Solitary Confinement a mental health issue in Nebraska- Advocacy needed

OTOC and community members heard from Doug Koebernick about Solitary Confinement in Nebraska and the harmful affects concentrated isolation has on mental health.

The evening started with a few minutes of the Frontline documentary Last Days of Solitary which shows the Maine solitary confinement system and the changes they’re made. The film really shows the inhumane conditions prisoners live in when they are considered a treat to other prisoners and staff, and are put in what Nebraska calls “Restrictive Housing.” Restrictive housing is defined as less than 12 hours out of the cell in a week. In Nebraska, the cells are 8 ft. by 10 ft. and include a bed, desk, toilet, and chair. Because of the massive overcrowding, inmates in restrictive housing are often doubled up in the small cell. There are currently 325 inmates in restrictive housing in Nebraska, and ten have serious diagnosed mental health issues.

There are many factors that lead to having such a large number of inmates in restricted housing:

  • Restricted housing is supposed to be for the protection of other inmates and staff, so you get put in when you’ve done something dangerous. There is no set amount, you just get reevaluated every 90 days on if it is safe to bring you back to the general population. 114 inmates have been there for over 180 days. Some inmates do not know why they have been sent there, and are not able to advocate for themselves.
  • Overcrowding and the older facilities that have less common and classroom spaces have lead to less programming available for any type of restorative justice approach to help people before they get sent to solitary, while they are in there to get out faster, or for any sort of reintegration process.
  • Overcrowding leads to many more issues like less oversight and lack of space to attempt any type of reform. The state penitentiary is twice as full as it was designed for, and also has twice the number of staff.

Negative Effects of Restrictive Housing:

  • Psychological damage and mental health from lack of human contact and extreme boredom. Often leads to self mutilation.
  • Impacts future behavior. Though this is supposed to be for the safety of others, the failing mental health while they are in can lead to more violence when they get out.
  • Disproportionately affects Spanish and Native American inmates.
  • Negative impacts on staff safety and mental health as well as retention and recruitment.

Links to more info on Solitary and the Frontline Documentary:

LAST DAYS OF SOLITARY | Watch S33 E19 | FRONTLINE | PBS | (Warning: graphic content)
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/last-days-of-solitary/

JUDGE RELIES HEAVILY ON HANEY’S TESTIMONY IN CASE BANNING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
https://news.ucsc.edu/2018/01/haney-canada.html

“WHY WE ENDED LONG-TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN COLORADO” BY RICK RAEMISCH
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/solitary-confinement-colorado-prison.html

MANDELA RULES- UN STANDARD MINIMUM RULES ON THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS
http://solitaryconfinement.org/mandela-rules

2018 RESTRICTIVE HOUSING ANNUAL REPORT
https://corrections.nebraska.gov/sites/default/files/files/39/ndcs_rh_report_2018.pdf

OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL OF THE NEBRASKA CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM 2017/2018 ANNUAL REPORT
https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/105/PDF/Agencies/Inspector_General_of_the_Nebraska_Correctional_System/600_20180911-222502.pdf

Ways to advocate for change:

Get involved! The OTOC Mental Health Action Team meets the first Tuesday of every month at 6 pm at First United Methodist Church (7020 Cass St.). The next meeting is on March 5!

Email Paul Feilmann if you are interested in building a coalition to work on reducing solitary confinement in Nebraska: pfeilmann@icloud.com

ACLU is doing a lot of work on criminal justice reform: stay informed and get involved: https://www.aclunebraska.org/en/issues/criminal-justice

Contacting your senator:

If you don’t know who your senator is, go to https://nebraskalegislature.gov/ and type your address in the “find your senator” in the right column.

Go to https://nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_list.php to find your senator’s page and get their contact information. You can call their office or send emails!

To find information to mail to committees, go to https://nebraskalegislature.gov/committees/standing-committees.php to see who is on each committee and get their contact information.

If you are interested in testifying at a committee hearing about a bill, give us a call! 402-344-4401

Bills about Solitary Confinement:

LB 739 (Vargas) bans restrictive housing for “vulnerable populations” which would be 18 years old or younger, pregnant women, individuals with a serious mental illness, developmental disability or a brain injury; and, establishes a new process for keeping people in such a setting for over 90 days that provides the inmate with additional rights to object to any decisions made during that process. Hearing not yet set, Judiciary Committee.

LB 262  (DeBoer) would Change membership and duties of long-term restrictive housing work group to make sure they meet regularly, have a member of the state Judiciary committee, include members with mental health expertise, front line experience working in solitary, and formerly incarcerated individuals to improve oversight. Co-sponsored by Senator Pansing Brooks and Senator Lathrop. Hearing not yet set, Judiciary Committee.

LB 230 (Pansing Brooks) Would end juvenile solitary for punishment, staffing shortages or retaliation. To limit use of youth solitary as only a means of last resort to mitigate risk and when utilized to put strict limits on use in line with best practices to minimize negative impact to youth development and youth mental health. Provide additional notice and due process protections. Hearing set for Feb. 14 in Judiciary Committee.

Other mental Health bills to take action on:

LB 245 (Erdman) would eliminate the exemption of antidepressant, antipsychotic and anticonvulsant prescription drugs from the preferred Medicaid drug list, which would make getting the correct medication harder. Hearing not yet set, Health and Human Services committee. (Recommend opposing). See LB 554 (Wishart) which would increase accessibility.

LB 247 (Bolz) would allow individuals living with severe mental illness (or substance use problems) to write advance directives while competent that say if they lose competence again they may be medicated or treated in-patient. It also allows individuals to appoint someone as power of attorney and list all people their medical team may communicate with despite HIPPA if they have an episode in the future. Currently still in committee after hearing- call judiciary committee members.

LB 309  (Lathrop) would add another district judge to Douglas county which could be used for a mental health court. Hearing set Feb. 8 in Judiciary Committee.

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