The Agony of Living with Dementia Behind Bars…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 8/16/23

by | August 16, 2023

The Memory Disorder Unit at Federal Medical Center Devens is the first federal facility built to house incarcerated people with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. According to Timothy Doherty, a senior officer specialist who helps run the unit, approximately 90 percent of the unit’s population “don’t know what they did. Some of them don’t even know where they are.” Older adults represent one of the fastest growing demographic groups in correctional facilities, yet it is unknown how many are living with dementia. Without the existence of routine screening protocols and specialized care units, the routine of incarcerated life masks symptoms of dementia. As a result many elderly people in prison end up in solitary confinement due to behavioral problems resulting from undiagnosed changes to their mental health. New York Times

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Irene Archer is suing the New Mexico Corrections Department and correctional health contractor Wexford Health Sources for mistreatment while incarcerated at  Western New Mexico Correctional Facility. The suit alleges that Archer, who uses a walker, was denied access to medical treatment for an injury she received from tripping on an exposed pipe while entering the facility. Additionally, the lawsuit states that Archer was placed in solitary confinement for over a year for refusing to submit to a urine test. However, documentation shows that she lacked the strength and coordination in her hands to hold the cup. NM Political Report

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In 2016, Ryan Partridge was placed in solitary confinement three times over the nine months he spent at the Boulder County Jail. During his time in solitary confinement, Partridge experienced several psychotic episodes that ultimately resulted in him gouging out his own eyes. In an interview Partridge’s father stated,”It took them two and a half hours after he blinded himself in solitary confinement, with blood coming out of his eyes … before they sent him to the hospital.” After winning a federal lawsuit earlier this year, Partridge received a $2.5 million settlement for correctional staff “being deliberately indifferent” to Partridge’s serious psychiatric needs and using excessive force over several weeks, including being tased while restrained in a chair. The Nation 

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Seven incarcerated people are participating in a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco county calling for access to sunlight while incarcerated. The plaintiffs allege that lack of access to sunlight behind bars has caused health issues like headaches, Vitamin D deficiency, depression, and depletion of the melanin in their skin. Former sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and the head of the sheriff’s union, Ken Lomba, are set to testify in support of the lawsuit. Although the defense argues that there is “no independent right to direct sunlight,” plaintiffs argue that state building codes require more sunlight than provided by the city jail. Mission Local 

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Orlando Harper, the controversial warden of the Allegheny County Jail, has announced that he will retire at the end of September. In recent years Harper has received harsh criticism for his handling of several deaths of people incarcerated at or recently released from the jail. During meetings of the Jail Oversight Board, Harper was often at odds with County Councilor Bethany Hallam over jail conditions and the facility’s continued use of solitary confinement despite a local referendum banning it. It is unclear who will serve as interim warden after Harper’s retirement but debates have already begun concerning the process to choose his successor. WESA

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Bill Keller, former editor-in-chief of the Marshall Project, found that British prisons are becoming more and more overcrowded and draconian, like their American counterparts. One of the primary exports from the U.S. is solitary confinement, once relatively rare in Britain. Today, it is not unusual for incarcerated people in the UK to spend 23 hours a day in their cells without human contact or “purposeful activity.” Prospect 

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The latest essay in Washington City Paper’s “Inside Voices” series is by Harold Cunningham. After serving as a lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit that revealed the Bureau of Prisons’ illegal practice of confining mentally ill people in solitary confinement and denying them treatment, Cunningham is now an inside advocate for incarcerated people’s mental health. Cunningham spent 17 years in solitary confinement at ADX-Florence, despite BOP policy prohibiting people with mental illness from being housed at the supermax facility. In addition to being denied treatment, Cunningham and the other plaintiffs were subjected to tear gas and physical force from officers in riot gear. In a recent interview Cunningham stated, “I had no fear of dying, but now that I have received mental health treatment, I’m thankful that my attempts to end my life were unsuccessful.” Washington City Paper

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