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Psychologist: Solitary confinement hurts Mississippi inmates

A psychiatrist testified Thursday in a trial about prison conditions that solitary confinement at a Mississippi prison is "shockingly harsh and inhumane," saying long stays in solitary cause serious damage to the mentally ill inmates held there.

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 10:11 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A psychiatrist testified Thursday in a trial about prison conditions that solitary confinement at a Mississippi prison is "shockingly harsh and inhumane," saying long stays in solitary cause serious damage to the mentally ill inmates held there.

Dr. Terry Kupers testified that East Mississippi Correctional Facility needs to remove seriously mentally ill patients from solitary confinement. The Meridan Star reports that he said conditions in the prison's medical unit are as bad as solitary confinement. He also said prison guards at the privately run prison near Meridian are more "callous and uncaring" than at any prison he's ever examined.

"The conditions in solitary confinement at EMCF are the worst I have witnessed in my 40 years as a forensic psychiatrist investigating jail and prison conditions," Kupers said.

U.S. District Judge William Barbour Jr. is hearing testimony in the bench trial which began March 5. He will rule on whether conditions at the prison run by Utah-based Management and Training Corp. violate constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

State lawyers have said at the trial that the prison has improved since lawyers for plaintiffs began scrutinizing it and that whatever failings it may have don't violate constitutional rights. The defense asked Kupers about past work on solitary confinement conditions, of which Kupers said he'd testified in roughly 30 cases. Kupers said he nearly always worked with plaintiffs in these cases.

Kupers testified that solitary confinement conditions at EMCF increased the risk of "lasting and serious psychological harm" when confinement lasted more than 14 days. Mental illness serves to exacerbate risks, and more than 80 percent of inmates at the prison are under some sort of care for mental illness.

"What we do know from the data is that the longer people spend in solitary confinement the worse the damage," Kupers said.

Kupers said he urgently advocated that prisoners with serious mental illnesses be removed from solitary confinement.

Plaintiffs presented photos showing what appeared to be burn marks on several solid metal doors throughout the facility. An illustration from the plaintiffs mapped out fires in Unit 5 and documented 66 fires between Feb. 25 and March 12, with a high of 11 fires on Feb. 26. "I've never been in a prison with so much evidence of fires or where walls weren't cleaned following a fire," Kupers said.

He added that inmates are also cutting themselves frequently, in a sign of distress. "I've never seen this degree of cutting in a correctional setting," he said.

Inmate Merlin Hill told the court Thursday that the prison frequently doesn't provide his seizure and schizophrenia medications. Hill visibly shook during his testimony, a side effect, he said, of not receiving his medication since Wednesday morning. The medication is supposed to be taken twice daily.

According to prison logs presented by the plaintiff, medical staff said Hill refused to take the medication. Hill testified that he had never refused medication and that staff frequently let his prescription "run out."

Once, after 13 days, Hill filed a sick log request for his appropriate medication. Hill, who had been at EMCF for nearly 17 years, said that every month he goes at least a few days without one of his prescribed medications.

"Sometimes I have murderous thoughts, suicidal thoughts, pain in my head," Hill said about withdrawals. "It's unbearable sometimes. I've got bad pain behind my eyes and I'm shaking pretty badly. The pain goes away after the first day or two without my (medication)."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10708104
Hinds10519205
Harrison7555113
Jackson6708128
Rankin6130112
Lee547697
Madison5202110
Forrest400187
Jones382189
Lauderdale3727147
Lafayette344057
Washington3367108
Lamar307550
Lowndes261167
Oktibbeha259962
Bolivar250185
Panola240253
Neshoba2311122
Marshall227151
Leflore213991
Monroe212278
Pontotoc211231
Lincoln200867
Sunflower195555
Warren184958
Tate184051
Union176826
Copiah172540
Pike168360
Pearl River163870
Yazoo162940
Scott162730
Itawamba162637
Alcorn160428
Coahoma157844
Prentiss156732
Simpson155153
Adams148352
Grenada147145
Leake143344
Holmes135761
Covington135541
Tippah132530
George131725
Winston131726
Hancock130942
Wayne124924
Attala124735
Marion124248
Tishomingo114844
Chickasaw112132
Newton112129
Tallahatchie100727
Clay97127
Clarke95653
Jasper88523
Stone83115
Calhoun81513
Walthall79930
Montgomery78826
Carroll76315
Smith75716
Lawrence75214
Yalobusha74428
Noxubee74217
Perry69326
Tunica63519
Greene63022
Jefferson Davis60217
Amite59315
Claiborne59316
Humphreys55719
Quitman5117
Benton50518
Kemper49318
Webster47914
Wilkinson41322
Jefferson38712
Franklin3726
Choctaw3697
Sharkey33117
Issaquena1234
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
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