Five Things to Know About One of the Deadliest Federal Prisons

The Marshall Project and NPR investigated how the most recent federal jail — the penitentiary in Thomson, Illinois — has shortly turn into one of many deadliest. The story is the newest in our years-long protection of the hazards of “double-celled solitary confinement” — placing two individuals on lockdown in a small cell — in addition to using power in federal prisons.

Here are 5 takeaways from our investigation:

Officials moved a infamous double-celled jail program to a brand new facility. The issues adopted.

The “Special Management Unit” is a excessive safety jail program meant for a number of the most harmful individuals in federal custody (although many have ended up there who don’t match that description). Volatile individuals are typically locked down in pairs for practically 24 hours a day in a cell roughly the dimensions of a parking area, compelled to eat, sleep and defecate simply ft from one another. In 2016, we wrote about violence and abuse in that unit when it was housed within the penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

After our tales ran, the Bureau of Prisons introduced in 2018 that they have been transferring the unit to a brand new federal penitentiary in Illinois. Some hoped it could be a recent begin and an opportunity to enhance circumstances. But issues solely acquired worse. There have been 5 suspected homicides at Thomson because it opened — among the many most of any federal jail in that point.

Restraints are imagined to be a final resort. At this jail, males say they’re used often — typically as punishment.

Prison guards are solely supposed to make use of restraints to subdue somebody who’s actively harmful to themselves or others, and for as quick a time as doable. But dozens of males incarcerated at Thomson reported in letters, lawsuits and interviews that officers there use these restraints often, and go away individuals in chains for hours or days at a time. We heard most of the identical complaints in 2016, when the Special Management Unit was housed at Lewisburg.

“Ambulatory restraints” are ankle cuffs and handcuffs which are chained to a strap across the torso. Even extra intense are “four-point restraints,” the place every limb is chained to a mattress — typically a concrete mattress — leaving somebody splayed and motionless. Many held at Thomson stated they typically weren’t allowed to eat or drink whereas in restraints, and have been typically compelled to urinate on themselves. Some stated restraints have been utilized so tightly that they left scars — what males there name “the Thomson tattoo.”

A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson informed us that he couldn’t touch upon pending lawsuits, however that “restraints are not used as a method of punishing an inmate or in any manner which restricts blood circulation or obstructs the inmate’s airways or in a manner that causes unnecessary physical pain or extreme discomfort.” Any allegation of workers abuse could be investigated, he stated.

This stage of violence is preventable.

Prisons will be violent locations, particularly most safety services akin to Thomson. But homicides behind bars typically occur when warning indicators are ignored, or individuals are knowingly put in harmful conditions. “There’s no excuse for there to be any homicides in a prison,” stated David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “It’s an environment of total surveillance and control.”

Matthew Phillips — a Jewish man with a Star of David tattooed on his chest — was killed after Thomson corrections officers locked him in a recreation cage with two members of a white supremacist gang. Bobby Everson was killed at Thomson after he had been writing to his household for months, saying he felt officers have been purposefully housing him with violent males.

Lawmakers say persistent understaffing is part of the issue. And attorneys say many individuals held at Thomson report not getting the psychological well being care they want, or are denied their psychiatric treatment. The Special Management Unit has been sued for this earlier than.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson stated in an electronic mail that jail officers think about gang affiliation, geography, faith and previous incident stories when deciding whom to cell collectively. Any occasion of an officer deliberately ignoring a legitimate risk could be handled as misconduct and investigated, he informed us.

Federal prisons throughout the nation are beneath fireplace proper now for mistreatment.

The Bureau of Prisons has had one scandal and disaster after one other. COVID-19 killed tons of of individuals in federal prisons. The Associated Press lately revealed how tons of of jail staff have been arrested because the begin of 2019, and the way guards sexually abused ladies at a federal jail in California. And understaffing escalated in the course of the pandemic, forcing everybody from cooks to counselors to work as guards and rising dangers for workers and incarcerated individuals alike.

In response, the Senate has shaped a new group to analyze federal jail operations, and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal introduced his resignation in January. The company has but to call his successor.

Prison abuse and violence has widespread ripple results.

“Lewisburg was not only a violence factory, it was a homicide factory,” stated Mark Donatelli, a protection lawyer who works on dying penalty circumstances out of prisons. Donatelli informed us he is aware of of no less than seven individuals who have been concerned in homicides after getting out of the Special Management Unit at Lewisburg. The violence endured in a single jail begets extra sooner or later, he stated.

For the individuals who survive such circumstances, the influence lasts lengthy after their launch date. In 2019, we adopted Chuck Coma when he got here dwelling from federal jail, after he practically died from a jail assault at Lewisburg. He returned to his household with a traumatic mind damage and post-traumatic stress dysfunction exacerbated by the violence he witnessed inside.

A prisoner recognized solely as John Doe stated in a federal lawsuit that being attacked by cellmates and being left in restraints at Thomson triggered “extreme permanent mental anguish.”

Sebastian Richardson was housed at Lewisburg from 2010 to 2012, and sued the jail for leaving him in shackles for practically a month when he tried to refuse a harmful cell task. A decade later, he nonetheless has searing ache, swelling and numbness in his palms because of the cuffs, and has bother trusting authority. “You come out with a lot of anger, and they create that,” he stated.

Read our full investigation into the violence at Thomson penitentiary. See additionally our protection from 2016 that laid the groundwork for this reporting — on the implications of solitary confinement with a cellmate, and the way restraints have been used as punishment on the Lewisburg federal jail, typically for individuals who refused their cell assignments.



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