Under Fire for Negligence, North Carolina Prisons Chief Seeks New Funding for Mental Health Treatment

Recent Reports on North Carolina State Prisons Emphasize Need for Reform | Mental illness | Solitary confinement

North Carolina corrections chief David Guice wants more than $20 million to improve the treatment of people with mental illness in the state’s prisons. His request comes on the heels of two recent reports showing neglect and abuse of prisoners with psychiatric disabilities in North Carolina, and the death in custody of one such individual, Michael Anthony Kerr. According to autopsy report findings released in September, Kerr died last March of dehydration after being held in solitary confinement for 35 days.

Guice heads up the state’s prison system as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. His request was made last Thursday at a meeting of the state’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, held to discuss North Carolina’s treatment of prisoners suffering from mental illnesses.

At the meeting, Guice cited the difficulties in providing adequate care for 4,600 people – 12 percent of the total prison population – requiring mental health services. The prison system wants the state’s upcoming budget to include funding for more than 300 additional mental health care staff statewide, 64 more for Central Prison’s mental health unit, and 76 probation officers.

As NCCapitol reports on the meeting:

Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Kenneth Lassiter told lawmakers he’d like them to receive more frequent treatment, “but every time a segregated inmate comes out of a cell, it takes two staff members” to escort the inmate to an appointment.

“Are you keeping them in [their cells] for 23 hours?” committee co-chairwoman Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, asked Lassiter.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“Day after day after day?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lassiter responded.

“Don’t they get worse?” Hurley asked.

“Some do,” he answered.

According to the story, Guice stated that system has already started implementing changes, including crisis intervention training for prison workers and a review of all policies dealing with prisoners with mental health problems. He warned, however, that “the needed fixes – more therapy, more medical oversight, specialized units – won’t be cheap, especially in a system that’s already underfunded. For example, he said, budget cuts have emptied one-third of the beds at Central Prison’s inpatient unit for severely mentally ill inmates.”

Recent reports on the treatment of people with mental illness held in North Carolina assert that the state’s Division of Prisons has made little progress to date in protecting these individuals from neglect and abuse, including inadequate health care and the extensive use of solitary confinement.

Report: North Carolina State Prisons’ Use of Solitary Qualifies as “Torture”

One recent report, Solitary Confinement as Torture, published by the Human Rights Policy Seminar at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Law, is based on research and interviews with prisoners and focuses on the treatment of incarcerated people suffering from mental disorders and the use of isolation.

The 216-page report denounces the use of solitary confinement as “torture,” and reach the “straightforward and simple” conclusion that “solitary confinement is ineffective at decreasing violence within prisons; it is ineffective at preserving public safety; it is ineffective at managing scarce monetary resources; and it violates the boundaries of human dignity and justice. Prison officials and the courts must find a way to end the practice without delay.”

The report also documents North Carolina’s failure to provide the rehabilitation opportunities essential to successful reentry into society—in large part due to the prison system’s inclination to place people in solitary for petty offenses and “almost a complete disregard of prisoners’ average mental health needs.” In fact, according to the study, as much as 10 percent of North Carolina’s prison population has been held in prolonged solitary confinement at any given time in recent years.

The UNC report  recommends specific “systemic reforms,” including decreasing prison populations, increasing efforts at rehabilitation, changing the “institutional culture” in prisons and ultimately abolishing the use of solitary confinement.

In an email response to Solitary Watch, UNC law professor Deborah M. Weissman, a collaborating author of the report, wrote:

Mental health systems in NC are underfunded and fail to provide critical care and services to many individuals who, as a consequence of their mental health illnesses, wind up in prison. Either due to a lack of care, lack of training, or lack of other alternatives, individuals whose mental illness manifests as criminal behavior are sent to prison where their situation further deteriorates. Many of these individuals wind up in solitary confinement due to their inability to comply with prison system directives. The harm they suffer is egregious and likely permanent.

Weissman noted that “necessary reforms that have been clearly identified have not been fully implemented.”

Investigation: Mass Shortages Found in NC State Prisons’ Mental Healthcare Personnel

A recent investigative report by the publication INDY Week, “Prison System Short on Psychologists, Long on Mentally Ill Inmates,” finds that the North Carolina state prison system has a serious shortage of mental health personnel. According to the report, “Two years ago, the North Carolina prison system promised change after blaming staff shortfalls for the problem of mentally ill prisoners left isolated in cells splattered with human waste,” but “mental health advocates say they are still waiting for prison officials to deliver on that promise.”

