Prolonged Solitary Confinement

Dear Dr. Maschi:
First, let me thank you most warmly for listening to me and taking up the issue of prolonged solitary confinement and the role of social workers.

Some background on why I’m personally involved in this issue.

I’m a retired social worker.  As the former executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, MD. Chapter, I was tangentially involved with the Forensic Committee at the time, led by Claire McCullough, since deceased. I became personally involved in the anti-torture movement as a result of my post-9/11friendship with a torture survivor – originally a nun, working in Bolivia in the early 1970’s to bring to light Hugo Banzer Suarez’s brutal dictatorship. Currently, I’m on the Steering committee of the Interfaith Action for Human Rights IAHR) and a supporter of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (NRCAT).

I first became seriously concerned about the use of prolonged solitary confinement in 2011; I attended Senator Dick Durbin’s Hearings for reform in 2012, and on and off wondered about the role of social workers as mental health workers, but heard nothing. However, that changed when I read Mary E. Buser’s op ed in the Washington Post published on April 4, 2014 .  A clinical social worker, she worked in the mental health field on Rikers Island from 1995 to 2000. (Click on Mary Buser’s Washington Post Op Ed :The torture of solitary.)

In reply to her op ed, I decided to “get off my duff”, and wrote a letter to the editor which was published a few days later, i.e. “I thank Mary E. Buser for her courage in describing so graphically the consequences of the use of solitary confinement on the lives of many inmates under her care and within the criminal justice system. As a mental health professional, she faced the daily debasement of human life as she attempted to juggle her ethical principles with the demands of her job — to intervene before the “breaking point” of prisoners’ lives in solitary. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) recently held his second congressional hearing on solitary confinement, which is increasingly recognized as inhumane. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, the National Lawyers Guild and many other experts and organizations are advocating for an end to it. Thanks to such individuals and organizations we may hope that solitary confinement, a torment not in the least linked to rehabilitation, will soon become obsolete.”

I have attempted to reach Mary Buser, so far, without success; am hopeful that my second request to the WP to give her my name will result in her contacting me. I contacted the organization leading the rally in Albany in support of  soliratry confinement reform, but they didn’t know of a Mary Buser.I learned about your organization and contacted you and Steve Hartsock, whom I knew in my role in MD. several years ago. I also contacted the NASW MD Chapter E.D. Daphne McClellan and learned that Veronica Cruz is the Chapter’s Chair of their Forensic S.W. Committee and I subsequently contacted her.

I wrote a letter to Dr. McClain, the Executive Director of NASW asking to meet with him, after giving him some background, and asking him the following:  Does NASW violate its own ethical standards by failing to provide legal and other support to social workers who refuse to do what they’re ordered to do because following those orders would be unethical?” I was told yesterday that I should receive a response no later than June 10.

As an outsider, I realize I’m vulnerable to attack – after all, I have never worked in a prison environment; I can only imagine the difficulties involved and the challenges such work engenders. I hope to get confirmation by NOFSW members that my question to Dr. McClain is relevant and timely, and if not, why not.

I will also be very interested to learn what the NOFSW members decide to do to bring about reform. I believe they will find support among other mental health providers, including Psychologists for Social Responsibility (click on: and NASW national, who presented testimony at Sen. Durbin’s Hearing in 2012. (Click on:

I look forward to attending your conference in July and meeting you and members of NOFSW in person! Please let me know if NOFSW is providing a workshop and a table with information.

Moya Atkinson
3419 Fiddlers Green, Falls Church, VA  22044