New Treatment for Mentally Ill Inmates: Reduce Pepper Spray

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness17 Comments

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Paige St. John writes that California has decided to use special solitary confinement units to house mentally ill inmates as part of an attempt to comply with federal court orders to improve their care. Instead of using pepper spray to calm them down, isolation is the new treatment for the mentally ill. … Read More

Yoga and Addiction Recovery

Maureen MurdockAddiction, Criminal Justice System8 Comments

Prisoners doing yoga

I have been taking a yoga class in Santa Barbara from Mike Lewis, an instructor in recovery who also volunteers as a yoga instructor for inmates in the Santa Barbara County jail. As I have written before, Governor Brown has reduced the funding for rehabilitation classes in California’s jails and prisons so services such as yoga to help inmates deal … Read More

Deinstitutionalization Hasn’t Worked

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness20 Comments

The recent mass killings in Isla Vista, CA by a man who suffered from mental illness has once again raised the issue of the insanity of deinstitutionalization of the severely mentally ill. Deinstitutionalization (releasing severely mentally ill from psychiatric hospitals) began in 1955 with the widespread introduction of Thorazine, the first effective antipsychotic medication. The widespread use of Thorazine moved the … Read More

The Most Punitive Nation in the World

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness15 Comments

prisoner in handcuffs

Robert A. Ferguson’s new book about our addiction to incarceration, Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment, asks a poignant question about our culture. Do we, as a people, have a drive to punish that is especially virulent? The statistics seem to indicate that we do. According to Ferguson, the United States is the world leader in locking up human beings behind … Read More

A Paradigm Shift: Prison Re-Entry Council Project

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System7 Comments

Last October, Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California hosted the first “Council” with inmates in this level IV facility. SVSP houses some of the most dangerous inmates in California. Yet, in spite of its population, six Native Americans, four African Americans, an inmate from Honduras and a pre-op transsexual met together with a couple of Council leaders for a … Read More

The Plot from Solitary

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System6 Comments

"Solitary" by Brendan Murdock

Terry Gross of Fresh Air recently interviewed Benjamin Wallace-Wells about his article in New York Magazine entitled “The Plot From Solitary” about the inmate hunger strike in California prisons last July. Four prisoners in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay maximum-security Prison coordinated the massive hunger strike that involved 30,000 inmates throughout California prisons. Pelican Bay has 1000 isolation cells in its … Read More

Fixing Our Criminal Justice System

Maureen MurdockAddiction, Criminal Justice System8 Comments

Photo of man behind bars and scales of justice

Bill Keller of the New York Times recently wrote an opinion piece entitled “America on Probation” about the current effort to fix our criminal justice system. It’s about time because our prisons are an international disgrace. The following are some of the remedies he cited: Sentencing: The 70’s crack epidemic set off a binge of punitive sentencing laws which resulted in … Read More

Two Faces of Prison

Maureen MurdockArt and Creativity, Criminal Justice System8 Comments

Yesterday I received my weekly email bulletin from San Quentin. A prisoner who was serving a life term with the possibility of parole, Thomas Curby Henderson,  “fell” off a fourth-story tier (imagine a catwalk 4 floors up) in the infamous West Block of the prison last Tuesday. “Fell” is a euphemism for “was thrown off.”  Who pushed him to his … Read More

Shameful Profiling of the Mentally Ill

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness10 Comments

In the recent Sunday New York Times, Andrew Solomon reported that a Canadian woman was recently denied entry to the United States because she had been hospitalized for depression in 2012.  She was told she could not visit unless she obtained medical clearance from one of three Toronto doctors approved by the Department of Homeland Security. A report from her … Read More

When Did We Lose Our Humanity?

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System7 Comments

Prisoner in solitary confinement

Just imagine what it’s like to be entombed day and night in a 7 ½ by 12 foot cement box commonly known as solitary confinement. In spite of the fact that the California prison Hunger Strike has been in effect since July 8th and has been covered by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and NBC to name … Read More

Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness10 Comments

29,000 inmates at California State prisons are on food strike. They are rejecting their meals in protest over solitary confinement conditions, poor food quality, a lack of warm clothing and cut-backs in education and rehabilitation programs. There has been a consistent reduction of programs and classes offered in prison because of  funding cuts despite the fact that the facilitators for … Read More