Wisconsin has made a “culture shift” in its use of solitary confinement in prisons, eliminating it as punishment for minor rule infractions and cutting the time inmates spend in isolation for more serious offenses, Department of Corrections officials revealed in an interview granted as part of a legal settlement with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
President Barack Obama called for reduction of solitary confinement during a July 14 address to the NAACP National Convention in Philadelphia:
“I’ve asked my Attorney General to start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons. “The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent. Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, for months, sometimes for years at a time? That is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger.
In a Jan. 7 column for Politico Magazine, billionaire Charles Koch said the United States is paying a “heavy price” for leading the world in incarceration, driving a large number of people into poverty and harming the national economy. “Reversing overcriminalization and mass incarceration will improve societal well-being in many respects, most notably by decreasing poverty,” Koch wrote in the column co-authored with Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden. “Fixing our criminal system could reduce the overall poverty rate as much as 30 percent, dramatically improving the quality of life throughout society — especially for the disadvantaged.”
Former inmate Talib Akbar says years spent in segregation in the Wisconsin prison system took a toll on his mind. Akbar now lives alone in a small RV that he parks around Madison while volunteering for Wisdom, a statewide faith-based group that campaigns against solitary confinement. The drawing Akbar made while confined in a cell at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel was used to help make a mock-up of a typical 6-foot-2-wide, 12-foot-long segregation cell that Wisdom takes to public events to raise awareness about solitary confinement. Akbar, 62, served a 20-year sentence for sexual assault until his release in 2013. He said he has never added up the exact amount of time he spent in solitary.
Craig Haney is a University of California-Santa Cruz psychologist who for more than two decades has studied the effects of solitary confinement on inmates. During a 2013 interview for PBS’ Frontline program, Haney described what happens to people held under such deprivation. “Some prisoners react very negatively very quickly. They experience what has been termed ‘isolation panic,’ ” Haney told Frontline. “The experience of being in a cell by oneself, isolated in a place where other prisoners are isolated, facing the deprivation of social contact, is overwhelming for people, and some people react with extreme anxiety reactions in the very beginning of this process.
An internal investigation found that DOC Sgt. Thomas J. Lukas engaged in “demeaning and harassing behavior” toward inmates at Fox Lake Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison in Dodge County. This included an email he sent to another guard making a reference to inmate Antron Kent and another inmate that was determined to be “sexual in nature and inappropriate.”