Terry: I am Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist, MD, and MSP, and I'm Institute Professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. The conditions in solitary cause relatively stable people to suffer emotional symptoms, particularly despair and suicide impulses. But, for people who have a pre-existing mental illness, it exacerbates the mental illness. So let me start with people who are relatively stable. Our empirical finding, and a lot of clinical researchers, including myself, have gone and interviewed thousands of prisoners in solitary confinement, and what we find is there's a set of symptoms that are reported by basically, the majority of the prisoners: Mounting anxiety, which can become panic. Mounting anger; the fear that the anger is going to mount and they're going to get in more trouble with the officers, and then they'll have a longer term. Then there are disorders of thinking; paranoia. Now, all of these symptoms occur in relatively stable people. Now, if you take the population of prisoners who have a known serious mental illness: schizophrenia, bipolar; they might start hallucinating. The paranoia might kick off a psychotic episode. They might become very depressed, and actually make a very serious suicide attempt. So everything happens in an extreme fashion.
While it might seem that when you put people who chronically get into fights, you put them in solitary, they're not getting into fights anymore; they're getting into arguments with the officers, and they're getting more tickets, but they're not getting into fights. And it might seem like you've reduced the violence in the prison. Actually, empirically, that's not true. The advent of solitary confinement and the supermax units has not decreased the violence in prisons, and the reason is because ultimately, people get out of solitary. So when you put a lot of prisoners in solitary confinement, and then release them back onto the yard, there are more fights than there would've been otherwise. And the reason is because of the symptom that were caused by the solitary confinement.
What we have to do is stop stigmatizing the people who suffer the most under the conditions that we've set up, provide them the services they need, and look at the system-wide problems. For instance, the falling away of the social safety net in the community. That's the reason we have so many people with mental illness in the prisons. It isn't because the individuals in prison are bad actors, it's that we have not, as a society, dedicated enough of our resources to providing disadvantaged people the services they need to survive and succeed. That's what we have to alleviate, rather than stigmatizing and blaming the people who suffer the most because of our shortfalls.
Narrator: The AVID Prison Project, Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities, is a collaboration between The Arizona Center for Disability Law,
Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Washington, and the National Disability Rights Network. This video was produced by Rooted in Rights.
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The AVID Prison Project is a collaboration between The Arizona Center for Disability Law, Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Washington and The National Disability Rights Network.