Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Problem With Solitary Confinement

Kelly Hannah-Moffat, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and director of the Centre of Criminology & Sociolegal Studies about solitary confinement —what is it, what is it supposed to accomplish, and how is it being used.


What does solitary confinement really mean in practice? 

Most of the time solitary confinement refers to being in a cell with a restricted amount of possessions. You’re in a cell with a steel bed that is attached to the wall. Sometimes you have a mattress, sometimes you don’t. There will be a toilet and a sink attached to the wall. You might have a barred door or a full metal door with a small window. There’s a slot at the bottom that a meal tray can go through. Normally you are in that cell for 23 hours a day and allowed out for an hour for showers or for recreation, which is quite basic and involves moving to another space, sometimes a closed-in concrete space that has some natural light or natural air. You can walk around, but you’re by yourself. Normally, the movement between the cell and the recreation space is in restraints—shackles and handcuffs. Many cells are subject to 24-hour monitoring by camera. There is very little human interaction. Solitary confinement basically prevents you from associating with other prisoners, and severely restricts your movement and can prevent access to visits, treatment, programmes and services.


Can you explain the different types of solitary confinement?
A more punitive or disciplinary segregation would occur if an offender has violated one of the institutional rules. More commonly used is something called administrative segregation, where someone can be placed in segregation for security reasons—to protect their safety or the safety of other prisoners or to protect the security of the institution. This might be somebody who causes fights or is prone to victimization due to their offences or status. It might be someone suffering with acute or unmanageable mental health issues who can’t self-regulate in the wider population or somebody who chronically self-injures or is at risk for committing suicide.


So the typical person in segregation is not our image of the horrible, violent offender.

We tend to have a skewed perception of prisoners, especially those who are in segregation. We see them as “the other,” as the terrifying violent predators or the mythical personalities we see on TV who are overly vicious and lethal. But that’s not representative. Many have mental health problems or cognitive impairments. It’s no surprise when you look at files of people in prison. They are struggling with complex and interconnected issues: addiction, abuse, trauma. They were often in the child welfare system or had family-of-origin issues. They haven’t done well at the front end of their life, so it’s not surprising when they get to the back end that this is where they are.

Is it legal to put people with mental health issues or cognitive impairments into solitary confinement?

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr.
The UN declaration for the minimum standard for treatment of prisoners says that you should not put people with mental health difficulties in segregation. That has not been honoured, and that’s partly because we don’t have very good capacities to address mental health needs in custody. People in custody don’t have good access to psychiatric nurses, to psychologists, to staff with appropriate levels of training to deal with people who are ill. The Office of the Correctional Investigator and many international and local advocates, inquires and inquests have raised many concerns about the continuation of this practice and its damaging and sometimes lethal effects. Yet it continues.

Does solitary confinement work when it’s applied for disciplinary reasons?

You might have a sense that if we put somebody in segregation, they’re going to learn their lesson, and they’re going to come out and behave properly and follow the rules. There’s no empirical evidence to actually support that. Generally speaking, we know that deterrence is not particularly effective in getting compliance from people. International research shows that segregation has harmful effects, and that it can actually exacerbate the negative behaviour you are trying to control. It can create irreversible psychological damage.
Could that same logic mean that prison in general isn’t effective?
There is no evidence that says prison is effective. It isolates people’s mobility for a short period of time, but it does very little to ensure that someone won’t reoffend in the future. You can selectively incapacitate people, you can hold them in a space and prevent them from moving and interacting with other people for a defined period of time, but in the long term that doesn’t solve the underlying problems that bring people into conflict with the law. In fact, in terms of solitary confinement specifically, people in segregation for a long period of time will start to exhibit the very problems that you’re trying to prevent. It can create aggression, depression, suicidal ideation, a range of mental health issues that may not have been there previously, or it can exasperate pre-existing ones.

So if it doesn’t work, why has the system evolved the way it has? Is it an issue of lack of resources so solitary confinement is overused?

Part of it is resources. Part of it is who has jurisdiction over the provision of mental health services and how to arrange for those services to be delivered to people under federal sentence. One of the big issues that came up in the Ashley Smith case is how to move people into secure hospital settings where they can be treated for problematic behaviours that are then understood as symptomatic of a mental illness. In a hospital setting, you’re using treatment interventions. You’re not using punitive restrictions that will escalate into various types of use of force—macing, using restraints, having masks over people’s faces or having them in shackles and leg irons. There is international best practice on how to do this that is not being followed.

There has also been resistance to looking at community-based alternatives. We know, for example, that for those prone to self-injury, having somebody to sit there and talk to you and listen to you and just having access to non-judgemental conversations is really important.
The other side of this is that there’s a tremendous toll on the staff who have to work in those units. There is very little training given to people who work in maximum-security segregation units. Investing in the HR side of things is difficult to do. We are in an era of fiscal restraint, and we have punitive sensibilities—you get what you deserve.

And it seems that being tough on crime is a popular political stance. 

