Hart’s family complains about his confinement conditions
January 11, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Family members of Maj. Richard Hart, citing letters and phone calls, say he’s been held in “cruel and unusual” conditions at the Camp Humphreys confinement facility since his Aug. 12 arrest for the alleged murder of his wife.
But, while they’re not allowed to comment on specific prisoners, the military says the measures described — including being strapped to a restraint chair or medical litter for long periods of time — are within guidelines governing Army confinement facilities.
Especially, officials said, if that prisoner has “suicidal ideations” or has attempted to harm himself or others.
In his Article 32 hearing last month, testimony showed Hart attempted suicide more than once after his arrest, nearly succeeding in late-October by tightening a set of plastic restraints around his neck.
Family members, who aware of the attempts, still said the conditions Hart describes are too severe.
“I am OK with protecting him or others, but this is ridiculous. It is beyond belief,” Charlynn Blanchard, Hart’s sister, said.
“How is he supposed to be able to defend himself in court? How is this affecting his appearance and his mental state?”
While acknowledging the suicide attempt, Hart’s daughter Allison, 19, had a more blunt reaction.
“With the conditions he is being treated under, who wouldn’t want to die?” she said.
According to letters from Hart dated Dec. 12 and 20, he’s kept immobilized and strapped either to a medical litter or a restraint chair at almost all times. He’s given a restroom break every four to six hours, he wrote, depending on the guard.
His cell has no windows, toilet or sink; when he’s allowed to shower once every five days, he’s kept in metal restraints. Other than for court hearings, he’s been out of his cell “four to five times” since his arrest, Hart claimed.
A single, uncovered bulb is kept on in his cell 24 hours a day; the metal restraints have left deep, red marks on his skin.
“This is simply overwhelming for me at this time,” Hart wrote. “Mentally, this is too much for me to handle.”
While not confirming whether the conditions described by Hart were true in his case, confinement facility officials said all of the procedures fall under Army Regulation 190-47, which governs the corrections system.
In an interview this week, Sgt. Maj. Mark Flowers, provost sergeant major at the 8th Army Corrections Facility at Humphreys, discussed the regulations.
From the time a prisoner is sent to the facility, he said, there are constant determinations of individual circumstances and health. Prisoners are interviewed by several officials to classify at what custody level each will be held; within 24 hours of arrival, they’re examined by doctors and mental health personnel, Flowers said.
The prisoner is placed in either the general population or a special cell. Pre-trial confinees are held separately from post-trial prisoners; officers and enlisted are generally held separate.
The Humphreys facility is designed to hold a prisoner for 90 days, Flowers said, though that time changes if, for instance, a prisoner’s trial goes beyond that period. Prisoners are given about two hours a day for recreation and can be assigned to work details filling sandbags, he said.
Any letters sent from prisoners are “screened” and phone calls to anyone other than a chaplain or attorney are monitored.
If an inmate is placed on suicide watch, Flowers said, different measures can be taken “depending on the severity of the suicidal inmate.”
The bottom line is preventing harm to an inmate or others.
“That’s the number one thing,” Flowers said. “We have to make sure that they’re doing their time as the court decides, and if they’re a pre-trial inmate, I have to keep them alive and make sure they’re in court. A suicidal inmate, some of the rules change quite a bit.”
Outside experts said the measures described fall within normal practice at civilian prisons.
“There may very well be a legitimate reason for the use of restraints and lighting in order to maintain continuous supervision,” said Robert Verdeyen, director of standards and accreditation at the American Correctional Association.
The Humphreys facility is in the process of being accredited by the ACA, Flowers said. So far, officials have met about 370 of the 430 standards.
But the explanations did little to assuage the Hart family.
“It’s just too much,” Allison Hart said.