Today, Type Investigations and The American Prospect published an investigation by Solitary Watch contributing writers Katie Rose Quandt and Juan Moreno Haines. Quandt and Haines investigated San Quentin State Prison’s continued use of its infamous Adjustment Center, a death row unit designed for solitary confinement, to house people who have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19.
Haines, who is incarcerated in San Quentin, interviewed more than a dozen people who were medically quarantined or isolated in the Adjustment Center. They described intense isolation in dirty cells, handcuffs anytime they left the cell, and a lack of information on when they would be allowed to return to normal housing.
This story is part of Type Investigations’ new Inside/Out Journalism Project, which works with incarcerated reporters to produce ambitious, feature-length investigations. In early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic transformed life in American prisons and jails, Haines reported an article, with support from Solitary Watch’s Solitary Confinement Reporting Project, on the use of solitary confinement for medical isolation during flu outbreaks.
The following is a brief excerpt of the article, which can be read in full on the Type Investigations site.
Through a public-records request, Type Investigations and the Prospect obtained monthly bed counts in the Adjustment Center that show the unit’s fluctuations over the past two and a half years, as COVID waves ebb and flow. The number of people in the AC at a given time is often in the high double digits. When the omicron variant hit California this January, for instance, there were 411 new COVID cases over a two-week period in San Quentin; a point-in-time bed count from the first of that month showed 91 people in the AC, and remained high by the first of February at 84.
William “Mike” Endres, 65, told Type Investigations and the Prospect he had managed to avoid solitary confinement throughout his entire time in prison, until he was sent to the Adjustment Center for 12 days in November 2021. “I’m on my 24th year of disciplinary-free incarceration with no hole time,” he said. “Yet this place found a way to put me in the hole for thinking I have COVID-19 when I didn’t.”
He described the AC as “a disciplinary setting.” Like Hughes, he said he was handcuffed behind his back anytime he went to the shower or the yard. His sleep was disturbed by a correctional officer shining a light in his cell every half-hour.
Endres said he was never told why he was sent to the AC, and was not given information about when he would be sent back to his normal housing. “I kept asking why I was in the AC, but nobody could tell me why I was there. To this day, I was never given an answer.”
…[Terry Kitchen] said the cell and showers were dirty, and the cell was bare except for a radio that didn’t work. “When I was over there I was so isolated,” Kitchen told Type Investigations and the Prospect. “There’s a little window [in the cell door] where all you can see is a wall. So your entertainment is watching spiders and ants walk around.” There was always a humming sound in the background, and he could hear someone yelling frequently.
He said medical and correctional staff would not answer his questions. “You don’t know anything about when you’re getting out of AC,” he said. “That in itself is stressful.”
The phones in the AC area weren’t working, according to Kitchen, and he said the staff did not give out prepaid indigent envelopes, which poor people can use to send letters. “I was isolated where I could not contact my family and let them know what was going on with me,” he said. “I couldn’t even write a letter, because I was not offered anything to communicate with my family. It was miserable, which traumatized me.”