During one of his prison sentences, Frederick resident Brandon McAllister was awakened by his cellmate in disciplinary segregation. Water was flooding their cell from under the door, he said.

“He woke me up and said, ‘We gotta get our stuff up off the floor,’” McAllister said. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. McAllister, 36, served multiple prison sentences starting when he was 18. He spent time in segregation, or solitary confinement, he said, in prisons in Baltimore, Jessup, Hagerstown and the Cumberland area. He is familiar with how people behave in that environment.

“When you’re in lockup, if the guards don’t do certain things for you or we feel like we’re being neglected, it makes us turn into animals, and we start doing animalistic things,” McAllister said. “We flood our toilets. You get people flooding their cells, water coming into your cell.”

McAllister, now working as a youth services coordinator at the Housing Authority of the City of Frederick, was among the thousands of Maryland state prison inmates who are placed on restrictive housing each year.

Solitary confinement, or restrictive housing, is a controversial practice. Although multiple domestic and international groups label it as torture, many corrections officials say it is a valuable tool for keeping inmates and prison staff safe.

Department officials have taken some steps to reduce the amount of time incarcerated people spend in solitary. Officials also opposed reform bills proposed in Maryland by legislators and prisoner rights advocates during the previous General Assembly session. These officials, such as Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Steve Moyer, say they use restrictive housing to maintain security.

Restrictive housing

In Maryland, inmates in segregation are confined for 22 hours or more a day. They usually have a cellmate, but some are alone, according to Disability Rights Maryland, which has authority to investigate public facilities. The cells are 6 feet by 9 feet, smaller than the average parking space.

The lights are always on, McAllister said. Inmates usually sleep all day and stay up all night.

“People are hollering out of their cells,” he said. “That’s all you hear. Banging on cells. Arguing back and forth. ... There is so much going on at night.”

The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) classifies restrictive housing placements in two categories: administrative segregation, which is intended for an inmate’s safety or while they await a violation hearing, and disciplinary segregation, used when an inmate is found guilty of a rule violation.

DPSCS started publishing data on its use of restrictive housing in 2016, after the Legislature, pressured by advocacy groups, passed a bill requiring annual reports.

The department’s data showed Maryland prisons using restrictive housing at nearly twice the national rate, according to the Vera Institute for Justice. In the department’s 2017 report, placements in solitary confinement had increased since 2016, at the same time Maryland was leading the country in reducing its state prison population.

Of the 19,883 inmates who made up the average daily population in 2017, 14,578 were placed in restrictive housing, and 10,232 placements were in disciplinary segregation. The average stay was 51.5 days.

The department also has a Structured Housing program at the North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, according to the department’s 2017 report. The program hosts a four-stage program that offers incentives to change behavior to the department’s “worst, most frequently violent and dangerous inmates who are repeatedly placed on disciplinary segregation.”

The department started a similar program in September 2017 for inmates diagnosed with serious mental illness at the Western Correctional Institution designed for the needs of that population, according to department reports.

McAllister’s longest segregation placement was 120 days, he said. Sometimes having a cellmate was helpful to his mental state, but the proximity also led to fights.

“Some people would rather have a cell buddy on lockup because you’ll go crazy [without one],” he said. “You’re in there all day for months at a time with this individual. You start not liking certain things or argue about sports or whatever it may be. It’s just y’all two in there, so whatever happens, happens.”

Disability Rights Maryland published a report in December on the use of solitary confinement in the North Branch Correctional Institute. They found that inmates are usually allowed two, 15-minute showers a week and up to five hours a week of recreation time, which can be canceled for any weather- or security-related reason.

Mental health effects

Critics of solitary confinement often focus on the mental health effects. Juan E. Méndez, a United Nations special rapporteur, has described solitary confinement for longer than 15 days as torture and called for it to be banned in most cases.

“It’s unassailable that solitary confinement causes psychiatric harm,” Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Stuart Grassian said at a panel discussion in New York City in April. “The harm starts immediately.”

In a 2006 article, “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement,” Grassian concluded that social isolation and restrictions on environmental stimulation can cause severe psychological pain in even the most resilient people.

“The harm caused by such confinement may result in prolonged or permanent psychiatric disability, including impairments which may seriously reduce the inmate’s capacity to reintegrate into the broader community upon release from prison,” he wrote.

Researchers believe isolation and confinement can exacerbate problems for people already diagnosed with mental illness.

One man Disability Rights Maryland researchers interviewed in North Branch was diagnosed with schizophrenia and other disorders. He had been in restrictive housing for six years.