Taking a hard line on crime is politically popular, but it’s very short sighted. Parole is an excellent example of this. In Canada, we have a determinate sentencing structure, which means we send people to prison for a specific period of time. Except for life sentences, all sentences have an expiry date. Every sentence ends, which de facto means that these individuals will return to the community. The question is how would you like that person to be returned? Would you like them to come back angrier and more damaged? Or would you like them to come back with a renewed sense of purpose and opportunities to take their lives in different directions?

The desire for punishment is very human. If you or someone you care about has been victimized, the desire for retribution is understandable, but it doesn’t necessarily make good policy. Getting rid of or severely restricting parole options, for example, keeps people in prison longer. It’s very expensive and releases them less prepared to cope with the things they’re going to have to cope with—jobs, housing, transportation, child care, family reunification. And if you magnify that and think about segregation, do you really want to release someone to the street from solitary confinement?

Is there any hope for improvement? What can be done?

We see the sensational cases like Ashley Smith, and we ask how, in a modern democracy where we see ourselves as law-abiding and humane, could that happen? There are lots of community advocates accomplished at dealing with mental health issues and with chronic self-injury. Bringing some of that expertise into the prison system is an important thing, but it is equally important to limit the use of custody and provide better support for individuals in the community. Prevention is preferable, and that can be achieved by ensuring that proper social supports and resources are accessible to people in need, especially for people struggling with mental health issues or addictions.
There are also some basic standards about what is humane treatment. We need to clarify the threshold of what constitutes excessive punishment. We have rules that limit the amount of time someone is in segregation. We have rules about doing reviews. But it’s all done in-house. Where is the oversight? You’ve got corrections policing itself. You’ve got bodies like the correctional investigator, who has for years done special reports around deaths in federal custody and segregation and mental health, and has made a series of very thoughtful recommendations—but they don’t get implemented. In some cases, it’s lack of political will. Sometimes its jurisdictional problems. Sometimes it’s resource constraint. Sometimes it’s myopic thinking.

I don’t fault the people who work directly in institutions. Both people in custody and people who work in institutions want safe and secure spaces, but I don’t think segregation is a vehicle for doing that. It’s a short-term solution to an immediate and often preventable problem. And sometimes it exemplifies and demonstrates the failures in the system. This was stunningly obvious in Ashley Smith’s case, where you saw the woman being transferred across the country from place to place and the same things happening over and over again and escalating and escalating. There’s a pattern here, and somebody needs to be looking at the patterns holistically and at the prisoner as an individual, asking, what does she need right now? What will she need tomorrow and the next day? How do we create a holistic plan to move her forward as opposed to just trying to prevent the next incident of self-injury? It’s more of an individual than an event-based approach that is useful.

For me, it’s about identifying those systemic barriers to change. We sometimes talk about more law, more policy, more regulation. We actually don’t need that. We’ve got tons of that. We need cultural shifts in how we think of these things, strong enforcement mechanisms, a respect for the culture of law and the limits that laws present, and more holistic approaches.


Full Interview [Source] of Kelly Hannah-Moffat by Jenny Hall at University Of Toronto.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

9 Ways the Media Can Stop Shutting Out Trans Voices

There is a moment, after the millionth time that you have been thoughtlessly and/or intentionally misnamed or mispronouned, as a trans person, that you reach anger.

At this point in my life, when dealing with folks who defiantly refuse my identity on a regular basis — especially when people in power do it — I get mad.

We, as trans people, have a right to advocate for ourselves, especially with how we are depicted in media, since the traditional slant has been anything but just.

If the anger in this article is too much for your eyes, you may not be ready to be my ally just yet.

This is not an open letter to Richard Morgan, or to New York Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or anyone else who prints his work. This is about the importance of my name and what you need to do to respect it as a cis person.

Notice I didn’t say why you need to respect it. If you are a decent human being, you will already make that assumption on your own.

This post most obviously mentions the parties involved in this particular story, but its message is about every person that falls short of trans-allyship and expects me/us to just deal with it.

This post is for my cis-LGBQA+ counterparts that are often gatekeepers within the LGBTQIA+ community and expect us to just accept whatever morsels of attention we are given.

Fuck that. I am an adult, not a puppy, and I do not accept table scraps when I deserve to sit down to dinner.

A few days ago, someone passed my contact information over to an openly gay cis writer named Richard Morgan, who was looking specifically for a trans poet to be interviewed in an article about queer artists of color. (Let’s not even mention the fact that if he was truly part of an inclusive community in NYC, he would already know a trans person to interview.) So we set up a time to talk on the phone.

Once on the phone, I was asked what my name was. Since that was a simple enough question, I said, “Well, as [redacted] said in the e-mail, my name is Mason, and my writing/stage name is J Mase III.”

“But what’s your driver’s license name?”

What? This can’t be real, right? Anyone writing about a trans person must know it is not okay to just ask someone, in the first 30 seconds, what their “real name” is.

When I asked what relevance my legal name had in regards to an article about my art, the response I was given was that since many artists – like Diddy and Ke$ha – change their names, my government name was needed in order to keep a consistent record of “who I was.”

Clearly, as I shared over the phone, Diddy and I changed our names for very different reasons.

