The American Civil Liberties Union, seeking to spotlight the use of handcuffs to restrain young children who act out in school, filed a federal lawsuit in Covington, Ky., on Monday alleging that a school resource officer there shackled an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, both with disabilities, causing the children “pain, fear and emotional trauma.”
The A.C.L.U. released what it called a “disturbing video” showing the boy, who it said weighs about 52 pounds, crying as the resource officer handcuffed his arms at the biceps behind his back. In the video, the officer tells the boy, “You don’t get to swing at me like that.”The boy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; the girl has the disorder and other “special needs,” according to the lawsuit. It says both children are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and alleges that the school resource officer, who it says shackled the boy once and the girl twice in 2014, violated both the disabilities act and the children’s constitutional rights.
In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution.He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning to build.Twenty years later, he returned to the prison for another set of interviews. He was startled to find himself facing some of the same prisoners he had met before, inmates who now had spent more than two decades alone in windowless cells.“It was shocking, frankly,” Dr. Haney said.
The interviews, conducted over the last two years as part of a lawsuit over prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, have not yet been written up as a formal study or reviewed by other researchers. But Dr. Haney’s work provides a vivid portrait of men so severely isolated that, to use Dr. Haney’s term, they have undergone a “social death.”Sealed for years in a hermetic environment — one inmate likened the prison’s solitary confinement unit to “a weapons lab or a place for human experiments” — prisoners recounted struggling daily to maintain their sanity. They spoke of longing to catch sight of a tree or a bird. Many responded to their isolation by shutting down their emotions and withdrawing even further, shunning even the meager human conversation and company they were afforded.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, citing the continuing litigation, declined to comment on the lawsuit or on the reports of Dr. Haney or other expert witnesses for the plaintiffs. But since the lawsuit was filed, the department has moved many inmates who had been in isolation at Pelican Bay for more than a decade to other settings. All but two of the 10 inmates originally named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are now in other facilities, according to Jeffrey Callison, a department spokesman.In an interview, Dr. Haney said that he was especially struck by the profound sadness that many of the inmates he interviewed seemed to carry with them.“The weight of what they had been through was apparent on them and in them,” he said.“They were grieving for their lost lives, for their loss of connectedness to the social world and their families outside, and also for their lost selves,” he said. “Most of them really did understand that they had lost who they were, and weren’t sure of who they had become.”