In a follow-up to a recent ruling by a federal judge that prisoners at Tamms state supermax in Illinois do not receive due process, the Belleville News-Democrat reports on some significant features of the judge’s written decision. As George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsforfer write, the judge’s statement supports researchers’ findings that extended solitary confinement not only exacerbates mental illness, but causes it.
Based on testimony about conditions at the Tamms Correctional Center, where many inmates have been kept in solitary confinement for a decade or more, a federal judge has ruled that such isolation leads to mental illness.
In a statement in support of his decision in a due process prisoners’ lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy wrote, “Tamms imposes dramatic limitations on human contact, so much so as to inflict lasting psychological damage and emotional harm on inmates confined there for long periods. …”
Murphy’s 94-page decision made public Tuesday was praised by prison reformers. It was derived from testimony from prison officials and inmates who described “crushing monotony” of spending 23 hours per day alone in a cell, devoid of human contact. Murphy wrote that prisoners are not told why they were sent to what he has ruled is Illinois’ toughest lockup or when or how they can get out. The judge’s finding concerning psychological harm contradicts prison officials’ numerous claims over the years since the supermax opened in 1998, that long-term solitary confinement does not lead to mental breakdown.
The Belleville News-Democrat also offers links to the judge’s ruling and findings, a video tour of Tamms, and previous investigative articles on abuses at the supermax.