“He was drinking from the toilet, eating feces and banging his head against a wall,” Lauren Young, an attorney with Disability Rights Maryland, said at a June forum in Baltimore. Another man experienced hallucinations and heard voices. He reported seeing flames in his cell and cut his wrist and neck after voices told him to do so, Young said.

Munib Lohrasbi, an Open Society Institute fellow working with Disability Rights Maryland, is researching the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. The prison has pretty good general programing available, but mental health programs such as group therapy and counseling are lacking, according to Lohrasbi.

“They have a gardening program and a program where you can keep a cat in your cell if you behave well,” he said. “The issue is access to the programing. ... Once you’re in segregation, all the programing goes away. And once you get out, you’re not necessarily put back in the program.”

In McAllister’s experience, corrections officers usually check on inmates in disciplinary segregation only three times a day, during shift changes. Inmates who need help might be stuck waiting.

“They usually check on you when they do count during shift changes,” he said. “Other than that, you might be banging for them. ... When you come off lockup, that’s when you’ll see your counselor, if you see them then.”

According to DPSCS data, 2,127 of their inmates in 2017 had been diagnosed with serious mental illness. Of those, 84 had been placed in administrative segregation and 132 had been on disciplinary segregation.

Many inmates experiencing mental illness, however, are undiagnosed, according to Lohrasbi.

“A lot of folks, you meet and speak with them, and it is apparent they’re not well and clinical attention is needed,” Lohrasbi said. “But when you look at their records, they aren’t identified as [having serious mental illness]. They don’t have diagnoses that would entitle them to those services.”

Reform efforts

Several other states have reported success in reining in their prison systems’ use of solitary confinement. Virginia has decreased the number of placements in administrative segregation by 53 percent, according to the Vera Institute. The number of prison infractions decreased by 56 percent.

In Colorado, inmates with serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities are not allowed to be placed in segregation. Inmates who are in segregation are allowed 20 hours a week out of their cell, 10 of which are structured with various counseling and programming. Assaults by inmates on staff have decreased 79 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Effective July 2, Maryland law has been updated to reflect new guidelines for restricted housing in state prisons. Segregation isn’t allowed at all for lower-level offenses. The maximum placement for a single violation is cut from 360 days to 180 days. Suspending visiting privileges is no longer mandatory under the revised regulations.

This year, DPSCS has also contracted with a new mental health services provider. The new contract will nearly double the number of mental health service provider positions from 112 to 206, according to a DPSCS report.

The new regulations represent progress, said Lohrasbi, who feels department officials are working in good faith when they discuss reforms. But the new regulations are still far from the National Institute of Corrections’ recommendations, he said.

During the 2017 legislative session, Maryland state Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) and Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s) introduced corresponding bills that would have further reined in the use of restrictive housing. The bill was not passed.

The bill would have required prisons to give inmates in segregated housing the same visitation, mail, shower and other privileges as the general population; created a graduated sanctions system in which restrictive housing placements are allowed after a third or subsequent rule violation; and required certain vulnerable inmates, such as those with serious mental illness, to be exempt from restrictive housing until alternatives are exhausted.

Moyer opposed the bill. At a hearing, he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee the bill would cost money and compromise prison safety.

The Maryland Correctional Administrators Association also opposed the legislation. Terry Kokolis, MCAA president and superintendent of the Anne Arundel County Department of Detention Facilities, submitted written testimony calling restrictive housing a legitimate measure for ensuring safety.

“The goal is not only to protect inmates but also to protect correctional staff,” Kokolis wrote. “Placement in restrictive housing is carefully considered, and when appropriate, is guided by sound security policies along with medical mental health professionals who must balance the need to protect other inmates and staff.”

In support of the bill, dozens of Marylanders submitted written testimonies saying their family members had been subjected to restrictive housing for things as minor as covering a light with a towel.

“Ensuring the safety and security of our dedicated correctional officers and the inmates in our custody is critical,” said Michael Ziegler, deputy secretary of operations at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in an email. “When an inmate acts violently, custody staff needs to immediately remove the inmate from general population to maintain safety and restore a stable environment. Restrictive housing is one of the only tools the Department has to do this.”

Baltimore resident Marcus Lilly shared his experience with solitary confinement at an event in June. Lilly, who was released from prison in December, estimates he spent more than 700 days in restricted housing during his 13 years of incarceration, including a 420-day period. He questioned the impact on safety.