And the whole conversation went downhill from there, as I explained that not only was my full government name not even something I get on my paychecks, but that 99% of people in my personal and public life wouldn’t recognize it.

It would be one thing if Mr. Morgan simply said, “Hey, I get that this is important to your identity – let’s just use the name you feel is most representative of you.” However, when I inquired what happens when trans folks aren’t safe or comfortable sharing their legal name, the response was “Well, those people don’t get written about.”

Seriously? This is how we show trans allyship?

I encouraged Mr. Morgan to check in with any of the trans-led and/or inclusive organizations that exist in this massive city – like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, or FIERCE, or anywhere else there was someone telling him why that was not appropriate – because, clearly, me saying that about my own experience wasn’t enough proof.

I even sent him a section of GLAAD’s Media’s Reference Guide, which details why journalists should acknowledge trans folk’s names and why not doing so is disrespectful.

Because I was defiant about not sharing a name that hasn’t been a part of my vernacular for over ten years, I was “punished” by Richard Morgan, who decided that, in regards to this article, I “don’t have to worry about it,” and that he would “just interview a different poet and note that some trans poets still navigate a sensitive path.”

Wow, condescending much?

As if the pain of being bullied into sharing my legal name – which aligns itself to a gender I do not identify as – in print would have been me overcoming my “sensitive path.” Bravo! You really do get us trans people, don’t you?

If I had simply received an apology or acknowledgement that the expectation around my name was transphobic, you would not be reading this blog post. I do not believe in naming folks that go out of their way to shift when they have made a mistake. I believe in nonviolence and open communication wholeheartedly.

However, I didn’t receive any type of apology. So for all my cis-LGBQA+ counterparts, here is some shit you need to know about my name:

1. My name isn’t about you, boo – but it does have a lot to do with my trans identity.
How dare any person claim to want to lift up a trans person, artist or not, and then use the tactic of needing a government name as a way to hold some kind of collateral over them? As if to say, “If you don’t do this, I won’t support you.”

How about you support the recognition of our names as trans people because you actually give a damn about trans inclusion and not some fallacious world in which all trans people of color need to look, think and act like cis-folks at the New York Times?

2. You recognizing my name ain’t doing me a favor; it’s doing justice.

Stop acting like you are doing me a favor when you use the name I identify with or use the right pronouns. I do that for you all day, and ain’t nobody givin’ me cookies for that!

Recognizing a person as they are and identify is a basic socialization skill. It is not neuroscience or a grad level Physics experiment. Get to the next level already and show me something new!

3. Stop gatekeeping!

It’s one thing to fuck up. We all fuck up. It is another thing entirely to use your gatekeeping, privileged ass to prevent someone from sharing space with you because it is not in a format you like.

True collaborations mean spaces that have traditionally been held for people with certain types of privilege need to change.

4. Don’t tout your affiliation with gay groups to prove your knowledge of trans identities!

Lots of “LGBTQ” organizations exclude trans people on the regular basis. Evidence can be seen in LGBTQ organizations that mention “homophobia” in their mission statements, but leave out “transphobia,” organizations that talk about supporting “gays and lesbians” and just expect that trans people will get the idea and show up.

I mean, c’mon, I typically blog on a page that says “Gay Voices.” Seriously.

5. I don’t care about the one trans person you know who is okay with you doing [xyz].

It is more than insulting for me to tell you something you’re doing is hurtful/transphobic and your response to be, “Well, I’ve known [random-trans-person-who-would-be-embarrassed-if-they-knew-how-you-were-using-their-name], and they’re okay with it.”

Guess what. One of three things might be going on here:

1. That person doesn’t like you enough to tell you different;

2. They’re worried advocating for themselves may harm your relationship;

3. They’re a different person than the one that you’re talking to at the moment.

6. Apologize when you fuck up.

It’s that simple!

7. Adapt already!

I learned this back in sixth grade biology class, but clearly it bears repeating: If you can’t adapt, you get left behind.

We are living in a world where it is becoming increasingly unpopular not to include trans people. In a time of social media, we have the opportunity to speak back! To every cis person — be they gay, straight, bi, queer — adapt, or get left behind.

We are not a new phenomenon, so get with the now.

8. There is too much Google for you to be out here acting like you don’t have the access to information.

If you are reading this article on the World Wide Web, you should already know. Period. If you have time to click on cat pictures and celebrity sex videos all day, you have more than enough time to learn about the world around you.

9. Do better.

I believe the aforementioned writer has the capacity to do a better job of believing trans people about their lived experiences and dismantling transphobia.

When we know better, we should just do better because it is the right thing to do. Social change doesn’t come from us hemming and hawing about what has been done in the past and how we can hold steadfast to that. It comes from making space for those that have been historically denied.

That is simply called human decency. And maybe, even, a little revolutionary.

Author / Source: J Mase III for So So Gay



No Suture! Art, Music, Gender & Random Topic Snippet-logs, Since 2005 …

No Suture!                         Art, Music, Gender & Random Topic Snippet-logs, Since 2005 …