Protecting the Mental Health of Prisoners

The treatment of prisoners continues to be at the forefront of global discussions on human rights. August 10th is Prisoner’s Justice Day, a day of observance that began in 1975 after Edward Nalon committed suicide in a prison segregation unit in Ontario, Canada. The day commemorates all those who have died in custody and challenges the confinement conditions that encroach on basic human rights.

Imagine spending nearly 24 hours a day alone, confined to an 8’ x 10’ windowless cell. This is the reality of approximately 100,000 inmates in solitary confinement in the United States today. Psychiatrist Terry Allen Kupers, author of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, shares how the psychological affects of solitary confinement can cause harm, including anxiety attacks, paranoia, depression, and other mental illness—and can sometimes lead to suicide. Solitary can be considered a practice that qualifies as an human rights abuse. And inmates have suffered by their own hand when repeated warnings about their mental stability are ignored. Legal actions continue to attempt to change the prison culture so mentally ill inmates can receive the services they need. Here, Kupers notes in Solitary:

[I]t has been known for decades that while suicide is approximately twice as prevalent in prison as it is in the community, fully half of all successful suicides that occur in a correctional system involve the 3 to 8 percent of prisoners who are in some form of isolated confinement at any given time.

It is by now clear that for prisoners prone to serious mental illness, time served in isolation exacerbates their mental illness and too often results in suicide. This is the main reason that federal courts have ruled that prisoners with serious mental illness must not be subjected to long-term isolation. Federal judge Felton Henderson, ruling in Madrid v. Gomez regarding the SHU [Special Housing Unit] at Pelican Bay State Prison, wrote: “Many if not most, inmates in the SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU.” Further, he asserted, “The conditions in the SHU may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate.”

In court I argue that the harsh conditions of solitary confinement that cause severe psychiatric symptoms in previously healthy prisoners inevitably have a devastating effect on prisoners prone to mental illness. In far too many cases the effects include psychosis, mania, compulsive acts of self-abuse or suicide, and often some combination of the three.

What are your thoughts on the current criminal justice policies and the treatment of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement?


Collabra: Psychology Now the Official Journal of SIPS

Collabra: Psychology is delighted to announce its new affiliation as the official journal of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS). SIPS will oversee editorial responsibilities for the journal, while University of California Press remains its publisher. Dan Morgan, UC Press publisher of Collabra: Psychology, says of the new affiliation:

“With our shared focus on rigorous science and improving norms for publishing practices, and an increasing cross-over of people involved with both, it feels natural to formally affiliate Collabra: Psychology and SIPS. Both entities’ missions are amplified by this collaboration.”

Simine Vazire, UC Davis, and Chair, SIPS Executive Committee also says of the partnership:

“We are thrilled that Collabra: Psychology will be the official journal of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science. This joint project will be vital to helping us fulfill our mission. Collabra: Psychology provides an outlet for psychological research that exemplifies the values of SIPS, and presents an opportunity for SIPS to help change norms and incentives in the field of psychology .”

Collabra: Psychology and SIPS are excited to unite in a shared mission to improve psychological science, and scholarly communications broadly, through policies that support transparency, openness, diversity, and rigorous, ethical scientific research practices. To learn more about how Collabra: Psychology currently reinforces these values, check out our website at collabra.org.

See the press release from UC Press here.


Meet Psychology Editor Christopher Johnson at SPSSI

It’s been about 6 months since we last caught up with Christopher Johnson, Executive Editor for Psychology. Here, we learn more about what has been unfolding for the UC Press’ newest discipline—Psychology. 

It’s been an exciting few months. How have your projects been developing for the Psychology list?

I’ve been at the Press for about 18 months and it’s great to have projects at various stages of development.

  • My first book at UC Press is publishing this SeptemberSeeing: How Light Tells Us About the World by noted cognitive psychologist Tom Cornsweet (Emeritus Professor at UC Irvine).
  • My newest textbook signing is a wonderful treatment of creativity by Robert Weisberg (Temple University). This book joins two other innovative textbook signings from earlier this yearone for the psychology of adjustment course by Robert Innes and a second for the testing and measurement course by Lisa Hollis-Sawyer.
  • I’m particularly excited to be working with pioneering psychologist Ravenna Helson (Professor Emerita UC Berkeley) and coauthor Valory Mitchell on a book that traces the evolution of Helson’s groundbreaking Mills Longitudinal Study.
  • New proposals have been keeping me busy. From a new textbook for the psychology of religion course, to a thoughtful and innovative look at the evolution of the self in the digital age, to a much needed new text for the psychology of the self course. I really want to hear from authors interested in reaching audiences in undergraduate and graduate psychology courses.

Are you specializing in a particular area of psychology?

Absolutely! The UC Press has traditionally championed books that examine social issues: race, class, gender, conflict, poverty, social justice, the environment, etc. The topics are well represented in our world-class sociology, criminology, history, anthropology, and other catalogs. Psychological science sheds an indispensable light here and I’m eager to work with authors who want their research to influence the national dialog. To that end, I welcome proposals for related textbooks, scholarly works and trade books.

Join UsAnd Meet Christopher at SPSSI! 

Interested in publishing your work with Christopher and UC Press? Contact Christopher at cjohnson@ucpress.edu. And set up a time to meet with him at the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) conference in Albuquerque, NM this  June 23-25.

And learn more about the Higher Education Program.