Federal Prisons Chief to Inmates: Don't Kill Yourself

| Fri Aug. 10, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Federal Bureau of Prisons director Charles E. Samuels has been in the hot seat lately over the BOP's treatment of some of the prisoners in its custody—most notably the mentally disabled prisoners housed in solitary confinement at ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison in Colorado. Samuel's latest response was to write an uncharacteristically touchy feely letter to all federal prisoners, urging them not to commit suicide.

A federal class-action lawsuit filed in June alleges that many ADX prisoners suffer from severe mental illness that has been exacerbated or even caused by their years of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in small concrete cells. It claims that the BOP fails to provide even a semblance of psychiatric care to these prisoners, with grisly results. According to a litigation fact sheet, "inmates often mutilate themselves with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils and other objects. Many engage in prolonged fits of screaming and ranting. Others converse aloud with the voices they hear in their heads. Still others spread feces and other waste throughout their cells. Suicide attempts are common. Many have been successful."

Another lawsuit, filed earlier in the spring, accuses ADX officials of denying proper mental health care to inmate Jose Martin Vega, who subsequently hanged himself in his cell.

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