000 Americans are destined to spend
their final years in prison. Can we afford it?

by James Ridgeway

William “Lefty” Gilday had been in prison 40 years when the dementia began to set in. At 82, he was already suffering from advanced Parkinson ...

God’s Own Warden: If you ever find yourself inside Louisiana’s Angola prison, Burl Cain will make sure you find Jesus – or regret ever crossing his path

God’s Own Warden: If you ever find yourself inside Louisiana’s Angola prison,
Burl Cain will make sure you find Jesus – or regret ever crossing his path

by James Ridgeway

It was a chilly December morning when I got to the gates of Angola prison,1 and I was ...

No Budget Cuts for Federal Prisons

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

In the midst of an epic budget battle that could transform the American landscape for decades to come, the White House and Republicans in Congress appear to agree on one point: Federal prisons need more money.

With more people and a higher percentage of ...

The Graying of America’s Prisons

Frank Soffen, now 70 years old, has lived more than half his life in prison, and will likely die there.

Sentenced to life for second-degree murder, Soffen has suffered four heart attacks and is confined to a wheelchair. He has lately been held in the assisted living wing of Massachusetts ...

Sotomayor for the Prosecution

— By James Ridgeway | Wed July 15, 2009 12:18 PM PST

Mother Jones

Sonia Sotomayor's all-but-certain confirmation will be a notable victory for the Democrats, and a long-overdue victory for diversity on the nation's highest court. Whether it will be a victory for criminal justice is another question ...