The article includes the following table, highlighting the mental health staff vacancy rates in the North Carolina state prison system:

table

Source: INDY Week

North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) spokesperson Pam Walker told INDY Week that almost one-third of the 98 positions for prison psychologists were unoccupied as of November 3. Not only are 60 percent of senior psychologist positions vacant, but 22 percent of the prisons’ 1,314 nursing positions – which are critical to providing people with mental health disorders daily assessments – remain open.

Terri Catlett, deputy director of health services for state prisons, denied that prisoners suffering from mental illnesses were “in any additional danger because of the staff vacancies.”

The INDY Week investigation notes that, according to a 2010 report by the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), approximately 5,513 prisoners, or 14.6 percent of the state prison population, were diagnosed as “severely mentally ill” in 2006, and the number of incarcerated people with mental illnesses was increasing sharply—a trend that would suggest an increased need in personnel to provide adequate care and treatment.

[Read More…]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [12/14/2014]

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • According to a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, solitary confinement conditions inside one New Mexico county jail were so inhumane they drove one woman with a […]

Arizona State Prison Complex Lewis | Solitary Confinement

Arizona Opens New $50M Supermax Prison; New Report Denounces State’s Use of Solitary Confinement

The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has opened a new facility with 500 maximum-security prison beds in the Rast Unit at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC Lewis) in Buckeye, Arizona. (Maximum-security prisons in the state of Arizona are what is usually thought of as supermax prisons.) The opening of the new facility comes on the heels […]

Polunskycell-300x225

Voices from Solitary: The Life of an Escape Artist

The following comes from Steven Jay Russell, who is currently serving a 144-year sentence at the all-solitary Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Texas. Notorious for masterminding four successful, non-violent escapes from Texas correctional facilities, his story is recounted in the movie I Love You Phillip Morris. Russell, who has been held in administrative segregation for nearly two decades, is the first person in U.S. history […]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [12/07/2014]

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled the case of Khasiem Carr, “one of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania inmates with mental illness kept in isolation for 90 days or more between […]

supermax2

UN Committee Against Torture Says U.S. Must Reform Its Use of Solitary Confinement

On November 28, the United Nations Committee Against Torture released a 15 page report reviewing the United States’ compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The report cites the excessive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails as a violation of CAT, and […]

Kenny Zulu Whitmore,  State Prison in Angola, LA

Fates Worse Than Death?

The following article was published earlier this week by the Marshall Project, the new nonprofit news organization focused exclusively on criminal justice. It can be read in full on the Marshall Project’s site.  In 1987, when he was 23 years old and in court on a drug charge, William Blake shot two sheriff’s deputies in […]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [11/30/2014]

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • According to a recently released United Nations report, the United States is not in full compliance with the Convention Against Torture, to which it is a signatory. The […]

schenwar cover

Working from the Inside Out

Guest Post by Maya Schenwar Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better, a new book by Maya Schenwar. Locked Down, Locked Out shows how “the institution that locks up 2.3 million Americans and decimates poor communities of color is shredding the […]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [11/23/2014]

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • At his first news conference devoted exclusively to conditions on Rikers Island, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced plans to create a $14.8 million “enhanced supervision housing” (EHS) to hold […]

Albert Woodfox in 2012. Louisiana's Attorney General has called Woodfox the "most dangerous man on the planet."

After 42 Years in Solitary Confinement, Will the Angola 3’s Albert Woodfox Be a Free Man?

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overturning of Albert Woodfox’s conviction. Yet he may remain in prison–and in solitary confinement–for months or even years before his four-decade ordeal is over. Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement for more than 42 years for the 1972 murder […]

Members of the UN Committee on Torture question a U.S. delegation at a hearing in Geneva last week.

UN Committee on Torture Questions U.S. Record on Solitary Confinement

Last Wednesday and Thursday, United States government officials met with representatives at the United Nations to discuss the country’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Every country that is a signatory to the CAT is required to submit a “Periodic Report” to the […]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

Seven Days in Solitary [11/16/2014]

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. •  Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote about the case of 22-year-old Reginald Latson, a young Black man diagnosed with autism who was incarcerated after a confrontation with a […]