There were two prison systems that were developed in the 1800s in the United States. These two prison systems were: the Auburn system and the Pennsylvania system. In the Auburn prison system the prisons had to do the labor together but they had to stay quiet, whereas, in the Pennsylvanian system the prisons had to face isolation from not only the society but also their fellow criminals. The idea behind the formation of the Pennsylvanian prison system was that it would give all those prisoners the privacy and time to think about their acts and the crimes that they had committed and in this way they would realize and be remorseful or penitent about their actions, this is how the term penitentiary was derived (Rogers, 1993).
The criminals and convicts who spent their time in the prisons that worked according to the Pennsylvanian prison system suffered from severe psychological and physical side effects (Kurki & Morris, 2001; Pizarro & Stenius, 2004). The U.S. Supreme Court took notice of the fatal side effects of isolation on the prisons in 1980. It was noticed that a lot of prisons who were kept in the Pennsylvanian prison system went into a state of semi-mindlessness, whereas, there were also some who became completely insane, some committed suicide and the little number of prisons who did manage to go through this ordeal in a little better way as compared to others weren't usually reformed, also, mostly the mental activities of the prisoners didn't get restored and thus, they couldn't do much good for the society (In re Medley, 1890).
The German prisons that had been formed according to the initials U.S. institutions also had cases where the prisoners suffered from the similar effects of the isolation in prisons. A lot of articles can be found in the German Medical Journals on the cases depicting the psychological problems that the prisoners faced when they were put in isolation (Grassian, 1983).
Even though the history and the events that occurred in the 1800s clearly show how harmful the isolation can be for the prisoners on only on psychological but also physical basis, but this system of rigidly isolating the prisoners has come back into fashion once again because it is thought that the prisoners who are very harmful to the society and the prison environment are best kept in solitary confinement (Mears, 2005).
The opening of the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Marion, Illinois, in 1963,is said to be responsible for the formation of these ultra-security units that are also known as the control units (Mears & Reisig, 2006). At Alcatraz's federal prison was replaced by the USP Marion and the year that the USP Marion opened the Alcatraz federal prison closed. The USP Marion and before that the Alcatraz prison was for the prisoners who were supposedly a serious threat to the correctional officials (Pizarro & Stenius, 2004). The disreputable convicts like the political prisoners and the gangsters were also kept in these prisons (Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 1992). The USP Marion has been replaced by the Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado and Florence as, the ultra secure prisons in federal system (Kurki & Morris, 2001).
The use of isolation for the prisoners was increased by the USP Marion with time. They would force the prisoners to take a part in the therapy. They also increased the solitary confinement inorder to stop the rebellious convicts, for example; the ones who, in 1972, for the sake of protesting against the beating that was done by a prison guard on a minority prisoner, stopped working (King, 1999).With the passage of time not only the use of the solitary confinement increased at the USP Marion but the time period of the imprisonment increased as well. Later on, in 1983, after the murder of two prison guards by the prisoners the complete prison population was confined to their cells by the USP Marion (Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 1992).
Since that time, all state SHUs in the country consider the USP Marion as their model (Kurki & Morris, 2001). In 1996, according to the National Institute of Corrections there were 34 state jurisdictions that were operated or they had plans to operate one or more super maximum facilities (Pizarro & Stenius, 2004). Around 55 or more control units were being operated throughout the country during this time and these control units hadapproximately 20,000 prisoners in them (Mears & Reisig, 2006; National Institute of Corrections, 1997). In 2004, there was a survey conducted by the Urban Institute in order to self indentify the super maximum wardens. According to this survey it was observed that there are 44 states that have at least one super maximum security facility and that collectively these facilities can house around 25,000 prisoners (Mears, 2005).
Mostly the prisoners are kept in small cells (often 6 x 8 feet) at the SHU and these cells have steel doors but incarcerates are kept this way for 22-23 hours daily. These prisoners are let out of their cells for solitary exercise or shower only few hours a week. Therefore, their interaction with the rest of the prisoners and the correctional staff is extremely limited. Usually the prisoners at the SHU are not permitted any visitors but the few of them who do get the visitors talk to them through the closed-circuit televisions. They have very limited access to the reading materials because of which these prisoners have very little opportunities of participating in the educational activities. They are not provided with enough space to do physical work out. Mostly, the SHU prisons don't have windows because of which the prisoners don't get much natural light, their cells are lit by the electric lights and these lights are kept on 24 hours a day, also, the prisoners can't control the brightness or dimness of these lights. Because of the lack of the windows in the cells the inmates can't get to know if its day or night. There is a severe lack of recreational activities for these prisoners. They are sent to these control units for unknown period of time. Sometimes they stay there for months, at other times, for years. Because of all these living conditions these inmates get very little physical as well as mental exercises. Most of SHU convicts face these conditions and are extremely isolated (Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 1992; Human Rights Watch, 2000).
Generally, the prisons do lack the psychiatric and medical care facilities; this is mainly because of the scarce resources. When talking about SHUs, these conditions are very real and extreme. There was a case presented to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California of the Madrid v. Gomez (1995) and the U.S. District Court was challenged regarding the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU's confinement conditions. It was found by the court that extreme indifference was shown by the staff at the Pelican Bay regarding the prisoner's health care needswhowere kept in the SHU. It was also noted that the health experts at the SHU were highly understaffed and the ones who were there were not trained and educated properly, neither did the prisoners get any regular check-ups. There was also lack of adequate medical facilities and often the prisoners were delayed in their check-ups or simply denied to be examined (Arrigo and Bullock, 2007).
It was further noticed that the mental health services at the Pelican Bay were in an extremely bad shape, not only was that department understaffed but like the health care facility the mental care facility lacked adequate facilities. Incarcerates who entered the Pelican Bay weren't not screened. It was also found that many prisoners living in the Pelican Bay suffered from mental illnesses but because they weren't treated they became suicidal or psychotic. As, there was no system of screening the inmates for mental illnesses the ones who were suffering from them weren't separated from the rest and sent to the mental care institutes. The SHU didn't have any facilities for the treatment of the mentally ill people at the prison as well. In the light of all these findings theMadrid (1995) court concluded that the facility was in extreme mental and health care crisis and it said that the conditions in the prison were so bad that they could result in serious psychiatric consequences for the prisoners living there (Madrid v. Gomez, 1995, p. 1216).
SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison is not the only one with these inadequate psychiatric care facilities, WisconsinsSupermax Correctional Institution at Boscobel was also found with the same mental care conditions in Jones El v. Berge's case (2001). The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin noted in the Jones El's case that the mental care facility was extremely inadequate. According to Terry Kupers, a witness and a psychiatrist the mental care facility at the Wisconsin was in very bad shape and there methods of screening the incoming…