Cc: Matthew Lopes, Jr.
Dear Mr. Hayes,
I write because you are the suicide expert in Coleman v Gov of CA. Your work around suicide prevention indicates the level of your compassion. However, I write with serious concerns and prisoners’ complaints about the suffering caused by so-called “security/welfare checks” in isolation units throughout the California prison system. Because of the severe sleep disruption and deprivation they are causing, I urge you to recommend or direct that the checks be halted.
I am particularly concerned because__________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________
A prisoner said: ________________________________________________________________________________
20 people in CCWF women’s death row wrote, in June 2014, after 5 weeks of the checks: “Flashing lights, banging on doors and lack of sleep have caused some of us to go into seizures. Some of us have had to raise/change meds just to cope, because of the monitoring, banging, beeping, and flashlights… This is torture. We are being emotionally, mentally and physically battered by the security checks throughout the nights.” More than 2 years later, they are still suffering the horrors of sleep deprivation.
From among the many letters and interviews from prisoners throughout the state: “I learned to be disciplined for survival in prison, and SHU, but now I cannot focus. The things that I’ve disciplined myself to do in SHU now are interrupted and very difficult because of the sleep deprivation.”
“The result of all this is that we can’t sleep longer than 30 minutes at any time . . . at times I’m jolted awake with my heart racing from the pod door or a hard hit to the button next to my cell by the C/O’s wand. It’s constant and excessive noise which causes me to be tired all the time and not be my normal self either mentally or physically.”
Sleep deprivation increases the risk of numerous chronic and potentially terminal conditions and illnesses. While these serious risks threaten people living otherwise healthy lives, they are remarkably higher for people living in solitary confinement, an already traumatizing environment. You have written that it is important to look at the number of suicides over a long period of time. Looking at PB SHU and CCWF death row, for example, suicide rates are low; one suicide in 11 years and none in over 20 years, respectively. However, these “checks” are being used as a blanket practice, whether prisoners are suicidal or not, and despite the horrific psychological and physical effects. Responses that people are getting from prison healthcare staff when they become distressed or sick from the disrupted sleep underscores the inadequate mental health care in these facilities.
Considering the harm and agony of sleep deprivation, I urge you to recommend or direct that the “security/welfare checks” stop. Their effects run counter to their purported purpose. Sleep expert Zeitzer and psychiatrist Kupers concluded people suffering from them may be at a higher suicide risk than before these checks began.
Suicidal prisoners should not be in solitary in the first place. Studies of solitary confinement demonstrate that it actually causes emotional breakdowns and suicidal thoughts and behavior. You yourself concluded in your 2011 report that CDCR’s suicide-watch practices increased the risk of prisoner suicides.
Again, I ask that these blanket checks be halted and replaced with true mental health services to prevent suicides. Please help institute programs of compassionate personal attention and a more nuanced and individualized approach. One simple option would be to require an emergency button in each cell for prisoners to summon help in a crisis. An optimal solution- create a system of correction that does not drive prisoners insane.
Suicide prevention should never be another form of torture. Please stop the “security/welfare checks.”
Signature___________________________ Print name__________________________________
Address_____________________________City/State/Zip_______________________________ Email________________________________________Phone ( )____________________
Addresses to send letter:
Lindsay M. Hayes
40 Lantern Lane
Mansfield, MA 02048
Matthew A. Lopes, Jr.
Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC
317 Iron Horse Way, Suite 301
Providence, RI 02908
If possible send us a copy of your letter, either by U.S. mail or email:
PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502