The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter could have access to bingo, television, art supplies and trivia contests if he is sentenced to life in prison and sent to ADX, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, according to Maureen Baird, a federal prison consultant who retired from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2016.
Baird testified on Wednesday that she believes ADX is the only place where the defendant could be safely imprisoned because he might be a target of violence in other prisons.
Previously Baird testified about the H Unit, a section of the prison reserved for inmates with special administrative measures, also known as SAMs, which are restrictions placed on those who pose a threat to public safety if they are allowed to communicate with others. Baird toured the prison but did not tour the H Unit.
Wednesday she stated there is no guarantee the defendant would be assigned SAMs and placed in the H Unit. He could be placed in the general population unit or in an adult alternative housing program for prisoners over the age of 50. Baird said that, in her opinion, he would likely be placed in the general population unit if he is not placed in the H Unit.
According to a program statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, placement of a prisoner with severe mental illness at ADX is only done if there are “extraordinary security needs” that cannot be managed elsewhere. Baird said that the defense told her that the defendant has schizophrenia, but that the policy was not “absolute” and that inmates with severe mental illness are housed at ADX.
The prosecution questioned Baird about the amenities and resources available to inmates at ADX. She said that prisoners have access to televisions with about 60 channels including CNN and ESPN. Prisoners can have photographs of family and friends, do arts and crafts and watch movies. They have access to leisure programs like art, trivia and essay contests. Prisoners can also create art through a creative arts program and have it sold, earning up to 50% of the profit.
Access to amenities is dependent on an inmate’s behavior in the facility. The prison has a step-down program, which rewards prisoners’ good behavior with benefits such as additional recreation time, phone calls and out-of-cell time. Inmate can work themselves out of the ADX and into an open population facility through the step-down program. On average, it would take five to six years for the general prison population to do so, but Baird said a person like the defendant would, in her opinion, never be moved out of a high-security facility because of the severity of his crimes.
Janet Perdue, a recently retired correctional administrator at the Federal Bureau of Prisons who is a corrections consultant at Prisonology, the same firm that Baird works for, also testified about where the shooter would be incarcerated if sentenced to life in prison.
The majority of prisoners are not placed directly in ADX but are moved there after actions in custody warrant it. Only 10% are placed there directly, and one way an inmate can be placed directly in ADX is if they have notoriety that would threaten their safety. She said that, in her opinion, the defendant would likely be sent to ADX if he is sentenced to life in prison because of the risk posed to his safety in less secure facilities.
“I do think the notoriety of him and his crime would complicate his safety,” she said. “I believe he would be a difficult inmate to keep safe in something less secure than the ADX.”
A few factors contribute to this, Perdue said, including his conviction of hate crimes, his vocal hatred and distrust of immigrants and the national spotlight placed on the shooting.
George Corvin, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed the defendant 10 times, testified that there are a variety of symptoms of schizophrenia and ways it can present. Corvin diagnosed the defendant with a continuous form of schizophrenia.
The defendant’s belief that red dye from his prison jumpsuit was seeping into his skin and staining his prison bracelet was brought up again. In June, clinical psychiatrist Siddhartha Nadkarni pointed to this as a delusional belief and a sign of his schizophrenia. Michael Williams, a corrections officer at Butler County Prison where the defendant is held, previously testified that the red dye does rub off onto walls and stain prison bracelets.
In a conversation with Corvin, the defendant made an “off-hand comment” that there could be a purpose behind the dye seeping into his skin. The defendant also said the salt packets at the prison improved his thinking to the point that he could write two separate sentences with each of his hands if he tried.
Schizophrenia can be passed down through genetics, Corvin said. The defendant’s mother showed an example of a delusional belief when, after the defendant’s aunt took him to the mall, his mother became convinced that he was swapped with another child. In an interview, the defendant’s mother told Corvin that she was 66% sure that the defendant was not the child she gave birth to.
The trial is in its third and final phase, the penalty phase, to determine if the defendant will be given the death penalty or sentenced to life without parole. In June, the jury found him guilty of all 63 counts filed against him in the killing of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, David Rosenthal, Cecil Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Dan Stein, Irving Younger and Melvin Wax.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. Friday. PJC
Abigail Hakas can be reached at email@example.com.
This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.