A Death in Solitary: Did Corrections Officers Help an Inmate Kill Himself?
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A U.S. military study referenced in a New Yorker piece last May found that, "of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators who returned from imprisonment in Vietnam" — many of whom were tortured for years — most "reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered."
Jules Lobel, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has argued in federal court against prolonged solitary confinement, wrote in an article on the subject for the University of Pennsylvania's Journal of Constitutional Law in 2008: "One important aspect of human existence is social contact with others; such contact does constitute a basic human need."
Lobel argues that solitary confinement is no place for the mentally ill. "Many of the people that [prisons] confine to solitary are there because they have trouble conforming in general population," he says in an interview. "And they have trouble conforming because they're mentally ill. And so then they're basically being warehoused in these solitary confinement facilities."
The theory in the United States, he continues, "is that you're supposed to take everything you can from a prisoner — make his life miserable — so that he'll want to get back into general population. But for mentally ill people, the problem is not that they don't want to conform, but they can't. Because they're mentally ill."
But what's a prison system supposed to do with someone like Matthew Bullock?
"They're supposed to give them treatment," Lobel says. "But that's antithetical to the philosophy most people have about prisons — which is that they should treat these people harshly."
"SAFE AND ORDERLY"
SCI Dallas sits atop a giant hill in the suburbs of Wilkes-Barre, 120 miles north-northwest of Philadelphia. Jerome Walsh is its acting superintendent. (He took over after Bullock's death; Klopotoski was promoted in November 2009 to regional deputy secretary of DOC. He declined to comment for this story.) "Our mission is to run this place like a small city," Walsh says. "It's got a cafeteria, workers, schools, places where inmates can worship and congregate. Our goal is to keep them safe and orderly."
SCI Dallas houses about 2,140 inmates, some 400 of whom are serving life without the possibility of parole. It has 119 beds in its RHU, but not all of them are filled, Walsh says. This is in contrast to the rest of the facility: SCI Dallas, which was built to house 1,750 inmates, is overcrowded.
Mooney, SCI Dallas' deputy superintendent, says prisoners enter RHU primarily for their own protection, or if "they are a significant security risk" — either because they've attempted to escape or because they assaulted another inmate or a CO, or if prisoners have information about someone who has done something wrong.
The prison's rules call for a 15-day stay in RHU for disciplinary cases, which can be renewed another 15 days at the discretion of prison officials. Those in RHU for protection or other administration reasons can stay there indefinitely.
SCI Dallas officials reject HRC's allegations of abuse inside their RHU. "We know what's going on in our prison," Walsh says. "We take every allegation seriously. But we keep our investigations in-house for security reasons, and because it's in our policy that we're allowed to keep those investigations internal."
That means the complaints prisoners file against their COs aren't public record. Moreover, while Bensinger, the DOC spokeswoman, says the department investigated the allegations in HRC's report — as it does with all allegations of abuse, no matter the source, she says — it also means that neither DOC nor SCI Dallas have made public the results of whatever inquiries were conducted.