The terrible reason why one sleepy old rail town has made national news.
Cresson, Pennsylvania is about the length of a radio song. With a population of less than 2,000, it’s the kind of quaint former railroad town the state seems to have infinite replicas of, the kind that can make a drive through Pennsylvania either brilliantly serene or impossibly long depending on your reason for traveling.
And now, according to this piece by the Department of Justice, it’s the place with a prison that:
“…routinely resorts to locking prisoners with serious mental illness in their cells for 22 to 23 hours a day, for months or even years at a time.”
SCI Cresson is quite the misnomer. This is no SCI, or State Correctional Institution. What were talking about here is a pen where mentally ill human beings are kept like livestock.
The DOJ also found that:
“Cresson’s use of long-term and extreme forms of solitary confinement on prisoners with serious mental illness, many of whom also have intellectual disabilities, violates their rights under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
In addition, they found that SCI Cresson…
“…permitted its prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities to simply languish, decompensate, and harm themselves in solitary confinement for months or years on end under harsh conditions….”
Is a problem like this, in one of many fairly remote prisons that are spread throughout the state and even the country, isolated? Unlikely. And it’s for this reason that the DOJ will be partnering with the Civil Rights Division to conduct a statewide investigation. One reason of many why prison reform must be part of our public health conversation is as Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in the statement released by the DOJ:
“These practices have serious public safety consequences because many of these individuals are returned to the community.”
Only at our own peril can we think there is a “them” and an “us.” Only at our peril can we think that prisons tucked away in forested, sleepy towns are somehow separate from the community.