Battleground: Lockdown

How Long-Term Solitary Adversely Impacts Society

By Dr. George Willie Buford, III, D.D. | Lewisburg, PA

One significant, yet overlooked battleground in our march toward American criminal justice reform is the federal lockdown facility. As the federal government usurps vast areas of state criminal justice concern, more federal disproportionality will be realized. People of Color—and poor Whites—already fill our nation’s prisons. As this trend continues, it is inevitable that this demographic will also be overrepresented in the federal lockdown institution.

At the time of this writing, there is only one such facility outside Colorado’s Administrative Detention Facility. That is the US Penitentiary Special Management Unit (SMU) at Lewisburg, PA. The SMU is an (at least) 18-month, 23-hours-per-day lockdown program that first began in November 2008 by then-Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) Director Harley G. Lappin.

Prisoners are often squeezed together into cells after having previously been determined by the FBOP to be incompatible, resulting in significant injury and/or death. According to the Rated Capacity for Bureau Facilities, cells less than 75 square feet are to be utilized solely for single occupancies. However, SMU consistently holds two or more prisoners in cells a fraction of that size. Prisoners are also routinely denied opportunities for recreation. In Buford v. Watts et. al. (pending), FBOP officials proudly bragged to the US District Court that they had denied this writer recreation for months on account of non-conformist issues. However, the Program Statement they submitted to the same court clearly states that a prisoner’s recreation can only be taken by the Warden, and not as a disciplinary measure.

Medical care here is near non-existent. This author has been coping with a ruptured blood vessel in his left eye since around December 2015, and has not been examined despite numerous requests. The doctor told the court this writer’s blood pressure was well-controlled in 2014 and 2015 even while the author’s blood pressure was on the rise.

So many studies point to the adverse impact long-term lockdowns have on the human body and psyche. At the SMU, prisoners cry out, babble, try to kill themselves and each other while Psych Services staff hand out Sudoku and Spongebob Squarepants books! This is what SMU was really created to do: hold Americans in squalid, inhumane, and torturous conditions for excessive periods to strip such persons of even a modicum of humanity. A study of prisoners at the Massachusetts DDU, conducted by ABC News, revealed that long-term bouts of forced idleness can create chemical imbalances in the brain, leading to agitation, aggression, hallucinations, paranoia, extreme violence, and even delirium.

Programs like the Lewisburg Prison Project (LPP) are woefully inadequate to address the atrocities committed by their neighbors, often refusing to help SMU prisoners at all. The traditional hands-off doctrine of the courts leaves SMU staff free to commit criminal offenses (i.e. obstruction of correspondence, conspiracy to deprive rights, violations of international human rights conventions).

The most damning aspect of SMU is illustrated by the fact that there is no implementing regulation for the SMU found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Program Statement #5217.1, establishing the Special Management Unit, lacks the official authority of the United States, and subjects prisoners to the atypical form of punishment inconsistent with the ordinary incidents of day-to-day federal prison life, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Prisoners are often held in this “program” for years without end. Staff send the prisoner back to a condition wherein all the work he has previously successfully completed is voided and he must start the program anew. This condition is termed, “Day One, Phase One.” At this stage, he is not entitled to written notice or an opportunity to be heard in a reasonable time or meaningful manner. He may remain in the virtual purgatory of SMU forever.

If you truly want more out of your government, you must demand more.

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