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“In 2014, amid mounting criticism and legal pressure, the Federal Bureau of Prisons imposed a new policy promising better care and oversight for inmates with mental-health issues. But data obtained by The Marshall Project through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that instead of expanding treatment, the bureau has lowered the number of inmates designated for higher care levels by more than 35 percent. Increasingly, prison staff are determining that prisoners—some with long histories of psychiatric problems—don’t require any routine care at all.

As of February, the Bureau of Prisons classified just 3 percent of inmates as having a mental illness serious enough to require regular treatment. By comparison, more than 30 percent of those incarcerated in California state prisons receive care for a “serious mental disorder.” In New York, 21 percent of inmates are on the mental-health caseload. Texas prisons provide treatment for roughly 20 percent.

A review of court documents and inmates’ medical records, along with interviews of former prison psychologists, revealed that although the Bureau of Prisons changed its rules, officials did not add the resources needed to implement them, creating an incentive for employees to downgrade inmates to lower care levels.

In an email, the bureau confirmed that mental-health staffing has not increased since the policy took effect. The bureau responded to questions from a public information office email account and declined to identify any spokesperson for this article.

“You doubled the workload and kept the resources the same. You don’t have to be Einstein to see how that’s going to work,” said a former Bureau of Prisons psychologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a pending lawsuit regarding his time at the agency.

The bureau said it is “developing a strategy” to analyze this drop in mental-health care, consistent with a Justice Department inspector general’s recommendation last year. Although only a small fraction of federal inmates are deemed ill enough to merit regular therapy, officials acknowledged that 23 percent have been diagnosed with some mental illness.

Data shows the reduction in care varies widely depending on location. At the high-security penitentiary near Hazelton, for instance, which is near the medium-security facility where Rudd was housed, the number of inmates receiving regular mental-health care has dropped by 80 percent since May 2014. At the federal prison near Beckley, West Virginia, the number fell 86 percent.

Although hiring and retaining mental-health staff is a challenge for all prisons, it can be especially difficult for remote facilities. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that about half of rural communities in the United States don’t have access to a psychologist, and 65 percent don’t have a psychiatrist.

“Most people who have gone through the time and expense to become a psychologist … do not want to live in a really rural area,” said Doug Lemon, a former chief psychologist at two federal prisons in Kentucky. “You can say, ‘Doug Lemon’s lab [should have] five psychologists,’ but if he can only hire three because he can’t get anyone else to work there, guess what? He’s stuck meeting the same mission with three instead of five.”

Staffing shortages elsewhere in the federal prison system have forced the bureau to require some counselors to serve as corrections officers, a situation that worsened under the Trump administration after a lengthy hiring freeze designed to cut spending. In 2016, the bureau had instructed wardens to stop using psychologists for tasks not related to mental health, except in emergencies. But media reports illustrate how counselors and case managers are still being asked to do odd jobs.

“The catchphrase in the bureau was ‘Do more with less,’ ” said Russ Wood, a psychologist in federal prisons for 24 years. “The psychologists were getting pulled off to work gun towers and do prisoner escorts. We’re not really devoted to treating.”

A bureau spokesperson said that all staff are “professional law enforcement officers first” and that the agency does not consider mental-health care to be the primary role of counselors or social workers.”

– Christie Thompson & Taylor Elizabeth Eldridge, “Treatment Denied: The Mental Health Crisis in Federal Prisons.” The Marshall Project. November 21, 2018.

Art by Owen Gent.

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“I don’t put the blame on prison guards. They’re only workers. They’re not inanimate things, cement walls that can neither see nor hear nor think. Most of them didn’t choose their jobs; they ended up there because they thought they had no other choice. I’ve spent a total of twelve years inside walls, behind bars and fences, and I’ve never met a prison guard in whom I saw no trace of myself. I never met a guard who had dreamed that patrolling a convict yard would be the daily content of his life. Very few of those I’ve met admitted to never having dreamed, never having imagined themselves proud of projects undertaken with one or several genuine friends. Was our point of departure the same, and were we at some point interchangeable? How much has each of us contributed to what each has undergone? If a guard ever dreamed, was it of prisons and camps that he dreamed, and was he my jailer-to-be already then?”

