Abusing/Killing The Imprisoned Mentally Ill
The contents is factual. by Edward R. Clark
This writer is a prisoner for over four decades has sought prison reform. Predictably, prison officials react with punitive action including trips to punitive segregation and extended imprisonment. However, placed in segregation has provided insight into the abuse of mentally ill/impaired prisoners in segregation to the degree of causing their death, as I included in reports to the legislature: A Prisoner’s Prospective; Corrections In Minnesota, and a 188-page report entitled, Maximum Security Mania – The Devolution Of A Prison System At Taxpayers’ Expense. The latter especially angered lawmakers as the abuse continued for three years after I submitted the former report. An excerpt:
Obviously no prisoner suffers depression and neglect more under maximum security confinement than those who are mentally ill or mentally impaired – a growing problem since the closing of mental hospitals throughout the state and the nation. This is a problem for which there is partial and easy way to slow down their deterioration. It is by transferring those not having a history of extreme violent behavior or sexual predatory behavior, to medium security facilities that provides a less stressful environment… It’s questionable there will be any help for them because the abnormality of the mentally ill/impaired is looked upon by corrections officials as a disciplinary problem instead of a medical or psychological condition…
In the general population [of prisons] mentally ill prisoners are ignored by staff, for staff are not trained to deal with the problem, even if there is an established policy. This leaves the mentally ill
2 and retarded prisoners vulnerable to that segment of the prison population who are predatory and commit extortion and sexual assaults.
It doesn’t take trained staff to recognize the obvious: Those who self-mutilate, or tie their cell door shut with strips of clothing and hide under their bed with the blanket draped over the side to escape from the real and imaginary prison world…
Because this mistreatment continues to be ignored to the degree that a mentally ill prisoner died a year ago while being mistreated, I quote my report of three years earlier describing the conditions that mentally ill prisoners are subjected to in the segregation unit…:
Along with housing those of us who are normal, this segregation unit houses the mentally impaired, the emotionally disturbed and those who are insane. They have not committed any rule violation, but are an embarrassment to prison officials who choose this way of dealing with them rather than providing professional help.
Our 6’x12’ cells have steel mesh welded over the bars with another steel mesh barrier or cage approximately 30 inches in front of the cell. Solid food, cold more often than not, is eaten with our fingers because all that we are issued is a little plastic spoon and fork. We are allowed out of our cell one hour per day, five days per week for “exercise.” This exercise, including a shower – depending on how many are using it, consists of pacing up and down in the 30” wide cage running the distance of eleven cells, reeking with body order from individuals who either no longer care about personal hygiene, or because of their mental condition don’t take showers.
The desperation of those with emotional or mental problems in this section [of segregation] is expressed through desecration of themselves – saving their excrement and rubbing it all over their bodies and throughout their cell. Others take more drastic action. One stabbed himself in the eye with a pencil. Another cut off his own penis. Some mentally ill prisoners are not allowed to leave their cells for even the hour of exercise. Their existence is in a “quiet cell” with a concrete bed, a hole in the floor for bowel movement, and the bars covered with steel plates.
There is also the board when they get out of control and pound on the steel plates or scream obscenities at the guards. They are stripped naked and strapped to the board; their bowel movement takes place on themselves. ... Mental health staff are aware of this uncivilized method of control, for other prisoners have brought it to their attention when they make their infrequent rounds to check on how the sane prisoners are holding up through months and even years in segregation, with questions more in line with an experiment rather than general concern. The only action they have taken was to order a naked prisoner who is stretched out on the board to be covered. So guards passing through the unit wouldn’t heckle and make sexually suggestive remarks toward the abnormal human being.
During his weekly rounds the medical doctor will order the inmate removed from the board. The next day, when the doctor is not in the prison, the inmate is strapped back down. When he is taken off the board, he is relatively quiet for a few days. but to break the routine of boredom, he will again bang on the steel
4 plates and scream obscenities, knowing full well that in the morning he again will be placed on the board.
My report quoted a corrections official who shows no distinction in segregation between the mentally ill and other prisoners:
If an inmate in segregations comes to act out...kicks the door for example – he is placed on a large piece of plywood called, “the restrainer.” ... I know it looks barbaric, but there is a progression to punishment.
A case that got the public's attention on mistreating prisoners in segregation is prisoner Silva. Silva had been confined to the segregation unit for seven years, which would cause any human being to become irrational and a problem. His verbal responses to how he was being treated had him charged in criminal court with making "terroristic threats" and "aggravated harassment" against the guards. Silva's defense attorney revealed that guards had spit in Silva's food, that the food included pubic hairs, cigarette and cigar buts. While the jury found Silva guilty of the charges, the jury also declared:
We the jury are concerned about Mr. Silva's safety if he is returned to the...facility and we would also ask the court to initiate an independent investigation of the facility into alleged abuses.