“I’ve always seen people come off solitary more violent,” Lilly said. “You’re in a cell, simmering in it. ... Everyone I ever saw come off solitary was anti-social.”

McAllister said he did things in and out of prison deserving of punishment. He fought with other inmates, he was caught with a knife, he failed a drug test. And he always came out of lockup wanting to stay out. But in prison, survival was the top priority, he said.

“I never believed that I was born violent,” he said. “So all the things I did in my life, I forced myself to do those things to adapt to my surroundings. I knew it was either do those things or it’s gonna get done to me. And that was on the streets and in prison.”

Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP.

(45) comments

Stinkin' Opinions

I find it very entertaining reading these posts. I think the point of the article to explain the damage that solitary confinement does to an individual. Period. That's it. Why does it have to be torn up to belittle people or make people feel like crap. Raise your hand if you have NEVER done anything illegal.....Never drove intoxicated, never done a recreational drug, never written a bad check..the difference is that you haven't been caught. I personally know that the CO's in the prison system can put you into solitary without a good reason. If they don't like you...boom...your put in there. Also, there was a young lady earlier this year who banged and screamed for hours for help and when she didn't get any, she hung herself. She is dead. Is that funny to you all? Don't judge people, its unbecoming.

thump1202

These people you're trying to drum up sympathy for were convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison to atone for it. Most are hardened criminals few had a bad day few are victims of garbage laws few are victims of discrimination. What we think about how prisons run is irrelevant, their job is to dispense justice and make these people pay. Have to look at it on case by case basis. I doubt you'd have much sympathy if Dylan roof hung himself, I definitely wouldn't. I know nothing about this woman and have no feelings about her. Saying I did would be virtue signalling, just as you did.

rbtdt5

You join in the comments with the name of "Stinkin' Opinion" as start judging those that post here while telling us not to judge. There isn't to much intelligence around here so you should fit right in.

phydeaux994

That's TOO much intelligence rb.

rbtdt5

Sorry, I will dumb it down going forward. [wink]

Nicki

[thumbup] phy - lol!

Mickey7

Dumbing it down should be easy for you, robot. LOL

Nicki

[thumbup][thumbup]. Vlad!

Stinkin' Opinions

Why is your response to be mean and call people dumb ? Why can’t people voice their opinion without their intelligence being insulted? That’s exactly why I used the name I used because most people have nasty things to say if they don’t agree with another’s opinion. And I get it..it’s frustrating when others can’t see your point. But I am not stupid, but you call call me that if it helps you. This is a sad situation in our prisons bottom line. And that’s MY Stikin’ opinion

thump1202

Stinkin, don't need to hear this from someone whose response to an objective argument is "Ignorance, you don't know anyone in jail, you're holier than thou." Your credibility is low.

Mickey7

[thumbup] Stinkin', Welcome to the FNP digital paper and this forum. You sound like a pretty normal Human Being as opposed to some of the Neanderthals from the Trump Party that post here. If you asked one of these fools a question like, "What do you think of Capital Punishment their response would be, "Too Lenient!"

rbtdt5

Lets just change the name to safe space and there won't be anymore controversy

Mickey7

I think the right wing Wow Jobs would like to impose Christian Sharia law. In other words "Kill em all and let God sort them out! WWJD

Comment deleted.
Mickey7

If it was up to Comrade Donnie and his puppet master Putin US prisons would be like the Siberian Salt Mines!. Comrade Seedy your Russian Allegiance is noted.

CDReid

Comrade Vladimir, I have no Russian allegiance to be noted. But, since you admire the leader of the largest Communist country enough to adopt his name, yours is.

Mickey7

Seedy, apparently satire is beyond your comprehension. Russia is Not a Communist Country anymore then CCCP was a communist country. It was a Authoritarian Regime and still is, Russia is now run by an Plutocratic(Fascist) Dictator, just like Pooty wanted America and his Pooty Puppet Donnie Bonespurs.

thump1202

Jail is the epitome of a leftist paradise. Free food, free housing, free healthcare, only law enforcement have guns, government enforced behavior, free education, free utilities. These residents ought to feel blessed to be in such a utopia. Why would they act out?

Fawned

You have got to be kidding [lol]

thump1202

Actually I'm not. Jail gives one everything socialists like bernie and Cortez are promising for all Americans, including equal outcomes for all. Why aren't all of the leftists beating the doors down trying to get in?