– Fredy Perlman, Letters of Insurgents.

Published by Black and Red Press, Detroit, 1976.

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 34 & 35.

Part onePart two.

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TERRY Decker, Thirty-Six, Was Attacked and Taken Hostage During The 1971 riot. ‘First they moved us into an air duct. They kept us there for a couple of hours. Then they started locking us away, three to a cell. They made us take off our uniforms and put on inmate clothing. They figured there wouldn’t be any trouble if the people outside didn’t know who was an inmate and who wasn’t. They moved us every couple of hours from one range to another. I don’t know if they did it to confuse our guys, or the inmates who might have wanted to get at us.’

The hostages were treated with an unpredictable mixture of violence and consideration. ‘I was punched pretty good,’ says Decker. ‘They flattened a disc in my back and burst a blood vessel in my eyeball.’ At the same time, he and the other hostages were given double rations. ‘If the inmates got one sandwich, we got two. And tobacco – we had more than we could ever have smoked. I have no complaints there.’ Decker was released as a show of good faith during the negotiations. He’d been held for forty hours. ‘As I was coming out, one lifer said to me, ‘It pays not to be a dog, eh?’

Four months after the incident, he returned to work. He required extensive physiotherapy and cortisone shots in the spine, but since 1973 his health has been sound. Of the six guards held hostage, Decker is the only one who still works in security – he’s now at Collins Bay penitentiary. Two of the hostages have died; one quit; one took a medical pension; one works as a groundskeeper at Millhaven. Only a portion of the prison has been restored. Several ranges have never been reopened, and the top two tiers of the functioning ranges remain sealed off. Prior to posing for this photograph, Decker had not set foot in the part of the prison where he was held hostage since the riot ten years ago. ‘I was in fear for my life all the time.’

‘THERE’S No Call For This Trade Outside,’ Says The Instructor In the Mail bag repair shop, where these inmates were photographed during a coffee break, ‘but it helps the guys do their time and provides a few dollars for upkeep.’ Last year inmates in the shop repaired five thousand bags a week. The penitentiary earns a dollar for each mailbag it repairs, but eighty four cents goes to materials. Work programmes at Kingston – like hobby and recreational activities – are curtailed by outdated facilities. The only work of rehabilitative value is data processing. Inmates are coding the records of the National Museum of Science and Technology into computer banks. ‘We’re going to get a lot more terminals,’ says Andrew Graham, the warden. ‘It’s a popular programme, and it’s a skill that’s very much in demand on the street.’

Inmates used to be paid a pittance. Last May, however, the federal pay scale was revised to coincide with civilian minimum wage rates, less the eighty-five percent of income that Statisticcs Canada calculates a single man would spend on food, lodging, and clothes. Depending on the nature of his work, a prisoner in a federal institution came between $3.15 and $5.90 a day in maximum security, $3.70 and $6.45 in medium, and $4.80 and $7.55 in minimum. Twenty-five per cent of his pay is withheld as compulsory savings. An inmate serving a lengthy sentence now has the opportunity of returning to civilian life with a few thousand dollars, rather than a few hundred.

There are good reasons for the graduate pay scale. The first is the cost of incarceration. To keep an inmate in maximum security costs $35,800 a year, versus $22,600 for medium security and $18,400 for minimum. (In a community correctional centre – where inmates work at civilian jobs and return to custody each night – the cost is $11,500. The cost of parole is $1,600 a year.) The graduated pay scale also encourages inmates to behave well in order to qualify for an institution with a lower security rating – and a higher pay scale.

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“Guards Use Tear Gas: Reformatory Riot Follows Open House,” The Globe and Mail. September 25, 1962. Pages 01 & 12.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Guelph, Sept. 24 – The first open house in history at the Ontario Reformatory here last weekend affected about 30 inmates today – they rioted.

Superintendent Charles Sanderson said some disturbance usually follows any unusual program, such as the open house that attracted more than 10,000 persons to the institution.

