Footnotes to “Cages Are All the Rage”

These are the footnotes to the essay “Cages are All the Rage: Doubling Down on Centuries of Failure” by Joey Pedersen


It should concern us all that, along with pimps and contract killers, prison officials feel compelled to employ euphemisms to veil what they do for a living.


To my knowledge, the only fairly recent challenge to this in a Washington state court has been In re Pedersen, which ended up being dismissed by the Washington Supreme Court because, by the time it found its way there, I was no longer subjected to the conditions being challenged. This should not have kept the Court from making a decision on the merits because the issue is an important one that affects a lot of people, and at any time I might again be subjected to the same conditions. However, deference to prison officials is the bane of the prisoner litigant.

It is probably true that a similar challenge made in federal court would be successful—again, the law is very clear in the 9th Circuit on the issue of outdoor exercise for prisoners—but there are several deterrents to such lawsuits for inmates, not least of which is the lien placed on the account of the petitioner. Even if he is declared indigent he must pay the filing fee of several hundred dollars (a fortune to most prisoners).

This is one of the myriad ways the judicial system has essentially conspired with prison officials to keep conditions of confinement lawsuits out of court. It is one of the most shameful and least known or understood aspects of America’s sordid history of civil rights violations.


I have been told by several individuals that I might consider exercising greater tact when writing. Each of these people would be proud of me, I know, for relegating to a footnote the following observation: if W.D.OC. officials are full of two things, one of them is a program.


I should qualify this. Not all prison administrators see much of anything up-close as it relates to inmates, and that’s a big part of the problem. It is often the case that an official will spend the majority of his time at D.O.C. headquarters, or in the administrative buildings of a prison, relying on the sanitized reports of lower level staff members for information. The point remains, however; these people cannot credibly claim ignorance, for they are paid to know precisely what the effects of their policies and practices are. It is also true that in many instances prison officials make it a point to stay away from prisoners precisely because they know their policies have created serious problems. They take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach so as to assuage what conscience might be left them.


The Vera Institute is partnered with W.D.O.C. in the same way that an exhausted woman is partnered with her 5-year-old kid as he runs screaming and crying through the grocery store. The tendency is to look for a way out, but one is obligated. Instead, one just smiles awkwardly at onlookers and hopes to God that one’s eyes convey “He’s not mine, really. I’m babysitting.”


The Oregon D.O.C. refers to its long-term solitary confinement housing units as Intensive Management Units (I.M.U.s), as W.D.O.C. does. The difference is that, whereas in Washington all prisoners in solitary are housed in I.M. U., in Oregon those inmates who are considered “short-term” disciplinary cases (180 days or less) are housed in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit. After one’s time in D.S.U. is up, if one is not released back into the general population then one is transferred to I.M.U. Very little changes for the prisoner, but on paper Oregon prison officials can keep up the pretense that they have let the inmate out of disciplinary housing.


I am not sure what this acronym means, but it is likely a porgram smiliar to A.C.T. Note the social distancing tidbit. Evidently D.O.C.A.R.T. is done in a “classroom” setting, which likely means that a very small number of prisoner may participate at a given time. Here again we see the “program” as hostage taker.

One can only laugh sardonically at Rainer’s line “The mental health staff who work in restrictive housing [fun with euphemisms!] at W.S.P. did some research and suggested that they could offer Cage Your Rage (C.Y.R.) as an alternative.” They did some research, which led them not to Grassian, Toch, Haney et al., but rather to Cage Your Rage.


Nearly 10 years ago Joshua Brown filed a federal lawsuit challenging this practice. Perhaps my editor will track down the citation for me (one’s researching capabilities are drastically limited when immured in a concrete box), but the reader can likely find the case simply by enter “Joshua Brown v. Oregon Department of Corrections” into one of the popular legal search engines.


After a certain period of time—usually six to eight weeks—the prisoner is issued a small radio, assuming he’s been a good boy.

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