But due to a prison system's influence in the community, no such investigation took place nor disciplinary action against the guards. This inaction serves to encourage unfettered abuse of mentally ill prisoners housed in segregation who end up paying the ultimate price:
Prisoner Michael Blair was not dangerous, merely verbally abusive against authority that had him placed in segregation. As witnessed by other
5 prisoners in segregation, after severely beaten by the guards, Blair was dragged into a cell where he laid on the concrete floor in a fetal position with no signs of life It wasn't until the next shift came on that a nurse summoned medical help - Blair was dead!
Prisoner Gregory Stampley met with the same fate, as outlined in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by his family. Excerpts the complaint filed by the attorney:
20. Mt. Stampley became uncommunitive with the staff. Defendant staff at times denied him food and water until his death. Mr. Stampley drank from the toilet at various times - either because of his mental condition or because the water had been turned off. He did not receive medication, and the staff took no action to ensure that he received medication. Mr. Stampley also urinated and defecated in his cell until after his death.
21. ...When Mr. Stampley did not respond to a request to return some plastic utensils, a riot squad (for the second time) entered his cell and maced him. The Defendant staff then forcibly strapped Mr. Stampley to a board, placing him in four-point restraint...
27. Mr. Stameiey died in the afternoon on January 21, 1994. Although he had been lying on the floor motionless, it took several hours for prison staff to observe Mr. Stampley close enough to realize he was dead...
30. The above described treatment of Mt. Stampley actually constitutes a reoccurring practice by the Department of Corrections in its treatment of mentally ill inmates. On January 21, 1991 - exactly three years prior to the death of Mr. Stampley, an inmate in the prison named Edward Clark had written a comprehensive report entitled
A Prisoner's perspective: Corrections In Minnesota which was officially submitted to the governor, and upon information and belief, was also received by corrections officials. The report contains a chapter entitled "Mistreated Mentally Impaired and Mentally Ill Prisoners" pages 22-24. This chapter specifically describes how mentally ill inmates in the prison who need professional help are regularly placed in disciplinary segregation where their mental health deteriorates further leading them to engage in further self-destructive behavior, and staff punishes them for acting out by strapping them down to a board. These practices, which Mr.Clark described obviously continued until they killed Mr. Stampley...
Mr. stampley's mistreatment was actually videotaped. But to avoid coming under public scrutiny the case was settled out of court.
This writer witnessed what took place prior to Stampley being placed in segregation: He was stripped naked in the presence of three female staff, a lieutenant, a caseworker and a nurse. Even though Mt. Stampley was not aggressive, six guards had suited up in riot gear. While his hands were cuffed behind his back, he was pepper-sprayed, then paraded down the corridor the length of a cellblock past other prisoners. Stampley was given a brief shower to wash away the pepper spray. To cover his nakedness, another prisoner wrapped a towel around Stampley, then he was taken to segregation.
Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, Stampley was serving an eight year prison term for slapping his unruly teenage daughter. In prison, he attended religious services, and when taking his medication was congenial towards the staff and other prisoners.
In a magazine the circumstances surrounding Stampley's death was extensively outlined entitled, The Lonesome Death Of Gregory Stampley:
They say that by the time guards entered Gregory Stampley's cell to check on him, his body was already turning cold and hard. No one had actually seen him alive for three hours or more. Stillwater warden Dennis Benson admitted later - this despite the fact that Stampley, a man with a history of serious mental illness, had been housed in a special observation cell for the past five days. He was placed there in what prison officials call a "suicide gown"...but he'd spent most of the last week of his life naked, eating little if anything, passing in and out of cogency. The running water had been shut off in his cell, and at least once he was observed drinking from the toilet... Edward Clark, who's served most of his 20 years in prison at Stillwater, says they're symptoms of profound underlying tensions.
Under the new system, the trust is gone. There is now a barrier between the inmates and the officers. It's so regimented that everyone is uncomfortable. A prison is a human environment. You have to have give and take. When you have it where it's strictly rules and you're constantly bombarding the inmate population with that and not giving them recognition for responsible behavior, their reaction is to act irresponsibly.
I think the recent deaths just added one more element to the animosity toward corrections officials and to the distrust and concern about their own safety. Inmates think, "It happened to him, it can happen to me." It almost seems like they are pushing these changes on the inmate population so fast and in such extreme measures because they want the inmates to cause a certain amount of problems. Then they can say the behavior justifies the controlled movement philosophy.
Clark says inmates have been told that come spring, outdoor activities will be restricted... "I think this coming summer, there are going to be major problems."
The author of the article, along with myself, received a humanitarian award from the national Alliance For The Mentally ill (NAMI-MN) - an organization seeking professional mental health treatment for prisoners.
Due to the publicity over Mr. Stampley's mistreatment, and this writer's expose, the public demanded sweeping reforms. It included a professional diagnosis and treatment for mentally ill prisoners. But there is still the practice of denying prisoners their constitutional right to due process before taken to segregation over the most trivial of allegations - including the mentally ill!
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