A scathing report on the harsh culture of punishment in American prisons that finds expression most keenly in solitary confinement.
With 40 years of experience as a forensic psychiatrist, including serving as an expert witness in several large class-action suits concerning jail and prison conditions, Kupers (Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It, 1999) makes his position crystal clear: we must replace the culture of punishment with one of rehabilitation. He asserts that the estimated figure of 100,000 inmates in solitary is a gross underestimation, that solitary confinement facilities, or Supermax facilities, were overbuilt in the 1990s, and that their use is both counterrehabilitative and countertherapeutic. The author divides the book into three parts: “Harsh Prison Conditions,” “The Human Damage,” and “The Alternative to Solitary.” In the final section, Kupers calls for a rehabilitative attitude among all prison staff (as well as legislators and the public), a plan for keeping people with serious mental illness out of jails and prisons, and better ways of dealing with disturbed or disruptive prisoners. The author is especially concerned about prisoners with mental illness, noting that time served in isolation exacerbates their condition and too frequently leads to suicide. He includes moving stories of individual prisoners, many of which are shocking in their revelations about the harshness of treatment and significant abuse inflicted on them. The photographs taken inside various prisons support the author’s verbal descriptions; the most disturbing one shows a so-called group therapy session at San Quentin State Prison in which each of the participants is imprisoned in a small cage. Kupers charges that our prisons are creating monsters, and after vividly demonstrating just how, he deftly outlines how to correct this situation.
A must-read for those running our prisons and for policymakers in a position to reform them.