Skip to comments.Critics Say Inmates Are Driven Insane
Posted on 04/25/2003 12:22:33 PM PDT by new cruelty
JACKSON, Miss. -After running a few laps around the exercise pen, Alan Dale Walker lies down on the cool concrete, closes his eyes and imagines he is anywhere else but on Mississippi's death row.
For Walker, convicted in 1991 of raping and killing a woman, it's one of the few opportunities to escape the screams and maniacal laughter of his fellow condemned inmates. The conditions here are so bad that some contend they are literally driving the inmates insane.
A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of six inmates by the American Civil Liberties Union says the stifling heat, filth, insects and other conditions could explain why some of those on death row are suffering from mental illness.
"I used to raise fighting chickens," Walker wrote in one of several letters he and other inmates sent to The Associated Press. "The way I had those chickens caged up makes me think about how they have me caged up here."
State Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said the death row at the prison in Parchman shouldn't be singled out.
"I've been in this business for 23 years and I've been to many prisons throughout the U.S. Ours is no different from any other state that I've been in," Epps said.
At a hearing on the lawsuit earlier this year, James Balsamo, the director of environmental health and safety at Tulane University, said he took temperature, humidity and air volume readings in about 15 cells at Parchman last August, and found the heat index exceeded 100 degrees
Many inmates keep their windows closed to protect themselves from spiders and insects, he said, which adds to the heat and ventilation problems.
Another witness, Dr. Terry Kupers, a California psychiatrist who has written a book on prison madness, said he found several inmates with mental problems in a tour of death row last August.
"They mess up their cell, they're totally disheveled, they scream day and night, they smear feces, they throw feces and urine down the hall, they flood the tier," Kupers testified.
In a recent telephone interview, Kupers said conditions at Parchman were worse than any he's seen at death rows in six states - and they directly contribute to severe emotional and mental problems.
"There were massive problems there," Kupers said. "It was a combination of extreme isolation and idleness along with very hazardous sanitation conditions that I've seen nowhere else."
He said the mental health care amounted to "warehousing" inmates and providing some with medication. He said they need true mental health care because many may never see an execution chamber.
Six people have been executed in Mississippi since 1976. Out of approximately 170 death sentences in the state since that year, about 70 have been vacated. There are now 66 men and one woman awaiting execution.
Epps said mental health care should improve when Correctional Medical Services, a St. Louis company that specializes in prison health care, begins its contract with the Mississippi prison system July 1. Among the changes will be adding four full-time psychiatrists to bolster the current part-time workers.
Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said more needs to be done and adding psychiatrists "will not address the enormous problems that were identified during the trial."
Carolyn Clayton, who helped found the victims' rights group Survival Inc. after her daughter was kidnapped, raped and slain in 1986, said she had mixed feelings about making improvements to death row.
She said conditions described in the prisoners' suit sounded harsh, but "I immediately go to the victim's feelings. Their loved ones are in the ground."
I think see the problem.
If we would just start enforcing the death penalty in a timely manner, these guys wouldn't have time to be "driven crazy."
F-'em. Let them rot.
Don't worry Mr. Walker....the nice man will shoot you up and send you off to never-never land....
They don't have a problem raping and murdering people .. but the are afraid of spiders???
I lived in tents while in the military and spent months in conditions worse than this in Saudi, California, and Arizona. I bet that a majority of the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan are living in worse conditions now that these guys are. They get three hot meals, running water, toilets and toilet paper, and a roof over their heads. The military members in the field can go months without these things.
I bet the woman he raped and killed would change places with him if she had a chance. I have little sympathy for these guys. They are there for a reason.
Bull snot. Today's prisons are more lavish than the Waldorf-Astoria.
Would this Walker guy be better off in a Mexican or Russian prison?
Lots of these frustration problems/"madness" could be solved by putting them to work and I mean work! They have too much free time on their hands. A little sweat always helps mentally and physicallay.
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