Solitary Confinement: US vs. Taiwan

◎ Jay Tu

This is a comment after reading the news that Sen. Richard Durbin urges revamping prison solitary confinement (see below).

1. In the US, based on the article below, only “disruptive prisoners are locked up from 22 to 24 hours a day, typically in windowless cells about the size of a king-sized bed”, which is about 8 by 12 feet. And “only the most dangerous prisoners, who posed a threat to other inmates or guards, were placed in solitary confinement and that the number was very small.”

President Chen as a former democratically elected president of Taiwan has been subject to solitary confinement 23 hours and 30 minutes a day for the last four years. His cell is windowless and is only 5 by 12 feet, shared with one other cellmate. In short, an ex-president of Taiwan has been treated worse than most disruptive prisoners in the US.

2. In the US, the confined inmates, while inhumanly imprisoned, still have a bed with a bed sheet. President Chen has no bed, no desk, and no chair. He has been forced to write on the ground, which has caused a serious GERD and permanently damaged his kneecaps. President Chen has not taken a shower for four years as he can only wipe his body clean with a towel over his small Japanese toilet.

3. Solitary confinement can cause terrible psychological illness. The article below describes solitary confinement as “torture,” “madness” and the “total disrespect of human dignity.” Some confined inmates “deliberately mutilate themselves, go insane or commit suicide". Dr. Wen-Je Ko, who examined President Chen personally, pointed out that the solitary confinement in the last four years has inflicted serious physical and mental trauma to President Chen. See the articles in the following two links:



4. The prisoners subject to solitary confinement in the US still receive proper medical care and they won’t be fed anti-depression drugs unknowingly. President Chen has been denied proper medical treatments and was fed Ativan over 14 months without his consent. Only after intensive pressure from supporters, the prison authority allowed President Chen to be examined in the hospital with a time limit imposed this year. His last two hospital visits were limited to two hours and six hours, respectively. His first hospital visit in March this year was originally limited to one day and he ended up staying in the hospital for five days after he was found with serious heart conditions in addition to various illnesses. However, he was returned to the prison without any treatments and before the diagnosis was completed. So far, no treatments have been granted even though President Chen has been diagnosed with at least nine serious illnesses, which include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), duodenitis over the anterior wall of the duodenum, rectal erosion, coronary artery disease, atelectasis in his left lung, hemorrhage and blood clots in his seminal vesicles, prostatitis, hyperlipidemia , as well as mental conditions caused by anxiety and depression.

5. In the US, “prison officials are supposed to monitor prisoners’ mental health and move them to psychiatric wards if they exhibit signs of illness”. The article did not mention about physical illness but it is assumed that it is for granted. It is unthinkable that a prison will deny medical treatments to any inmates in the US and all medical expenses are paid by the government. On the other hand, the prison authority always discounted President Chen’s various ailments as merely flu or even accused him of faking his illness. A simple request for a medical checkup is a major political struggle to make it happen. President Chen has to pay for every medical care he receives. Now a medical team, consist of most prominent medical doctors in Taiwan, have diagnosed nine major ailments of President Chen and call for immediate medical parole for him. However, the prison authority immediately rejects this petition, a case of overriding a medical opinion by a non-medical officer. The only improvement, after all these petitions and protests, is that the prison authority now allows President Chen to use a desk in the cell next to his during the day to release his GERD symptom.

6. Jack Healey, a renowned human rights activist, wrote in his blog: “Using a prison system to kill an opponent is savage and ruthless. The present government of Taiwan must not maim and kill using the slow and painful death by neglect.” (see the link below : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-healey/taiwan-president-chen_b_1449554.html ).
The solitary confinement and the negligence of his medical needs are deliberated acts against humanity. For example, a prostate tumor was discovered on March 6, 2012. No treatments were given. A second tumor was found on April 24 in a two-hour hospital checkup. On May 9, two doctors were allowed to see him in jail and both of them recommended that he should be sent to an intensive unit. He was finally sent to a hospital again on May 23 but the checkup was limited to six hours only, in which a third tumor was found but the doctors thought those tumors were blood clots in his seminal vesicles based on the CT scan images. So far, no treatments have been given to treat the tumors/clots problem. In short, a patient, a former president, was told of something potentially cancerous but he had to endure nearly three months of waiting in a solitary confinement condition to finally learn that it may not be cancerous. Four months later, he still does not know the cause and receives no treatment for it.

Please go to
for more information on the cruel and unusual punishment against President Chen.

2012-06-20 Jay Tu



McClatchy Washington Bureau

Sen. Richard Durbin urges revamping prison solitary confinement

By Annika McGinnis | McClatchy Newspapers / last updated: June 19, 2012

Keeping prisoners locked alone in tiny cells 23 hours a day is inhumane, costly and ineffective, a key U.S. senator said Tuesday in a hearing about ways to revamp the practice of solitary confinement in American prisons.

The hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee came after a lawsuit last month against solitary-confinement policies at a California prison and a widespread hunger strike against that state’s use of the practice.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said he was drafting legislation designed to overhaul the nation’s solitary confinement rules, even as the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons defended the system.

During solitary confinement, the most disruptive prisoners are locked up from 22 to 24 hours a day, typically in windowless cells about the size of a king-sized bed, testified Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Former prisoner Anthony Graves, who spent more than 18 years in solitary confinement before he was exonerated of a murder conviction, said his treatment was “torture,” “madness” and the “total disrespect of human dignity.”

Graves said he lived in an 8- by 12-foot “cage” where he slept, ate and defecated. He ate dehydrated food that sometimes included rat feces, lived without any physical contact and watched fellow inmates deliberately mutilate themselves, go insane or commit suicide.

“I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore,” Graves testified. “I know a guy who would sit in the middle of the floor, rip his sheet up, wrap it around himself and light it on fire.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., repeatedly asked the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Charles Samuels, whether he thought there were any negative effects to such treatment. Samuels said it wasn’t the “preferred option,” and cited a 2010 Colorado Department of Corrections study that he said had found no negative effects from solitary confinement.

Haney, who helped lead the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, which demonstrated the psychological impact of confinement on prisoners and guards, said that living in what he called extreme, inhumane and “zoolike” conditions often caused serious mental illness and was a danger to public safety.

About 95 percent of prisoners in solitary confinement ultimately are released back to society; Haney charged that the system lacks meaningful transitional services and formerly isolated prisoners are more prone to violence after they’re released.

Prison officials are supposed to monitor prisoners’ mental health and move them to psychiatric wards if they exhibit signs of illness. Samuels said the system had an extensive network of such officials and an intensive psychological screening process before prisoners were placed in solitary confinement. He said that only the most dangerous prisoners, who posed a threat to other inmates or guards, were placed in solitary confinement and that the number was very small.

Christopher B. Epps, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said his efforts to revamp that state’s prisons had reduced the number of segregated inmates by 75 percent.

Durbin’s legislation, which has yet to be introduced, would cut the number of prisoners in solitary confinement, improve mental health screenings and give prisoners greater opportunities to challenge decisions.

Email: amcginnis@mcclatchydc.com