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Isolation Cells Empty After Change in Solitary Confinement Use

By Christopher Zoukis Picture solitary confinement — a.k.a. “the SHU.” Isolation, loneliness, deprivation. A place where a prisoner might be alone for up to 23 hours per day, in a windowless room, with non-contact visits from behind glass. You might imagine that this form of punishment is used only when absolutely necessary, for the worst offenders

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California moves its solitary confinement laws into the 20th century

Pelican Bay “Special Housing Unit” Solitary confinement remains one of the most archaic punishments in the prison arsenal. Given the advances in our understanding of mental illness and penal rehabilitation over the last thirty years, it’s shocking that it has taken as long as it has for California penitentiaries to come to the conclusion that

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Can Obama set the US on the path to prison reform?

By Christopher Zoukis A few weeks ago I wrote about the passing of a landmark revision to the United Nations’ “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.” In it, I questioned why the United States, a key player in the revision process, had remained so quiet since the announcement, positing that the silence was in

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What “The Mandela Rules” mean for American prisons.

By Christopher Zoukis For 55 years, the international community has used the “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” as a guideline to structuring their criminal justice and penal systems. The document had never been amended (aside from one additional rule in 1977), let alone revised, until this year. On May 22nd, the United

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Colorado Corrections Chief Spends The Night in Segregation

By Christopher Zoukis Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new chief of the State Department of Corrections, decided that he wanted to better understand the experience of solitary confinement; so he decided to spend the night in segregation in one of the prisons he oversees. Raemisch had been on the job for seven months when he decided to

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Accused of Stealing a Backpack, High School Student Jailed for Nearly Three Years Without Trial

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

On the evening of May, 15, 2010, 17-year-old Kalief Browder had no idea his life was about to change. The chain of events that led to Browder’s bizarre life change began when he and his friend were walking through the Bronx coming home from a party and were stopped by police. Browder soon found himself surrounded by a police squad with a spot light blinding him. You would have thought he was being accused of murder, but in actuality he was framed for stealing a back pack.

The police informed Browder and his friend that a Mexican individual claimed they stole his back pack. Browder revealed to the police his personal items in the back pack he carried and insisted he did not steal the back pack. A police officer stepped away to speak with the alleged victim who was sitting in a police car. When he returned he informed Browder the accuser had changed his story to indicate his back pack was stolen a few weeks ago. Apparently, the information was enough to warrant a trip to the Bronx precinct. The police officer promised Browder his visit to the precinct would be short lived, but the nightmare was just beginning.

Browder was interrogated and strongly encouraged to take a plea deal if he wanted to go home soon. Browder adamantly refused to accept a plea bargain and insisted on his innocence. His friend was released, but Browder was retained because he was currently on probation for being present during an auto-theft and accident. Bail was set at $3000, which Browder’s family was unable to post.

Browder was soon on his way to Rikers Island. He was held without bail while the case literally crawled through the system. Browder was continually pressured to plea out, but he didn’t give in because he was innocent. Browder was adamant about getting a trial to prove his innocence, but every time he went before the judge the trial was delayed for various reasons. One of the main reasons for a trial failing to transpire was the overload of cases in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office, which was clogging-up the court system, making it impossible for a short staffed judicial system to deliver. 

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Two Corrections Chiefs Serve Time in Segregation

By Christopher Zoukis / Prison Legal News

Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new corrections director, wanted to better understand the experience of solitary confinement – so he spent a night in segregation at a state prison.

Raemisch had been on the job for seven months when he decided to stay overnight in an ad seg cell at the Colorado State Penitentiary. “I thought he was crazy,” said Warden Travis Trani, who added, “I also admired him for wanting to have the experience.” Trani received only nine hours notice that his boss was arriving for an extended visit.

On January 23, 2014, just after 7:00 p.m., Raemisch, handcuffed and shackled and wearing a prison uniform, entered cell 22. He was classified as “RFP,” or “Removed From Population.” After being uncuffed through the food slot he was left alone in the 7-by-13-foot cell.

In an editorial published in The New York Times on February 20, Raemisch said the experience was challenging.

“First thing you notice is that it’s anything but quiet. You’re immersed in a drone of garbled noise: other inmates, blaring TVs, distant conversations, shouted arguments. I couldn’t make sense of any of it, and was left feeling twitchy and paranoid,” he wrote. “I kept waiting for the lights to turn off, to signal the end of the day. But the lights did not shut off. I began to count the small holes carved in the walls. Tiny grooves made by inmates who’d chipped away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them. For a sound mind, those are daunting circumstances. But every prison in America has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill, and often the ‘worst of the worst,’ some of society’s most unsound minds, are dumped in Ad Seg.”

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Gary Settle Doing Hard Time

By Dianne Frazee-Walker Prisons or prisoners are portrayed by the media and the entertainment industry as doing “hard time.” Gary Settle, sentenced to 177 years for his first offense asks the question, What is hard time? What does it mean to do hard time? Settle did not think about it. He just did the time

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