SOURCE: A Just Cause

A Just Cause

September 18, 2015 06:43 ET

A Prison Inmate Housed in Solitary Confinement at the Florence Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Dies of Apparent Suicide Renewing Questions about Director Samuels' Testimony before Senate Subcommittee, Says Advocacy Group, A Just Cause

A Just Cause investigates and contends that Michael A. Andersen's death contradicts the claims by BOP Director Charles E. Samuels' during his Senate Subcommittee Testimony on the Use of Solitary Confinement in the Federal Prison System

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - September 18, 2015) - The Federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to announce or release any public details around the September 7, 2015 (Labor Day) death of Michael A. Andersen, 44. Records on the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Inmate Locator simply note Andersen's status as ‘Deceased: 09/07/2015'.

A source familiar with the matter and speaking on condition of anonymity stated that Inmate Andersen had been housed in the medium security FCI in solitary confinement, known by inmate's as ‘the hole', after an alleged disciplinary infraction at the adjacent minimum security satellite camp for chewing tobacco. Visits to the FCI were delayed Labor Day morning and cars lined the street just beyond the entry gate after Andersen's body was discovered. The guard who found the body radioed, "We have a ‘hanger,'" the source concluded.

"We were shocked to find out a non-violent, minimum security camper was sent to the solitary confinement and housed in ‘the hole' alone. If someone was with him, maybe he would be alive today," ponders an executive from A Just Cause (AJC). This finding stands in direct conflict with the August 4th statements during the Senate Subcommittee testimony made by Director Samuels where he stated, 'We (BOP) do not practice solitary confinement...nor have we ever, had the practice of placing individuals in a cell alone.'

"If Samuels' testimony was true, how does the BOP explain Michael Andersen's death? Why was a non-violent camper placed in a cell alone? Could he have been given a ‘shot,' the prison equivalent of a disciplinary write up, since he was not a hard core criminal? How does chewing tobacco warrant solitary confinement? There are so many unanswered questions; unfortunately, Andersen's solitude proved too much for him and also made it impossible for anyone to intervene or call for help until it was too late," stresses the AJC Executive.

Reliable sources note that Andersen's family had recently moved from Wyoming to Canon City, Colorado to be closer to the institution for visits. "His death is a tragic reminder of the toll solitary confinement can take on the human spirit. It also reinforces that the Federal Prison System requires immediate transparency, accountability and reform," contends the AJC Executive.

According to the National Journal, "At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday (August 4, 2015), activists clashed with prison administrators over the level of mistreatment in the federal prison system, especially when it came to defining 'solitary confinement.'" (Emma Roller, National Journal, The Problem with Defining 'Solitary Confinement,' http://www.nationaljournal.com/congress/the-problem-with-defining-solitary-confinement-20150804). The National Journal went on to report, "But in a confusing exchange with Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey at the hearing, Samuels denied that the Federal Bureau of Prisons even practices solitary confinement."

According to The Hill, Director Samuels claimed, "We do not practice solitary confinement...Our practice has always been to ensure that when individuals are placed in restrictive housing, we put them in a cell with another individual," [Samuels] continued, adding that "staff members periodically make rounds to check in on them." (http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/250247-dems-grill-federal-prisons-chief)

The National Journal report states that the exchange between Booker and Samuels continued with, "'I'm sorry, I just really need to be clear on that,' Booker cut in, sounding baffled. ‘Your testimony to me right now is that the BOP does not practice solitary confinement of individuals singularly in a confined area?' 'You're correct,' Samuels said. 'We only place an individual in a cell alone if we have good evidence to believe that the individual could cause harm to another individual and/or if we have our medical or mental health staff given an evaluation that it would be a benefit to the individual to be placed in a cell alone. We do not under any circumstances, nor have we ever, had a practice of placing individuals in a cell alone.'"

Michael Andersen was a non-violent offender housed at the minimum security satellite camp. He met none of the criteria outlined by Director Samuels for single occupancy. "Director Samuels did not tell the truth. He and the BOP Staff is further complicit and liable in the death of Inmate Andersen because the ‘periodic rounds' to check on him were clearly insufficient. Director Samuels is simply misleading members of Congress and the public when he states the Federal BOP does not practice solitary confinement," the AJC Executive emphasizes. "I contend that solitary confinement is as real today as it ever was and Congress needs to independently investigate the hidden things that are happening in our prison system with unannounced inspections to uncover the truth," declares the AJC Executive.

BOP Program Statement 5270.10, Special Housing Unit, section 2, § 541.21 Special Housing Units, states, "Special Housing Units (SHUs) are housing units in Bureau institutions where inmates are securely separated from the general inmate population, and may be housed either alone or with other inmates." "The very policy statements that govern the BOP standard operating procedures conflict with Director Samuels' account of never placing anyone in a cell alone and flies in the face of Michael Andersen's death," the AJC Executive exclaims.

"I contend that the BOP, namely Director Samuels, must stop mincing words. The BOP simply adopted the term ‘SHU' or ‘Special Housing Unit' as a nicer and more politically correct phrasing for the very unpleasant and horrid place called, solitary confinement, but the simple truth is that ‘the hole' has not changed, nor has it ever been done away with. The Special Housing Unit implies a favorable place that affords advantageous of some sort. It is special, exclusive, elite or privileged place for a select few who are chosen with a plush couch to kick back on, a TV, and some creature comforts; but, the reality is that ‘the hole' is a very dark place. It is a place used far too often with detrimental effects to a person's psychological and physical well-being. It is a place of hopelessness furnished with a bed, sink and toilet, and rarely much else," bemoans the AJC Executive.

It is a known fact that suicide is a major concern with solitary confinement. "A study of the federal prison system found that 63 percent of suicides occurred among inmates locked in "special housing status," such as solitary or in psychiatric seclusion cells. As one inmate cited in the study explained:

‘The Hole and Segregation cells are depressing enough to drive many men to take their lives in order to escape. For some it would appear to be the only way out. After years of living in the cramped confines of a segregation cell with no hope of getting out, it is easy to see why a man would prefer death.'" (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/locked-up-in-america/what-does-solitary-confinement-do-to-your-mind/)

"A Just Cause vows to continue investigating the untimely death of Michael Andersen and expose inhumane conditions and solitary confinement practices in the prison system in spite of disingenuous accounts by Director Samuels and other BOP officials who would rather see such news go away," affirms the AJC Executive.

A Just Cause made several calls to the Florence FCI requesting comment; however, no calls have been returned.

For more information about the story of the IRP6 or for copies of the legal filings go to http://www.freetheirp6.org.

Related press releases: http://www.a-justcause.com/#!2015-press-releases/cl69

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