The Federal Prison Nightmare That Is USP Lewisburg
December 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The bad dreams implication refers not to the short-lived financial scare endured by the corporations that run BOP facilities, or to the lurid visions endured by inmates while they snooze on a federal cot. Rather, it is about the day-to-day, systematic use of torture as a disciplinary method by employees of a government agency that is overseen by a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice:
The investigation by NPR and The Marshall Project found violence between prisoners is six times more likely at Lewisburg, compared with all federal prisons. That violence is more likely because of the practice of putting dangerous men together in one solitary confinement cell — a practice called double celling — for 23 to 24 hours a day, plus a lack of mental health care and the frequent use of restraints for prisoners who refuse to live with a specific cellmate. One man in our investigation, Sebastian Richardson, was put in restraints for 28 days after he refused to cell with a man who had a reputation in the prison for attacking his cellmates.
Documents obtained by NPR and The Marshall Project showed that inmate-on-inmate attacks are a near daily occurrence and that at least four men have been attacked and killed by their cellmates since 2009. The prison in Lewisburg houses a Special Management Unit for about 1,000 prisoners who are considered disruptive or dangerous and were removed from other federal prisons.
Since solitary confinement is torture, does the halving of a cell by adding a dangerous inmate to that already miniscule space make it not so? Or does it make it even more torturous? Is that the prison’s twisted version of double secret probation? What is certain is that some inmates refused to have a solitary roommate (oxymoron?) because he didn’t want to get his ass kicked or even killed by a fellow inmate with a known history of lunacy or violence, and then the screws at USP Lewisburg put the former in restraints as punishment.
So despite popular folklore, it’s not only in countries run by tyrannical crime families where prisoners endure abuse from fellow inmates with the acquiescence of guards. In fact, it’s worse at USP*, since this was not acquiescence by wink-and-nod, but an affirmative practice of jamming these people into these tiny cells. This is happening right here, not too far from the nearest strip (no pun) mall.
As for whether restraints constitute torture, it may depend on the length of punishment for that minor transgression, but when if it occurs for 28 damn days like it did for Richardson, it’s not even close. According to a lawsuit filed by Richardson, the BOP confirmed his account. For an entity that’s got mad obfuscating and double-speak skillz, that speaks volumes.
The horrors have been occurring at USP Lewisburg and reported about for years, all whilst the facility remained under the control oversight of the DOJ. And what is the practice of “restraints” at USP Lewisburg, you ask? According to NPR, it is known as “four-pointing,” and consists of having each limb cuffed to a corner of a concrete slab or bed frame. It’s safe to say that the poor, wretched, luckless soul who has to endure this will urinate and defecate on himself during that time.
Inmates like Richardson were left with a Sophie’s Choice from hell: remain in restraints with swollen limbs and soaked in his own feces; or return to a cell the size of a parking lot that he will share with someone who may beat him to a bloody pulp. I guess there’s always more leg room at the BOP’s ambulatory care units should they go with option number two.
At the very least, those at USP could never dream of a “safe space,” literal or otherwise, because the warden really thought this cozying up would result in a more peaceful coexistence amongst inmates:
The cells were originally built for just one person, but officials doubled up the SMU inmates to teach them to “successfully coexist,” according to the prisoner handbook. It also helped alleviate overcrowding — data from the Bureau of Prisons show high-security federal prisons are overstuffed by more than 50 percent.
As a result, prisoners in the SMU share excessively tight cells; between the bunks, sink, toilet, desk and the roommate, there is barely room to stand. “When I use the toilet, his feet are on my knees,” said Moore, the former Lewisburg inmate. Inmates get a brief reprieve from the closetlike conditions every week for medical care, three showers and five hours in a “recreation cage.”
“I’ve gone to as many as three, four cell fights in a day, a lot more than you would at any other institution,” said a current SMU corrections officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job.
Well, so much for that. At least their will was good. But the systematic abuse of inmates as a form of punishment — and the reluctance of correctional employees of going on record because of fear — is not exclusive to the Feds. This week, the Florida Department of Corrections paid out $800K to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by investigators from its inspector general’s office.
The inspectors sued in response to the retaliation they received when they reported that an inmate at Franklin Correctional Institution, Randall Jordan-Aparo, had been gassed to death with noxious gas by prison guards in 2010. Feel free to commit that last phrase to memory.
*United States Penitentiary.