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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Solitary Watch Throws Lifelines To Prisoners In Solitary Confinement

There are approximately 80,000 men, women and children living isolated in “supermax” prisons or solitary confinement units in the United States.

Solitary Watch is a nonprofit organization committed to reporting on the use of solitary confinement in the United States, bringing this human rights issue out of the shadows and into the public eye.

Crime and Punishment author Fydor Dostoyevsy famously wrote, “The degree of civilization in society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

According to Solitary Watch, the United States is not doing too well by that metric.

An Introduction To A Secret World


Solitary Watch’s Co-Director, James Ridgeway, first became interested in the issue of solitary confinement while working as a reporter. “I was working at a magazine and I was asked to go to Louisiana to do a story about the Angola Three, which were three men who had been kept in solitary for 40 years” at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola Three to be released, was held in solitary confinement from 1972 to 2016. He has the unique distinction of being the prisoner held in solitary confinement for the longest period of time in United States history.

In researching the story, Ridgeway learned that there were tens of thousands of people being held in solitary in American prisons — many for years or even decades. Yet the issue had received almost no attention from the media or policymakers. “I simply wanted to start a project to find out what was going on.”

He started Solitary Watch with co-director Jean Casella, who had experience managing nonprofit media projects. “We wanted to start opening up the subject so the press and the public has access to this secret world, that is totally shut off from most of the American population.”

A Prison Within A Prison


Solitary Housing Unit, Florence Supermax, Colorado
Solitary Housing Unit, Florence Supermax, Colorado
While researching solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system, Ridgeway and Casella learned how dire the effects of solitary confinement can be for prisoners. “Five percent of people in prison are in solitary confinement but fifty percent of prison suicides are committed by people in solitary,” says Casella.

What’s life like for prisoners in solitary confinement? “What it amounts to is that it’s 24 hours a day in a cell an average of 6 by 9 feet,” says Casella. “They have solid steel doors instead of bars, and the people inside are completely closed off and don’t even have much contact with prison staff. They exercise alone, they march to and from the showers alone, they get meals through a feeding slot. Any conversations with the guards are through the food slot.” Casella adds that sometimes mental health checks done on prisoners in solitary confinement are also done through the food slot.

Ridgeway draws an even finer picture: “There’s nothing much in it but a bunk and a blanket and combination toilet-sink and maybe a shelf on the wall,” he says. “Most of the people in solitary are allowed a certain number of books, but they may take away things like books as additional punishment.”

Boredom amplifies the effects of isolation, according to Ridgeway. “Most people just sit there, they don’t do anything — there is nothing to do.”

The psychological and neurological effects can be devastating, especially to those who already suffer from mental illness. “They could end up committing or attempting suicide in their first few weeks,” according to Casella. “People in solitary can experience anxiety, depression, extreme paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations. After awhile they also report the inability to communicate with others, overreaction to touch.”

⏩ Click here to read the full article

Source: razoo, Linda Gerhardt, February 9, 2017


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