Cruel and Usual Punishment?

Have you ever been alone in the house too long? For a while the peace and quiet is ok, even relaxing. But eventually you say to yourself, “I need to get out of this house!” You may begin to feel anxious, antsy and depressed. However, prolonged isolation in one’s home can be easily remedied by a walk outside, a visit to a friend’s house or a trip to run some errands. How does a child react when put in “time out” for mere minutes or sent to their room? Needless to say, they understand the unpleasantness of brief removal from normal activities and social interaction. As family members, we remember to check on our elders who live alone and may be unable to venture out as they used to. We recognize the importance of visitors, socializing and feeling cared for. But for thousands of inmates confined to 22-24 hour isolation, or in prison terms, segregation, their mental decline as a result of lack of social interaction is a serious and growing concern for many mental health professionals.

Supermax prisons, such as the one holding Dr. Malachi York, are a growing and lucrative business in the American system of corrections. According to the American Psychological Association, (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/05/solitary.aspx), the long term damage done to humans deprived of social interaction has varying degrees of severity. “Deprived of normal human interaction, many segregated prisoners reportedly suffer from mental health problems including anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression, Haney says (Crime and Delinquency, 2003).” Despite these compelling findings, long-term segregation has become the usual punishment. Another source, The UN Rapporteur on Torture states that segregation is a form of mental torture. It is even deemed inhumane for persons under the age of 18! What about the elderly ones like Dr. Malachi York? Is his torture permissible because of his age?

Prison officials originally implemented segregation to combat the increasing gang violence within the penal system. There are two types of segregation, disciplinary and administrative. The first type is implemented for prison violations and can last from a few days to several weeks. The latter is ruled on by a judge when an inmate is deemed as a danger to others. They are left in solitary for months or even years. The irony is that this practice has not proven to make prison staff or inmates safer. In fact, the effect is the exact opposite. Confinement of this magnitude can worsen the mental health of inmates who have history of mental illness. It can also create mental health problems for those who have no history of issues.

Dr. Malachi York is now 71 years old and suffering from hereditary angioedema. Not only is he confined for 23 hours a day, but also his life-threatening illness goes untreated. He has never been found to be violent, belligerent nor proven dangerous. As stated earlier, the intended purpose of segregation is to combat gang violence. Dr. York is not a gang member. Why is he being segregated? In his years of being held in ADMax in Florence, CO and subjected subhuman conditions, he has still maintained his dignity, positive attitude and compassion for others. Inmates who knew him and have since been released speak highly of him and testify to his innocence. He never posed a danger to anyone nor will he once released.

Our petition to release Dr. Malachi Z. K. York is also a chance for us all to prove to the world and ourselves that good people DO still exist. Decency still lives and human compassion has not gone the way of the dinosaurs. 23 hours of total isolation, including no mail, for a sick, elderly man of peace is cruel and inhumane. Tell President Barack Obama that enough is enough. Segregation does not work. It is a sadistic method of mental torture. For the innocent, such as Dr. York it is an atrocity and gross injustice that you can reverse by appealing to your sense of kindness, humanity and care. As Dr. York always says and taught so many, “Learn To Care.”

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