Prison System and the Kalief Browder Story

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This evening, I had a conversation with the Ohio State Black Caucus to discuss The Kalief Browder Story. The discussion mostly consisted of topics such as solitary confinement, mental health, and prison abolishment. Alongside this discussion, Shavonda Johnson, a social worker and practicing clinician, came to the Zoom meeting to describe her experiences within the prison system. As a social worker, Johnson described using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI). Additionally, she described her implemented coloring program to help inmates communicate with her and focus on their mental health.

The two topics that interested me the most from the conversation included solitary confinement and family engagement.

According to Johnson, solitary confinement is limited to 30 days. However, after approximately 21 days, the onset of suicidal ideation, physical state deterioration, and visual and/or auditory hallucinations occur. Therefore, solitary confinement is viewed as an unhealthy form of punishment. In episode 3 of The Kalief Browder Story, Kalief was placed in solitary confinement for 300 consecutive days, which had great negative consequences. According to the United Nations, “A United Nations expert on torture today called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible” [1]. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the mental torture inmates face while in solitary confinement for long periods of time.

Family engagement was another major topic that was discussed. According to Johnson, inmates are prone to illness, anxiety, and explosive disorder because most inmates don’t know how to redistribute their anger and fear while in prison. However, it has been found that family engagement is crucial to providing inmates social and mental health support. Family support and weekly communication allow inmates to feel a sense of normalcy during a difficult transition or period. While therapists are beneficial and provide mental health support, it was found that family has a stronger bond and can provide love and compassion that a therapist cannot. Because of Covid-19, many inmates are no longer able to see their family members in-person, which makes the rehabilitation and adjustment to prison process much more difficult.

Hopefully, inmates are taken care of and shown grace during the pandemic. Inmates may act out more than normal due to a complete loss of normalcy, lack of support, and prevalence of Covid-19 cases. Tonight was very eye-opening and gave me new insight into a topic I had not considered.

[1] Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN expert says | | UN News. (2011, October 18). Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says

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