The prisoners were subdued within 15 minutes after guards pumped large quantities of tear gas into the dining room. There was considerable damage, but no injuries were reported.

Mr. Sanderson said the prisoners did not attempt to leave the dining room, but smashed crockery and windows. They were removed to a prison yard after the outbreak and more than 350 inmates eating in an adjoining room were also removed for safety.

There had been a couple of incidents in the dormitories during the weekend that led him to expect trouble, the superintendent said, ‘but I didn’t expect anything as serious as this.’

About 30 inmates overturned and broke about 25 windows Saturday night and there were a couple of fights between prisoners, Mr. Sanderson said. One guard received a broken nose attempting to break up one fight.

‘Their fun involves vandalism,’ the superintendent added.

About 15 men involved in the dormitory disturbances were today transferred to the maximum security at Millbrook.

The men in the large dining room were brought back into the building just before 5 p.m. They had been confined in a prison yard since noon.

About 250 men who were in the small dining room remained in another room.

Mr. Sanderson said the 250 inmates of the reformatory will spend the night in the prison yard and will not be given any food until morning.

‘It is unfortunate that we have to leave all the men out because we are not yet sure who all the troublemakers are,’ he said.

The staff at the reformatory was doubled in strength tonight with about 80 men on duty. Guards are watching from rooftops and other locations with tear-gas guns ready.

Mr. Sanderson said that it was the prompt use of the tear gas that prevented the trouble from becoming more serious.

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“Inside Kingston Penitentiary – Ten Years After Canada’s Most Infamous Prison Riot,” Saturday Night. September 1981. Pages 32 & 33.


Part one. Part three.
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‘THE Cells Are Opened at 7 In the Morning,’ Says An Inmate Sentenced To life. ‘Breakfast is at 7.30. You go the kitchen by ranges, then back to your cell with your tray. You’re locked in with your food until 8 while the medication trolley comes around. From 8 to 11 you work. Back to your cell at 11, lunch and maybe a sleep until 1, then back to work until 3:30. Supper, until 6. After supper, you can be out on the range, playing cards or watching TV. Or you can go to the exercise yard in summer, the gym in winter. Lockup is 11 o’clock. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.’

Routine, repetition, numbing boredom. The inmate’s lot is grim; but less so than it once was. One of the major reforms of the past decade is a programme of family visits. At present these are restricted to maximum-security institutions (whose inmates are ineligible for the termporary absences available to medium- and minimum-security inmates), although they may soon be extended to medium-security prisons. The programme was introduced last year at Millhaven, where a white mobile home stands inside the security fences. There is a small fenced yard for children, with swings and a teeter-totter. The authorities provide food and other necessities. The purpose of the programme, an official explains, is ‘to keep the family together, to maintain some continuity so the inmate’s got something to go back to. It’s not to dangle a carrot for good behaviour. It’s not even to cut down on homosexuality in the institution – those are side effects.’ A similar programme was started in Attica in New York State three years ago. ‘It’s early to make any sweeping statements,’ says the official, ‘but the people there the recividism among the men who got visits is way, way down.’

At Kingston, there is no programme of conjugal visits. Inmate’s contact with family and friends consists of letters and supervised visits. The inmate above asked to be photographed so that his girlfriend could have his picture.

WITH Waxed Moustached, Medal Ribbons, and Military Bearing, Tom Rathwell, the supervising keeper (or head guard) at Kingston, appears as anachronistic as the penitentiary itself. In fact, he is respected – even liked – by virtually all the inmates. ‘I don’t know who they’ll get when he goes on retirement,’ says a bank robber. ‘I mean, he’s a man you can trust. I remember one time we had a sit-down strike in the gym. The guys wanted to kill the warden – they had iron bars and they were ugly. Then, after a day-and-a-half, the door opened – boom! – and in walked Tom Rathwell, right in among us. He went around to all the ringleaders and wagged a finger under their noses – ‘This is your doing, don’t think I don’t know that.’ He made them feel like kids. After that, we all caved in.’

