A recent News Tribune article highlighted the relatively limited use of solitary confinement in Washington state. Only 2.7 percent of the state’s 17,800 inmates, or about 400, are currently held at the maximum custody level. According to Washington Department of Corrections policy, those placed in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) are there for either being disruptive to the institution or for protective custody purposes. In the IMU, inmates are allowed one hour of exercise time five days a week and three 10-minute showers a week.
The total number held in isolation, however, is unclear. Aside from the 2.7 percent officially held in solitary, those placed in Administrative Segregation units are not counted. Inmates in Ad-Seg may be there for days or months.
D. has been incarcerated for twenty years in Washington State. While Washington state claims to limit it’s use of isolation, D.’s experience has consisted of spending all of 2008, 2010, 9 months of 2011 and several months in 2012 in the IMU and Ad-Seg.
Disturbingly, D. has been repeatedly held in isolation for the purposes of “involuntary protection.”
In 2008, he was sent to the Monroe Correctional Complex IMU. While there, he “spent four months in a cell with two uninsulated walls exposed to outside temperatures and no heat in the cell during one of the “coldest springs in Washington State history.”
“We not only froze that spring, but also had to nearly riot to get medications (mine were heart, blood pressure, diabetes and pain) regularly as prescribed,” he recalls.
“Our breakfasts, every day, consisted of 2-packets of instant oatmeal with no hot water to prepare it, we had use just warm sink water; 2-boiled eggs and a banana. Lunch consisted of the general population’s previous nights dinner, placed on trays, refrigerated then reheated. Dinner, served at 3PM, was 1 sandwich, two vending machine sized chips, 1 cookie or cupcake, two pieces of fruit. We would try to save something from dinner for later, but the lunch portions were so small or inedible, we’d be too hungry for dinner to save anything,” D. says.
“One of my biggest complaints regarding solitary confinement is that it’s whole ‘intended purpose’ is being abused. As soon as a new IMU is opened, it is filled with inmates who were caught with tobacco, tattooing, verbal confrontations with staff…it’s also the quickest and most convenient way to resolve a conflict between an unaffiliated inmate and a ‘security threat group’ member.”
D. would be among those unaffiliated inmates “punished” for being attacked. As he tells it, on December 27, 2009 D., an African-American man, was attacked by a white inmate while he spoke on the phone. In self-defense, D. fought back and knocked out the white inmate. The Shift Lieutenant, after viewing video of the incident, told D. that he “should be released back into my living unit, without any disciplinary action being taken against me.”
One month later, he remained in segregation. “In spite of being all alone in a cell, and no one being able to get out of their cells, I was taken to IMU South where I say for four more days, not even knowing why I was placed there. Then I was given an Ad-Seg referral, stating that a correctional officer had received confidential information that white inmates planned to kill me (being extremely upset over the injuries my attacker received, during his assault on me),” D. recalls.
At an Ad Seg hearing, he was told that he was recommended at a recent classification hearing that he be placed in medium custody. However, he was told that, due to his “defacto life-without-parole” sentence, his “transfer to medium custody would not be a priority.”
“By placing you on Ad Seg, with a request to transfer, your move will become a priority,” the hearing officer allegedly told D.
One month later he remained in solitary. “We are still waiting for Olympia to tell us to move you,” D. was told. He was finally transferred. To a segregation unit at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
For seven weeks, he remained in isolation, waiting for word that he would be transferred to a medium Custody facility. Instead, the Classification committee in Olympia voted 4-1 to have him sentenced to a six month IMU term at Stafford Creek Correctional Center.
Paperwork he was given from the Classification hearing read: “Assign to Max Custody/IMS [Intensive Management Status] Program at Stafford Creek; Earn and maintain six months infraction free behavior, level-4 privileges, complete Anger Management, Offender Change Program, and submit Behavior Modification Plan. Consideration for release to general population after six months.”
D. was reportedly told by the Associate Superintendent, who was among those who voted for his placement in IMU, that “I’m not being punished, but being placed in IMU for my own protection.”
D. describes his bleak IMU experience. “You are not allowed meaningful recreation, just an hour of exercise an empty 15 x 12 cell, no church attendance, real library service or educational programming. All of your personal possessions are denied to you. You will remain in your 7×12 cell for 23 of every 24 hours five days a week. Two days a week you will not come out of your cell at all. You will eat all of your meals within a few feet of your toilet. You will be in handcuffs each and every time your cell door is opened for any reason.”
Though D. is no longer in isolation, he has indicated that he feels prison authorities would place him back into isolation on a whim.