Home » As Courts Decline to Review Louisiana Solitary Confinement Laws, I remember My Time in A Louisiana Penitentiary

As Courts Decline to Review Louisiana Solitary Confinement Laws, I remember My Time in A Louisiana Penitentiary

by Cathy Brown
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I spent greater than 40 years within the Louisiana penal system—from December 1965 to April 2006.

Eight of my first eleven months of preliminary jail confinement had been spent in a strong concrete cell with a full metal door. It was a freezing tomb within the damp winter and a sweltering oven within the humid summer season.

I used to be transferred from the “parish jail” to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in November 1966.

I used to be positioned in a solitary confinement referred to as CCR—the jail’s most punitive unit the place inmates with severe disciplinary infractions had been held, though there was no disciplinary rule e-book on the time defining precisely what a “disciplinary infraction” was.

I used to be positioned there pending the formal imposition of a loss of life sentence.

The Editorial Board of the Washington Submit on September 7, 2022 known as for an finish to the usage of solitary confinement within the nation’s jail methods. The Board stated this disciplinary device ought to solely be used to “guarantee a prisoner’s security.”

Fifteen months earlier (June 18, 2021), the Fifth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals in Hope v. Harris (an unpublished 2-1 opinion) held that penal solitary confinement can never violate the “merciless and strange” provisions of the Eighth Modification, no matter how lengthy it’s imposed for, the influence it could have on an inmate’s bodily and psychological well being, and/or the rationale for its use.

The choice by the Fifth Circuit ran in opposition to the grain of a minimum of 5 different federal circuit courts of appeals which have held that, underneath sure circumstances, solitary confinement can create an Eighth Modification violation.

The Hope case concerned a Texas inmate who on the time of the Fifth Circuit resolution had spent 27 years in solitary confinement in that state’s penal system—a system that leads the nation in holding individuals in solitary confinement for the longest durations of time.

On January 22, 2022, attorneys for the McArthur Justice Heart, based mostly in San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., filed a petition for writ of certiorari within the U.S. Supreme Courtroom looking for overview of the Fifth Circuit resolution within the Hope case.

That Courtroom on April 17, 2023 declined to take up the solitary confinement punishment subject, that means that the penal methods in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi—all of which disproportionately incarcerate Black inmates—can put their inmates in solitary confinement for little or no motive in any respect and hold them there for so long as they please whatever the influence it could have on the inmate’s psychological and bodily well being.

I do know a factor or two about solitary confinement.

Whereas I used to be within the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s solitary confinement unit coined CCR, all of the tier home windows had been already shattered throughout earlier inmate uprisings that made mosquito-infested summers and cold-wind pushed winters nearly insufferable.

Inmates survived by a psychological resolve rooted in a hatred of the “system.”

I left CCR and was positioned on Angola’s loss of life row on March 1, 1967 the place I remained till November 28, 1972 once I was resentenced to life imprisonment after my loss of life sentence was vacated.

Dying row consisted of three tiers—two 15-man tiers and one 11-man tier. These tiers had been located instantly underneath CCR in a dilapidated thick concrete constructing known as the “Reception Heart.”

The loss of life row cells, just like the CCR cells, had been barred which allowed inmates to look past the hallway than ran down the tier although steel-framed home windows to see the fences that surrounded the unit.

Dying row inmates had been set free of their cells for quarter-hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Throughout that 15-minute “bathe interval,” they may bathe and wash their garments, together with their bedding, in an enormous sink positioned in a “utility room” on the entrance of the tier.

The circumstances on loss of life row had been deplorable: non-existent medical remedy; dangerous meals; leaky cell sinks and bathrooms that allowed swamp rats nearly as massive as cats to climb moist out of bathrooms into the cells; psychological well being remedy that consisted of limitless doses of Thorazine distributed by a “convict guard;” and cell residing circumstances that had been unattainable to wash.

In 1970, I filed a crude, hand-written federal civil rights lawsuit difficult these circumstances. One of many points raised within the lawsuit was that it was merciless and strange to accommodate loss of life row inmates for years in solitary confinement with out the advantage of outside train.

The lawsuit was summarily dismissed by the native federal courtroom.

I filed a hand-written attraction to the Fifth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals.

In November 1970, that courtroom acknowledged that prolonged durations in solitary confinement with out sunshine or train may certainly represent merciless and strange punishment.

The appeals courtroom remanded my lawsuit again to the decrease courtroom for a listening to on the deserves of its claims.

On September 21, 1971, the decrease courtroom handed down Sinclair v. Henderson which held that Louisiana loss of life row inmates had been constitutionally entitled to outside train durations.

In response, jail officers constructed three fenced train yards—one for every tier—that allowed inmates to train every day for one hour and allowed them to spend an extra hour on the tier exterior of their cells for showering.

Sinclair v. Henderson was the primary federal courtroom resolution within the nation that held “confinement for lengthy durations of time with out the chance for normal outside train does, as a matter of legislation, represent merciless and strange punishment in violation of the Eighth Modification to america Structure.”

But a minimum of a dozen loss of life row inmates, so psychologically broken by their long run solitary confinement, refused to depart their cells to co-mingle with different inmates throughout both the train or bathe durations.

Actually, these similar inmates needed to be bodily evicted from their loss of life cells within the wake of the U.S. Supreme Courtroom’s 1972 Furman v. Georgia resolution that successfully vacated greater than 600 loss of life sentences throughout the nation.

They didn’t wish to depart the safety of their loss of life cells to confront the inevitable challenges that awaited them on the whole jail inhabitants.

My subsequent journey to solitary confinement got here in August 1973.

I used to be positioned there for a disciplinary infraction.

I spent 22 months in CCR and CBC–one other lockdown cellblock—earlier than being launched again into basic inhabitants in June 1975.

The distinction between the 2 items was that CBC had two 15-man tiers—one “upstairs,” the opposite “downstairs.” CBC in these years was in all probability essentially the most violent unit in what then known as “the bloodiest jail in America.”

Within the wake of Sinclair v. Henderson, all Louisiana inmates in solitary confinement had been allowed exterior their cells one hour every day to bathe or train on the hallway in entrance of the cells. They didn’t have outside train amenities like those constructed for loss of life row inmates.

Solitary confinement is a horrible penal administration device. It doesn’t produce rule obedience amongst problematic inmates, nor does it improve security on the whole inmate inhabitants.

In various levels, solitary confinement completely damages inmates.

Some get better, most don’t.

Society ultimately pays the worth for the human harm finished to them.

Photograph supply: thecrimereport.org

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