A veteran of the Second World War, Rathwell, sixty-one, joined the penitentiary service in 1947. Except for a few months at Millhaven, he has spent his entire career at Kingston. ‘Things were much tougher before ‘71,’ he says. ‘Everything was very military. Men marched everywhere in lines, they weren’t allowed to dress sloppily, they had to be very polite with the guards. If they called you by your first name, you were supposed to charge them. It didn’t help. You can’t treat people like that. I try to be straight with them. If they ask about their parole, or what their chances are of a move, and I don’t think they have a hope, I tell them. If you say, ‘That’s up to the classification officers,’ it just makes them mad.’

A Kingston inmate handed a note to the photographer and asked that it be given to the writer. The note reads, ‘While speaking with Mr. Rathwell the other day he made a comment which I thought worth passing on to you. He seldom uses bad language, but this is what he said: ‘They told me when I started here thirty-four years ago to treat all prisoners alike. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.’

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Expanding the Carceral State
While the federal government was no more willing to step into state prisons on behalf of Muslim prisoners than it was in Albany, Georgia, on behalf of nonviolent protestors, the activism of the Muslim Brotherhood continued to receive attention from the state capital in Albany, New York. The writ-writing campaigns of prisoners had helped prompt a national response and the attention of the courts, but it also caused an arm of the state to reach deep into incarcerated communities. Wardens and state corrections officers authorized prison surveillance and, in some cases, even dedicated a staff member to internal supervision of the Nation of Islam. This surveillance was meant not only to absorb and report but also to disrupt and subvert. It also provided the raw material for state knowledge production that could quell prison activism. Prison officials soon emerged as arbiters of religious orthodoxy, determining who and what constituted legitimate Muslim practice.

As they looked to Muslim religious practices such as eating, prayer, and use of Arabic for markers of identity and political agitation, prisoners turned to informal strategies of daily resistance to combat state intrusions. Through its intervention, the state also assigned political meaning to religious practice, further politicizing incarceration and the practice of Islam within prison walls. State surveillance began with prison officers, who had the most daily contact with prisoners. One institution devoted an officer to keeping a list of all active members, searching their cells, and confiscating any literature relating to the Nation of Islam. Seizing materials slowed the spread of conversions and were a source for state intelligence. An area of concern was prisoners’ use of Arabic. The language not only served a cultural and religious function but also flummoxed prison security. For example, Bratcher gave specific instructions in his letter to Malcolm X: his mother would write him of the minister’s reply in red

ink with “three lines of Al-Fatihab” (referring to Al-Fatiha, the first surah in the Qur’an). One state report noted that it “would seem doubtful if the majority of the prisoners can rea[d] and write Arabic but if notes are picked up that seem to contain no meaning maybe they would bear investigating.” Several months later, six pages of Arabic to English and English to Arabic translation were confiscated. 

Another surveillance strategy that relied heavily on prison officers was the scrutiny of Muslim eating habits. The refusal to eat pork in prisons recalls Malcolm X’s own imprisonment in the late 1940s when he and other prisoners protested its prevalence in prison diets. At Attica Prison, Bratcher wrote to Warden Walter Wilkins asking for permission to carry food from the mess hall to his cell so he and other Muslim prisoners could eat after sundown during Ramadan. One prisoner was even charged with wasting state food for throwing away his bacon and refusing to eat it. Daily political acts such as throwing away bacon even escalated to more formal strikes. In Milan, Michigan, where Elijah Muhammad had once been incarcerated for draft resistance, prisoners took part in a three day hunger strike against pork, which eventually resulted in Muslim-prepared food and a separate dining section. 

These actions were challenged by prison officials who quickly seized on dietary restrictions as a way to monitor and challenge the legitimacy of a prisoner’s religious beliefs. “In order to check the authenticity of the Muslims,” Woodward’s memo noted, “each officer has been required to submit to the principal keeper’s office a report on whether or not the particular prisoner in question is eating pork. The members who are eating pork will be … included in next month’s report.” Another institution itemized prisoners’ eating when pork was served in the mess hall: “Of the above total [of 70], 30 prisoners either refused their ration or gave it to another prisoner, and additional 16 prisoners took their ration to their cells and only two were actually observed fasting.” By monitoring prisoners’ eating, writings, and literature, prison officers acted as foot soldiers in the state’s surveillance of the Nation of Islam. 

