DOC has determined prisoners in solitary confinement require a reduced caloric diet in contrast to general population. SMU prisoners receive two meals a day in their urine and feces smeared cells. Most inmates held in solitary have no contact with the outside world other than the U.S. mail. Friends and families must arrange with the prison for infrequent no contact visits.
Ninety five percent of the inmates will be released back to the public one day. Some inmates remain in isolation until their sentences end. Escorted to the prison's gates and handcuffs removed.
Arizona more aggressive than most states in its use of solitary confinement, built the first prison in 1987 up from the ground for permanent lockdown, one that would become the working model for solitary-confinement prisons around the country: the SMU 1 ("special management unit") at Eyman state prison.
Inmates in SMU units are not allowed to work. They have no contact with other inmates and are allowed out of their cell three times a week for two hours for exercise in a windowless room with tall walls and a thick screen over the roof. A mobile shower unit is wheeled to cells every so often for the inmate to shower as the correction officer stands guard.
Carl ToersBijns, a retired deputy warden from Eyman state prison, said that maximum-custody units are filled with people there because of repeat misbehavior. He said they should be placed in treatment programs instead.
"If a deputy warden finds you to be problematic, they can manufacture a packet to place you in max custody for 12 months. It's a year's review, and central office rarely goes against a warden's recommendations," he said.
Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist and former Harvard Medical School professor has spent years studying the effects of solitary confinement says many mentally ill inmates are placed in maximum security -- because they can't regulate their behavior.
Arizona inmates in solitary for breaking rules have to demonstrate they can behave before they are allowed to get out. But this method "is based on a false premise," says Grassian. "It's based on the notion that inmates in solitary can rationally calculate risks and benefits, that if you give them enough negative consequences they'll change their behavior in a positive direction. But the people who end up in solitary are precisely the least likely to be able to respond rationally."
Solitary "is a shortsighted, expedient approach to prisoner management," he said. "It's expensive; it's risky; and I don't believe there's a sufficient correctional justification for its use."
Ben Shaw, director of mental-health programs for Arizona's Department of Corrections, states being in maximum security doesn't impact mental functioning.
Arizona Republic reported Sarah Shourd, who spent a year in isolation in an Iranian prison after being captured at the Iraqi Kurdish border in 2009, stated that in her small cell she experienced sleeplessness and panic attacks, unaware of what she was doing, she would scream and hit the walls. Today she still struggles with the psychological effects.
Grassian says, "Many people who didn't have a mental illness become psychotically ill as a result of incarceration in SMU. The American Civil Liberties Union, accuses Arizona's Department of Corrections of "gratuitous cruelty" in its use of solitary confinement.
Oregon offers inmates therapy sessions with a visiting psychologist to work on anger management. And dozens of states now depend on a group of prison officials external to the prison to decide who goes into isolation and who gets out, so it's no longer the warden’s decision.
David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project writes in the Washington Post that Maine, Mississippi, Illinois and Colorado, state-run prisons have successfully reduced their use of solitary confinement, and cut spending by millions of dollars in the process.
Corrections Director Charles Ryan plans more isolation units. Next year's state budget outlines $20 million to begin constructing another 500-bed maximum-security unit, at Lewis state prison. Cost forecast $50 million to complete.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are urging for an end to extensive isolation, saying inmates become violent and is debilitative for reentry into society. But many ADOC prison officials and correctional officers say isolation units are necessary, allowing them to control prison gangs and keep prisons safe for the rest of the inmates.