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Solitary Confinement – Identifying the Paradigm of Cultural Collusion
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 07/10/2017

Prisoner g Recent attacks on the phrase “solitary confinement” have exposed a very authentic and interesting revelation on how the “condition” is often misunderstood for a “custody level” or classification when in fact they are two entirely different things. Before we can proceed we should admit a few realities that are proven to exist inside many prisons. Each reality contributes to the perception [internally and externally] and facts of how people understand the operational agendas of prisons.

The first reality is the fact that historically, prisons are historically a creation of institutionalized racism and driven by culture. By saying this, everything in practice or culture is race driven for those who work there and those who are incarcerated.

More importantly, there is a strong and undivided effort to enforce and maintain a ‘cultural collusion’ to ensure every inmate is treated equally fair and consistent according to the culture that imposed on that facility or population. This is important as this ‘collusion’ many actually run or operate in a counter-productive method or in some cases, performed against certain policies in place.

The second reality is that how inmates are treated is typically based on their individual behavior but there are exceptions for those who belong or associated with a gang, convicted of a capital crime and received the death sentence, identified to have or possess an individual disability or mentally illness or placed in a segregated unit for the need of being under protective custody needs.

The third and final reality is the fact that there are inmates who have demonstrated exemplary behavioral records and are free of disciplinary actions but who are still housed at the most restrictive custody levels due to their original specified special needs based on their administrative placement. Although some have time restrictions, others are placed in a higher, more restrictive confinement level than others doing the crime or time. Here there are dynamics at work that are perhaps more arbitrary or subjective than we may want to admit to under most circumstances.

Regardless of the reality applied, there is a model on how to treat or address such special conditions whenever someone is incarcerated and more important, it is based on their special needs and not always entirely based on their classification or custody score. This is technically called an ‘administrative override” process. Therefore, we must address the fact that there are two models to work from.

Two paradigms that may conflict with one another when misapplied or misdirected. One model is used for the special needs of keeping the individual(s) safe while incarcerated and the second model is used to house them at the appropriate custody level for the public’s safety.

In order for a correctional agency to defend their use of solitary confinement – isolation and seclusion units – they [prison custodians] must set apart the two models and argue the fact that their placement is necessary because they are identified as being elevated risk based on crime, sentence, disability or gang association. Ironically, this is counter-indicative to what their classification score indicated and often places them at a higher custody level than others without such administrative tags or identifiers.

Therefore, the assault on “solitary confinement” is often misunderstood as it is actually an attack on the prison system’s permissive tolerance to allow two models to exist at the same time in the same location and that carries with it full participation by administrators who seek to isolate and control behaviors rather than rehabilitate them through progressive programming and behavioral incentive programs. This strengthens or reinforced down the line by ‘cultural collusion’ by those who endorse the administrator’s ideology.

Hence, we are talking about two different ideologies at work here but sending a message with a clear and important reminder that these ideas or concepts have been the guiding paradigm of discipline and special needs for inmates who are incarcerated with special needs or administrative tags and has forcefully been defended to be justified based on the need to separate and control behaviors even when the behaviors have not been demonstrated or observed.

What we need to do is vigorously pursue the paradigm and break the two apart from each other and identify all false notions and criticism for using these claims to lock up the ‘worst of the worst’ including those who committed capital crimes and sentenced to ‘death row’, a special need designated housing area within the maximum custody unit.

By reasserting the facts, the truths of customs and practices as well as seeking the best practices, we can seek relief against these biased indictments of those who are housed in the most restrictive conditions as well as in the highest custody levels.

This is how we can begin to close the gap on ‘solitary confinement’ and seek changes from within by using sound correctional practices and implement them accordingly and selectively. When we focus on the main objectives of incarceration – rehabilitation and reducing recidivism we find the conflict real and harmful.

Prison administrators, reformers, scholars and advocates must seek and set out a clearer and further definition of ‘solitary confinement’ and present reasonable alternatives to such harsh living conditions and seek the use of best practices that confronts the false notion that locking these inmates up is justified by the mere fact of what crime they had committed before their incarceration began.

This narrative confronts the false notion of ‘solitary confinement” critics' use with claims that the means to isolate and control justifies the means to do it and find it a legitimate indictment against the use of such harsh and often unnecessary procedure or practice inside our prisons today.

In defending and reasserting the paradigm, this narrative sets out to further define the reality that it has often been abused and regularly unregulated or overseen by those who are familiar with the constitutional rights of those who are subjected to these conditions. It is hoped that when the entire process is explained and better understood, it addresses the false claims attributed to it by its users or critics who advocate for such restrictive housing assignments. Keep in mind that collusion also applies to many other areas of corrections other than inmate placement or supervision.

The Antidote for Collusion –

Colluding is eroding to one' head, heart, and soul. It corrodes the base foundation of your soul. The antidote or the movement to resist is twofold: to seek to understand the reasons (excuses) why we refuse to tell our self and others the truth, and then set our well-set morally based intention, to tell the truth when often we would rather resist and remain silent.

Truth-telling requires empathy, compassion, acceptance, and courage. Behaving appropriately is freeing - emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. It not only erases any guilt you may possess but it makes you perform better. Behaving ethically and appropriately allows us to show up authentically, honestly and in integrity. Behaving ethically and appropriately is the only way to experience true and real relationships with others whether it be in a family circle or a prison environment.

Meaning, happiness, and true to self most often appear as the top responses to the research question, "What's really important to you at work?" Some questions for self-reflection are:
  • What keeps you from telling the truth at work? Are you afraid to tell the truth?
  • Do you collude? If so, in what ways? Be honest with yourself and make a list.
  • Do you find yourself lying and being phony to maintain specific relationships at work and what do you expect in return?
  • Do others collude with you, not tell you what they think you need to hear, for fear of how you might react?
  • How do you feel when you are in an experience when you know you are colluding?
  • What's "right" towards the act of colluding? What does colluding with others get you? Is there another way to get that result without colluding?
  • Are you so wrapped up with colluding with others that your work ethics suffer and your Politically Correct attitude or behavior is tainting your reputation?
Mary C. Gentile, in "Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right," says: "One of the most powerful lenses through which to view values in the workplace - and one of the most powerful sources of the strength and confidence to act on those values - is the lens of self-knowledge.”

“A knowledge of oneself allows the crafting and embracing of a desired self-image. Managers at all levels in their firms report that a significant enabler of values-based action is the clarity, commitment, and courage that is born of acting from our true center, finding alignment between who we already are and what we say and do."

Don’t you think it is time for a personal and professional moral awakening and allow correctional employees to think with an internal coherence and professionally based kind of integrity? Most correctional staff say they want to experience "true meaning" in their work, to behave appropriately and ethically, and align their life at work in the direction of what is basically right or wrong. Yet, in all actuality, many of these same people find themselves conflicted every day – their values ideals and expectations up against those of the organization as the encouragement of “cultural collusion” is alive and well and practiced daily as rules are bent or broken to meet those cultural expectations.

It has always been preached that keeping it simple stupid [KISS] is the best plan to work under. Simple is good but not easy. In all reality, the cultural barriers are tangible and intangible but never the less, in existence. If you choose to collude and follow the leader’s poor example of staying with tradition [and customs] rather than policies, how can you ever expect to find real meaning, real happiness and real relationships at work? Thinking you can is the epitome of collusion and self-deception.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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