From this narrow base of day-to-day surveillance, reports on Muslims in prison also radiated outward to the state and federal levels. The success of the NOI’s organized prison litigation continued to trouble prison officials. The first to present on the NOI at the ACA’s annual conference was the noted penologist Donald Clemmer, who authored his foundational study The Prison Community in 1940. By 1963, topics such as “The Black Muslims and Religious Freedom in Prison” and “The Black Muslim in Prison: A Personality Study” surfaced at the conference. The academic communities of penology and criminology emerged as part of the state’s developing knowledge production about the NOI. 

The 1960s also marked a shift from rehabilitative strategies to psychological warfare and new technologies of violence, and Muslim prisoners were often the first subjected to these new experimental practices. As Alan Gómez notes, bibliotherapy was replaced with isolation, sensory deprivation, and brainwashing; Muslim prison litigation helped “propel this shift.” Edgar Schein, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, presented a paper in 1961 to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons entitled “Man against Man: Brainwashing.” Bertra S. Brown of the National Institute of Mental Health responded by contacting prison administrators and suggesting that they “do things perhaps on your own—undertake a little experiment of what you can do with Muslims.” As Gómez persuasively argues, the ascension of Control Units, Special Housing Units, and Adjustment Centers, were all outgrowths of the experimental use of excessive solitary confinement by prison officials during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These punishments and techniques, he concluded, were “initially experimented with on Muslim inmates [but] later used en masse on political activists [and] became the model for the entire prison regime.”

– Garrett Felber, ““Shades of Mississippi”: The Nation of Islam’s Prison Organizing, the Carceral State, and the Black Freedom Struggle.” The Journal of American History, June 2018. pp. 90-93.

Photos are from Ann Arbor Times, September 6, 1966.

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“In the days after her brother-in-law’s death inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, Tracy Sharp watched in disbelief as negative comments made by people who never met him started to pile up on social media.

“One less person on our tax payers [sic] dime,” read one.

“Thin the herd,” read another.

But one comment in particular stopped her cold: “Who cares,” wrote Kevin Hale, whose Facebook profile says he works for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

“Is this the kind of people that work there, treating them like animals?” she wondered.

“If these are the kind of people who are supposed to be in control and looking out for these guys, that doesn’t bode well.”

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the ministry would not say if it’s investigating Hale’s comments or if he will face any sort of reprimand because it does not comment on “human resources matters.”

“The personal opinions expressed by our employee do not reflect the values of our ministry nor of the vast majority of correctional staff,” wrote Brent Ross.

I care and so do the families of all of these other people who have died. – Tracy Sharp

Christopher “Johnny” Sharp died at the Barton Street jail Friday afternoon of a suspected drug overdose. His death comes just months after a marathon inquest into eight overdose deaths at the facility the produced 62 recommendations aimed at improving everything from security and health services to surveillance.

The ministry has six months to respond. In the meantime, inquests have also been announcedinto the deaths of two other HWDC inmates — Brennan Bowley and Ryan McKechnie.

Not just a mug shot

Beyond questions about how drugs continue to get into the jail and kill inmates, Sharp’s family is left struggling to understand why people would go out of their way to attack a hurting family trying to hold onto memories of the man they loved.

“Johnny isn’t just a mug shot and a rap sheet,” said Tracy. “He was a person and like a lot of addicts and people who get caught up in the system, he wasn’t always like this.”

Carol, Johnny’s mother, remembers the 53-year-old as a gentle boy with a mischievous sense of humour before addiction and 30 years spent bouncing between jails, prisons and halfway houses.

As a child he loved sports and art — later in life he became a tattoo artist who created his own complex designs.

Tracy knew Johnny for almost 15 years and said some of her her fondest memories are of him playing with her kids.

“He was just so sweet, I only know the sweet side to him. I don’t know that rap sheet Johnny."”

– Dan Taekema, “‘Who cares?’ asks corrections worker after inmate dies inside Hamilton jail.CBC News, September 14, 2018.

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