It’s disheartening to see studies by the DOJ-IG and GAO that find the same things repeatedly with little impact on the issue studied. What’s worse is that their lack of working in the trenches of the BOP hurts the identification of what I refer to as the “low hanging fruit” of reforms that could be accomplished almost overnight with leadership under the existing policy and agency framework. These broad systemic changes will never take place until the BOP has transparency and accountability.  

On the Special Housing Unit front, I’ve been getting a lot of complaints lately and thought it would be timely to bring some issues that people around the country may be running into. The GAU report released yesterday makes this article even a bit timelier.

In true government fashion, they are once again going to spend taxpayer money for yet another solitary confinement study which is appalling from my perspective given the repeated studies at the cost of millions of dollars for suggested changes to the archaic practices of BOP SHU placement. Keep in mind, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners referred to as The  Mandella Standards define:

(prolonged) solitary confinement as the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact (for more than 15 consecutive days) and restrict the use of solitary confinement as a measure of last resort to be used only in exceptional circumstances.”

The complaints I have been receiving are largely from US penitentiary people who have been isolated in some cases for up to a year. From a technical perspective, there is strict CFR language reflected in the BOP policy on Special Housing Units PS # 5270.11[1] a lot of which is not common knowledge to incarcerated people, advocates and academics.   

Probably the most overlooked policy after a person is placed in SHU is the ability to get a review hearing in seven days in which they can attend! (page7, par.7) Aside from the BP-A0308, Administrative Detention Order, which is to be issued within twenty-four hours after SHU placement, there are a variety of other forms that are required to be completed and filed in the Inmate Central File such as: 

 BP-A0292 Special Housing Unit Record

BP-A0295 Special Housing Review

BP-A0321 Special Housing Unit − Temporary Restrictive Housing Order

 Keep in mind, when the reason for the SHU placement changes, a new order is required to be written.  

 Aside from the seven-day review, there are several other forms documenting procedures which leads to the bigger issue of the filing of the computerized “SHU Program” forms.

 All SHU data has been put into a separate computer program and I am starting to find that people who request SHU related central file documents for appeals, etc. are not obtaining them. When they ask for the forms, they are often stonewalled. The BOP has never issued any formal policy guidance on the filing of central file documents that are included in the SHU program. Like many outdated BOP policies, the agency should have the professionalism to issue a policy Change Notice to the field on this issue or at least print the forms from the SHU program when requested. If there are internal guidance memoranda, they certainly are not achieving uniform policy application around the country.     

 As far as the newest BOP “Study,” it is a collaboration between the BOP and The National Institute of Justice-NIJ). The BOP and NIJ administrators must not remember the many studies already done on this issue including the one million dollars awarded to the CNA-think tank (Center for Naval Analysis) in 2014. I vividly remember attending one of the first meetings with the DC advocacy groups with Charlie and Pauline Sullivan of CURE. CNA had assembled people who were high level administrators from state and local prison systems that had zero BOP experience. Glen Martin coined a phrase people refer to and I can tell you these people were not closest to the problem. It was shocking to listen to them talk about the methodology of the study as well as their lack of understating of how SHU policy was implemented and the “data dump” the BOP had provided to them which was piled up on the center of the meeting room table.  Little did they know that weeks before the data dump was provided, the BOP had scoured the SENTRY computer system for inmates that were languishing in SHU and gave the facilities a heads up to “clean up” the SHU population. They transferred and/or released hundreds of people from SHU so the population studied by CNA was sanitized and not much different than the recent 60 Minutes Aliceville prison tour featured last Sunday. It simply was not the reality, and the eventual report was based on a false SHU population sample.   

 Let us not forget the 2016- DOJ Report also referred to yesterday in the GAO Report entitled Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing.  I’m sure there will be a lot of cutting and pasting going on from both reports as administrators congratulate each other for the work they are doing in this area. Maybe they will finally determine that taking a piece of chicken out of the dining hall can result in isolation if a lieutenant is having a bad day! While I’m not holding my breath for changes, let’s hope the next study results in SHU reform in line with the recent rhetoric of Director Peters who is quoted below as saying: 

 “My decades of experience in corrections has made me acutely aware of the harms that restrictive housing may cause to a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Research confirms for us that it is not an effective deterrent, and generally does not reduce institutional-level misconduct or violence. While FBOP has reformed its restrictive housing policies over the years, it is now time to take a deeper dive into our practices and compare them to best practices across this country and around the globe.”

Now it’s off to expose the smoke and mirrors of the new BOP rules published in the Federal Register on  Discipline! That DS reduction is a hoot! 


[1] 5270.11.pdf (