March 16, 2016


George's Note: A big thanks goes out to the Times for running this story. Steven Wetstein of Amnesty International authored the letter with help from Howard Simon, Miami ACLU Director, and those concerned with the well-being of inmates in solitary confinement — especially the mentally ill. The letter is posted below the article.

Miami New Times


By Kyle Munzenrieder

Friday, March 11, 2016

Twelve thousand people — about one in eight inmates — are being held in solitary confinement in Florida state prisons, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, faith leaders, and advocates for the mentally ill, is now calling on the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate the matter.

“Just as our country now realizes that we are incarcerating too many people, we must also recognize that we have too many people in solitary confinement,” Steven Wetstein of the Miami Chapter of Amnesty International USA said in a statement. “This causes needless suffering and leaves them less able to be responsible citizens when they leave prison. Public security, fiscal responsibility, and our common humanity will all be strengthened by using solitary confinement less.”

The group says that as of September 2015, Florida Department of Corrections prisons held 87,111 inmates, of which 12,002, or 13.8 percent, were being held in restrained housing units. An additional 12,477 inmates were being held in private prisons, of which 434 were being held in solitary.

Restrained housing is defined as solitary housing in which an inmate is held for 22 hours a day and remains there for at least 15 continuous days.

The data also states that black inmates are more likely to be held in solitary than white inmates.

The ethnic breakdown of male prisoners in the general population is 46 percent white, 49 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic. In solitary confinement, that breakdown is 37 percent white, 59 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic.

Though black women make up only 30 percent of the state's total female inmate population, they make up 50 percent of women being held in solitary.

Prisoners with serious mental illnesses are also much more likely to be sent to solitary. About one-fourth of such prisoners is currently in solitary.

These numbers are only for state prisoners and don't include prisoners being held in federal or municipal prisons and jails in Florida.

"We strongly urge the Department to investigate why one in eight Florida prisoners are being held in confinement," reads the groups' letter to Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division.

President Obama recently called for an end to solitary confinement in federal juvenile prisons, and several states use no form of solitary in their prisons.

The letter was signed by the following:

Randall Berg, Executive Director, Florida Justice Institute; Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches; Adora Obi Nweze, President, Florida State Conference of the NAACP; George Mallinckrodt, Stop Prison Abuse Now (SPAN); Marc Dubin, Esq., Director, ADA Expertise Consulting, LLC; Robin Cole, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Miami; Christopher Jones, Director Florida Institutional Legal Services; Amy McClellan, Board of Directors The Key Clubhouse of Miami; Sevell C. Brown III, National Director, National Christian League of Councils; and Paul Wright Director, Human Rights Defense Center, and editor, Prison Legal News.

A Letter From a Person Who Had a Good Experience with the Florida Department of Corrections

George's Note: I have redacted all identifying information to maintain confidentiality. The FDC does have people who care and give their best effort under trying circumstances. These people deserve to be acknowledged.

Hi George:

I listened to some of the show last night but I was tired and fell asleep. Sorry, lol. I wanted to let you know of the progress I've made regarding advocating for my cousin, XXXXXX at XXXXXX Correctional Institution. I've been writing my cousin but another inmate was responding for him so I was unsure of his psychiatric state and ability to reply on his own.

A few months ago you gave me contact info for Dean Aufderheide and to be honest, I did nothing with it because I was so sure I would get stonewalled and didn't want the disappointment. Well, last week on the 3rd, I called him to ask if he could help me. He was extremely receptive and even thanked me for caring enough to make the effort. I did drop your name as the person who referred me by the way :)

Dr. Aufderheide gave me the email of the Regional mental health person, Joanne Lee. Ms. Lee responded the same day saying she would follow up and have someone contact me from XXXXXX C.I. The very next day I received email from the prison psychiatric director, XXXXX XXXXXX. I called her this past Monday. Ms. XXXXXX had already obtained a release from my cousin and spoke very openly and thoroughly with me about him and his current mental status. She too thanked me for caring.

I asked her to find out if his counselor would talk to me as well. She called me the next day again to tell me the counselor would be willing to speak to me once it is O.K.'ed by my cousin. She also gave me the name of his classification officer whom I spoke with that day as well. And just like Aufderheide, she thanked me for caring.

I am very encouraged by the interactions I've had with the prison thus far. As I told Ms. XXXXXX my long term objective is to get him released since there's legislation now reconsidering the cases of inmates sentenced to life as children as my cousin was. Ms. XXXXXX said "we are very happy for those inmates" and the possibility of release. These types of responses from a prison official were very surprising to me, but much appreciated and encouraging.

Thanks for your help and direction George. I pray for your well-being and thank you for the work that you do,