On June 19, 2012, Professor Michael B. Mushlin submitted the following testimony in the Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights (Chairman: The Honorable Dick Durbin, Ranking Member: The Honorable Lindsey Graham):
Thank you for holding this important hearing and inviting testimony. My name is Michael B. Mushlin. I am a Professor of Law at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York. I am the author of Rights of Prisoners,1 a four volume treatise, and a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Legal Status of Prisoners. I am also a co-chair of the American Bar Association, Subcommittee on Implementation of the ABA Resolution on Prison Oversight,2 and have served as chair of the Committee on Correction of the New York City Bar Association, the Correctional Association of New York and the Osborne Association, an organization that provides training and support programs for people in jail and prison or who are being diverted from imprisonment. Currently, I am a vice chair of the Correctional Association of New York, a 168 year old organization endowed by New York law with the authority to visit New York State Prisons with the responsibility to report on their condition to the New York state legislature. With colleagues, including Prof. Michele Deitch of the University of Texas, I participated in the organization of two national conferences on prison reform, the first Prison ReformRevisited: The Unfinished Agenda held at Pace Law School and the second, OpeningUp a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight held at the University of Texas. Both conferences drew together professionals from all segments of the criminal justice and corrections fields to discuss improvement to the operation and oversight of the American prison system. For seven years, I was staff counsel and then the Project Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. I also served as staff counsel with Harlem Assertion of Rights Inc., and was the Associate Director of the Children’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. For the 2012/13 academic year, I will be a Visiting Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.
I first confronted conditions in solitary confinement units over thirty years ago when I served as trial counsel in a federal civil rights case involving Unit 14, the solitary confinement unit at Clinton prison in upstate New York close to the Canadian border. What I saw there was deeply disturbing. Inmates were locked for 23 hours each day into small windowless cages for months and years on end. No programs or activities were provided to them. Without access to any meaningful activity, they were separated from one another spending almost all of their time entirely by themselves. During that one precious hour per day when a Unit 14 inmate could leave his cell there was only one place to go: a small space directly behind his cell called a “tiger cage.” The tiger cage was a small empty space with a barren floor surrounded on all sides by high concrete walls which were not covered by a roof. An inmate could walk only a few steps in one direction before turning. If he looked up he could glimpse a bit of the sky but nothing else of the outside world.3
Working on that case I witnessed firsthand the awful consequences of subjecting human beings to solitary confinement. I will never forget looking into the eyes of those inmates struggling to maintain a foothold on reality and sanity. Afterwards, when visiting other solitary confinement units, no matter where, I see that same pained, desperate stare. I have seen it so often, and in so many different places, that I have come to recognize it instantly as the gaze of a tortured person.