CDReid

Good points thump, very good points that the lefties can't argue. [thumbup]

phydeaux994

Actually thump, it looks like CD has already accepted you on the tag team, based on just a few comments. WOW! You've been vetted in record time. BTW thump, I'm one of the leftists here. I assume you use the word as a derogatory name for those of us on the enlightened side. Feel free. Peace.

Fawned

This stupidity is making me sad but I think that’s your point

thump1202

Thanks for the warm welcome. Stop assuming victimhood, I used leftist to describe a groupthink I find disgusting as a JFK liberal who has lost friends and family over issues like needing laws to know what bathroom to use and the fact that boys have one set of hardware and girls have another being called hate speech. I couldn't care less about how you identify yourself, I'd like to hear your ideas. I presented mine, that the modern leftist platform essentially seeks to put us all in what I would describe as jail, a place without free speech and free thought managed by the government, and they are no more nonsensical than what I just wrote of, and all I received was "Ignorance, stupid" as a response. If I'm wrong crushing my argument should be simple, why is no one able to?

Stinkin' Opinions

Wow - your ignorance is amusing. I guess you have never known anyone locked up? But, let me guess, you are way to perfect to know anyone in jail, or to have been there yourself. Please tell me what its like being perfect...I'd love to hear.

thump1202

I can't speak to being perfect, I have accepted that I am imperfect and this world is imperfect. People who can't engage in a rational discussion and only call people names are not there yet and have no opinions of importance.

phydeaux994

Welcome to the FNP Opinion Forum thump. The comments you've made today have been expressed many, many times over the years here. But we all need a reminder now and then. Again, Welcome. Maybe CD will let you join the tag team.

Fawned

Calling out ignorant comments is not name calling, get a grip. You’re not the victim here.

JMLCJC

You got to be kidding. Nothing in prison is free !! Your loved ones pay for it .. and health care .. really that’s a joke !!

Reader1954

If I spent a month in jail I would hope it would be unplesant enough to make me not want to commit another crime, isn't that the point?

Fawned

The point is by the end of the month you have done things you swore you'd never do. Breaking rules, causing problems, being violent, etc. Jail psychologically changes you.

rbtdt5

In the words of hay "[thumbup]"

CDReid

So, in our P.C. gone amuck society, solitary confinement is now referred to as "restrictive housing?" And for what need is that? Was the term "solitary confinement" somehow broken and calling it "restrictive housing" now fixes it? And to all the domestic and international groups who label it as "torture" I say BS. People who want to avoid it simply can do so by not breaking the law and getting locked up in the first place and, in the second, if incarcerated, behave themselves while they are. Is it really that hard to figure out?

Fawned

It is obviously a lot more complicated than your simple mind makes it out to be. If it were that simple we won't have people in jail or all the problems that go on in jail.

Samanthapowers

simple is what gets them through the day. i guess for some, ignorance really is bliss

Fawned

CDReid is sooooooo mad [lol][lol][lol] someone that constantly insults and berates people has climbed on his high horse to scold me, I love it!

Samanthapowers

fawned, that was hysterical, right? it's like he's throwing a little temper tantrum. lol.

phydeaux994

[smile][beam][lol]CD, you always get angry when someone dares to challenge you! And when you get really mad your ultimate retort is "it's none of your business".

rbtdt5

You said it, don't break the law and you won't have to worry about it

Mickey7

Donnie has been breaking laws for decades so let's hope he will soon be welcomed to a Maximum Security Prison and housed with a 400 lb. Gay Cellmate.

Nicki

[thumbup][thumbup] Fawned and Samantha!
Karma is paying Seedy a visit.

marylandmirage

“When you’re in lockup, if the guards don’t do certain things for you or we feel like we’re being neglected, it makes us turn into animals, and we start doing animalistic things,” **** Translation: if we don't get our own way, we act out, but it really isn't our fault. The inability to follow rules and take responsibility for one's actions explains a lot about why they are there in the first place.

Fawned

Go to jail for a month as an experiment and see how you do.

Comment deleted.
Fawned

How many times have you been to jail? You’re sounding pretty confident in your assessments of incarceration.

Comment deleted.
Mickey7

Seedy sounds like a excon.

marylandmirage

Do you know anyone who works in a jail or prison? If an inmate is flooding cells and is a disturbance, there are consequences. My point was that there are consequences for one’s actions in society and in a jail or prison - if a person refuses to follow them. there will be consequences. Constantly battling the rules that everyone else has to follow will not make the situation any better. And placing inmates with severe aberrant behavior in general population would not be beneficial for them or other inmates.

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