FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Psychologist’s Deceptions About Prison Abuse in California

by ROY EIDELSON

“Brutal killers should not be glorified. This hunger strike is dangerous, disruptive and needs to end.”

That’s how Jeffrey Beard, head of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), concluded his disturbingly deceptive August 6th op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. He was condemning a hunger strike that had begun a month earlier, when 30,000 inmates refused meals in solidarity with striking prisoners subjected to long-term and indefinite solitary confinement at Pelican Bay and the state’s three other “supermax” prisons. Now nearly two months in, over 100 inmates reportedly still remain on strike. But rather than negotiating with these prisoners, Secretary Beard’s office has instead sought and obtained a court order authorizing medically unethical force-feeding.

What is it that the striking prisoners want? They have five core demands: (1) compliance with recommendations from the 2006 report of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, including an end to long-term solitary confinement; (2) modification of the criteria used to determine gang status (which include tattoos and certain artwork or literature) and abolishment of the “debriefing” policy whereby release from isolation often requires informing on other prisoners; (3) an end to group punishment and administrative abuse; (4) the provision of adequate and nutritious food; and (5) the expansion of constructive programming and privileges (such as a weekly phone call and a yearly photo) for inmates held indefinitely in “Security Housing Units” (SHUs). Currently over 10,000 prisoners are held in isolation in California SHUs, with more than 500 of them having been in solitary confinement for over a decade.

When Secretary Beard was appointed to lead the CDCR last December, this could have been viewed as an encouraging sign. As Gov. Jerry Brown said then, “Jeff Beard has arrived at the right time to take the next steps in returning California’s parole and correctional institutions to their former luster.” Previously, he had also received high praise from the governor of Pennsylvania when he held a similar position in that state: “Jeffrey Beard is setting a positive example not just in Pennsylvania, but nationally. …His exemplary leadership has ensured the improved management of Pennsylvania’s state prison system, and a safe place for inmates to rehabilitate.”

Even more, there was seemingly reason for optimism in the fact that Secretary Beard is a psychologist, having received his doctoral degree in counseling psychology over thirty years ago. That training should matter because among the core principles of psychologists’ professional code of ethics are all of the following: “respect the dignity and worth of all people,” “strive to benefit those with whom they work,” “take care to do no harm,” “safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons,” and “guard against personal, financial, social, organizational or political factors that might lead to misuse of their influence.”

But eight months later, Dr. Beard’s background as a psychologist only adds to the outrageousness of his recent op-ed in which he repeatedly misrepresented the seriousness and legitimacy of the striking prisoners’ concerns, including here:

Some prisoners claim this strike is about living conditions in the Security Housing Units, commonly called SHUs, which house some of the most dangerous inmates in California. Don’t be fooled. Many of those participating in the hunger strike are under extreme pressure to do so from violent prison gangs, which called the strike in an attempt to restore their ability to terrorize fellow prisoners, prison staff and communities throughout California.

Dr. Beard’s office has offered neither evidence nor access for independent verification of these claims, and its misguided public relations campaign runs counter to compelling evidence of widespread abuse in the prison system. Last year Amnesty International issued a scathing report – titled “USA: The Edge of Endurance” – about California’s SHUs, based on a visit to Pelican Bay and other prisons in the state. The report concluded that conditions there “breach international standards on humane treatment” and amount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” In describing prisoners who are confined to their cells for at least 22 and a half hours a day and have no access to work, group activities, or programs focused on rehabilitation, the report stated:

Most prisoners are confined alone in cells which have no windows to the outside or direct access to natural light. SHU prisoners are isolated both within prison and from meaningful contact with the outside world: contact with correctional staff is kept to a minimum, and consultations with medical, mental health and other staff routinely take place behind barriers; all visits, including family and legal visits, are also non-contact, with prisoners separated from their visitors behind a glass screen.

In addition to the critical assessments from human rights organizations and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Dr. Beard is certainly familiar with the research of fellow psychologists and psychiatrists documenting the extreme adverse effects of extended involuntary solitary confinement (sometimes referred to as the “SHU syndrome”), which can persist long after isolation has ended. Among the negative psychological effects identified by California psychologist Craig Haney, psychiatrist Terry Kupers, and other scholars in comprehensive reviews are lethargy, depression, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behavior; anxiety, panic, and insomnia; irritability, hypersensitivity, aggression, and rage; and cognitive dysfunction, paranoia, and hallucinations. Haney has also noted that ten days in solitary confinement is enough to produce harmful health outcomes. Many of the prisoners at Pelican Bay have been held in isolation for years.

Exactly why Dr. Beard has decided to ignore, discount, or distort these unconscionable realities is ultimately beside the point. But the public should not be confused by his misleading rhetoric. The key demands of the hunger strikers are little different from prison reforms that have been strongly recommended by mental health experts and human rights advocates alike.

In an essay published shortly after the CDCR Secretary’s op-ed appeared, Berkeley law professor Jonathan Simon argued that Dr. Beard’s public dishonesty and demonization of the hunger strikers demonstrate that he is the wrong leader to bring urgent reform to the “grotesque structure of inhumanity” that defines California’s prison system today. Simon called for “a protest movement and direct action campaign to force real change starting with Secretary Beard’s resignation.” Given their ethical commitment to the promotion of human welfare, psychologists should be among those at the forefront of these efforts.

Roy Eidelson is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. He can be contacted at reidelson@eidelsonconsulting.com.

 

 

 

Roy Eidelson is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, former executive director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy can be reached by email at reidelson@eidelsonconsulting.com and on Twitter @royeidelson.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail