"The systemic and institutional drivers of abuse and lack of safety"

July 19-20, 2005, Newark, NJ 


The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons held its second hearing on July 19th and 20th in Newark, New Jersey. The hearing offered the public an opportunity to hear firsthand about institutional policies and practices that can create unsafe and abusive environments for those who are incarcerated, and for the women and men who work in U.S. prisons and jails. 

The two-day hearing focused on: the rate of incarceration; overcrowded systems and facilities; the use of isolation and rise of the supermax prison; medical and mental health care failures that endanger individual prisoners and officers and the public health; and how corrections leaders can prevent the worst dangers and abuses. 

Staff and former prisoners talked about the impact of these polices and practices on their daily lives. State corrections commissioners, doctors, advocates, and other experts testified about the problems nationally and how to solve them.


A transcript of the complete proceedings of Hearing 2 can be downloaded in PDF format here. Alternatively, you can download transcripts of each witness panel as separate PDFs.

When & Where
Tuesday, July 19 and Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Mary Burch Theater, Essex County College
303 University Avenue
Newark, NJ 07102 

"The systemic and institutional drivers of abuse and lack of safety"

July 19, 2005

Opening Statements
Commission Co-Chair Nicholas Katzenbach
Devon Brown, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Prison Population: Size and Demographics, Trends and Context 
(Download transcript)

Allen Beck—Chief of the Corrections Statistics Program at the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, his work has included research related to rising incarceration rates, causes of death among prison and jail inmates, inmate medical problems and health care, and prisoner reentry.

Personal Accounts 
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Pearl Beale—Pearl Beale's son was awaiting trial for a nonviolent offense when another inmate stabbed him and he bled to death. She described the conditions that led to this tragedy and its impact on her.
Daud Tulam—A recently released prisoner, Tulam described the 18 years he spent in isolation in various New Jersey facilities.
Sergeant Gary Harkins—A corrections officer for 25 years in the state of Oregon, Harkins described how direct supervision—regular contact between officers and prisoners—made it possible for him to work in the isolation wing of the state's maximum security, death-row prison with only a whistle for protection.
Bonnie Kerness—Associate Director of the American Friends Service Committee's Prison Watch, Kerness read letters from a few New Jersey prisoners who are currently living in isolation, and she described what she's learned about the use of isolation and its impact from her years of advocating on behalf of prisoners.

Expert Testimony on Overcrowding 
(Download transcript)
This panel explored how overcrowded facilities strain prisoners, staff, and whole systems and become breeding grounds for violence and abuse.
Vincent Nathan—An attorney and one of the most authoritative national voices on prison management, he explained what corrections professionals mean by "overcrowded" facilities—and the limits of current measures—and described the present state of crowding in the nations prisons and jails.
Craig Haney—A psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz, he explained the links between overcrowding, institutional instability, and violence and abuse, advancing prior research.
Richard Stalder—Head of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections in Louisiana and President of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, he described what it's like to operate a prison system in a state with the highest rate of incarceration and to battle overcrowding and the institutional instability it creates.

Lunch Break

Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Vera Institute of Justice and author of Downsizing Prisons . Note: Mr. Jacobson was originally scheduled to deliver his remarks in the morning. (Download transcript)
Expert Testimony on Isolation (Download transcript
This panel addressed the forms of isolation, when it's used and for whom, and the effects of living in isolation and working in an isolation unit. The panel also offered ideas about how to limit the use of isolation and how to create a safer and more humane use of this extreme form of confinement.
Dr. Stuart Grassian—A psychiatrist and former faculty member of the Harvard Medical School, he described the damaging psychological effects of prolonged isolation—what he calls the Security Housing Unit "SHU" syndrome."
Fred Cohen—An expert consultant and court-appointed monitor in several states, he addressed the rise of isolation and the special case of the supermax prison and discussed why mentally ill prisoners often end up in isolation and its caustic effects on them.
James Bruton—Former warden of the supermax prison in Oak Park, Minnesota, and author of "The Big House: Life Inside a supermax Security Prison," he discussed how he restricted the use of isolation—relying on it only for protection, never as punishment—and what he did to make that experience more humane and less damaging.

July 20, 2005

Opening Statements

Commission Co-Chair John Gibbons

Personal Accounts
 (Download transcript)
Sister Antonia Maguire—A Catholic nun and member of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Sister Maguire has worked for 32 years with inmates at three different New York State Prisons. She is currently Chaplain at Taconic Correctional Facility, a women's prison in Westchester County, just north of NYC. She described barriers women face in accessing medical care for serious illnesses, from cancer to HIV and Hepatitis C infection, and the dire consequences of medical neglect.
Thomas Farrow—A former inmate incarcerated for more than two decades in New Jersey, and diagnosed with bi-polar disorder; Farrow recounted his own experience of poor and interrupted mental health care. He also described the abuse of mentally ill inmates that he witnessed: beatings and inmates left lying in their own urine and feces in the segregation unit.
Joe Baumann—a state correctional officer in California for 19 years; Baumann is currently assigned to the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) and is the CRC Chapter President of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), a position he has held since 1998. Mr. Baumann has worked in men's and women's facilities and in several mental health program housing units.

Expert Testimony on the Quality of Medical Care 
(Download transcript
This panel explored medical neglect and abuse and its impact on the prison population. The witnesses also discussed ways to improve the quality of health care for men and women, based on existing models.
Dr. Robert Cohen—Former director of Medical Services on Rikers Island in New York City, and now a national expert on correctional medical care, he testified about dramatic failures to treat illness and why, and the tragic consequences. He addressed problems associated with private health care in prisons and the ways that cost-cutting contributes to serious abuses.
Dr. Joe Goldenson—An expert in infectious disease and public health, he currently directs medical services for San Francisco's County Jail—a partnership between the jail and the department of public health—and is involved in assessing the statewide prison health care crisis in California. He put California's problems in a national context and suggested promising practices to solve problems that are common nationally.
Arthur Wallenstein—A 30-years corrections veteran; director of jails in Bucks County, Pennsylvania; King County (Seattle), Washington; and now Montgomery County, Maryland, he is widely recognized as a progressive administrator, particularly in the area of correctional health care. He ran one of the first facilities to be accredited by the American Medical Association and recently won the National Conference on Correctional Health Care's highest award of merit. He discussed the obligation of corrections administrators to provide high quality health care, how to make that responsibility a reality, and the importance of national standards.

Lunch Break

Expert Testimony on the Public Health Implications of Health Care in Facilities (Download transcript)
This panel addressed the public health problems that arise from a failure to detect and treat infectious disease among prisoners—including risks to inmates, staff, and the communities to which prisoners and staff return. Panelists also discussed promising ways to contain the threat of infectious disease.
Jeffrey Beard—Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, he discussed the public health consequences of high rates of infectious disease behind bars—e.g. HIV, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis—and how Pennsylvania is facing the threat, despite challenges.
Dr. Robert Greifinger—Principal investigator of the 2002 NCCHC report to Congress, "The Health Status of Soon-To-Be Released Inmates," he has examined the conditions of confinement and health services in more than 100 correctional facilities in 33 states. He outlined the numbers of inmates with infectious diseases who move in and out of prisons and jails and discussed how we are harming the public health by failing to properly screen and treat infectious diseases among prisoners.
Dr. David Kountz—Medical director of the Somerset County Jail, he provides medical care through a contract with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, a public university. He discussed the challenges that short-term jail confinement poses in screening and treating infectious and chronic diseases among people who cycle quickly in and out of jail. He also discussed the benefits of partnerships like the one between the jail and the medical school.

Expert Testimony on Caring for the Mentally Ill (Download transcript)
This panel addressed the tremendous challenges that result from incarcerating a large number of people suffering from mental illness. In particular, the witnesses discussed abuse of the mentally ill in our prisons and jails and how a large population of mentally ill inmates can make a facility more violent and abusive for everyone—prisoners and staff.
Jamie Fellner—An attorney and U.S. Program Director at Human Rights Watch, she co-authored "Ill Equipped: U.S. Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness," a report published in October 2003. Her testimony focused on the enormous difficulties involved in detecting and treating mental illness among prisoners, why most corrections systems are ill suited to the task, and the inevitable and tragic consequences of our failures in this area.
Dr. Gerald Groves—A psychiatrist who worked for 15 years in New Jersey prisons and as the sole psychiatrist on call to the Mercer County jail, he talked about the difficulty of providing effective mental health care in a correctional environment marked by lack of respect for individuals and their mental health problems. Specifically, he talked about the false conflict that often develops between officers and doctors, and between security and treatment. He explained the real harm that results from corrections officers routinely violating doctor-patient confidentiality by listening in on therapeutic sessions and spreading private information among the staff. He also discussed rising rates of mental illness among women prisoners and the connection with substance abuse.
Reginald Wilkinson—Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for 14 years, he discussed the dangers to prisoners and staff of untreated mental illness and Ohio's efforts to provide appropriate care.

Closing Statement

Commission Executive Director Alex Busansky

Additional Statements

Dr. Terry Kupers—a nationally known expert on mental health care in prison
Gary Jones—a former administrator for the Washington State Department of Corrections (Submitted written statements to the Commission in lieu of testifying in person).