NEWS RELEASE: A Three-Strikes related story

November 2001


Christmas Town Communications
P.O.BOX 1993
Shelton, WA 98584-1993


In February of 2002 the media and the public will finally get a close look at an oft-occurring but carefully concealed mental illness caused by Washington State's Department of Corrections "intensive management units" (IMUs):
The Security Housing Unit (SHU} Syndrome.

For the first time, the complete story of this extremely dangerous state-induced mental illness will be presented at the 3-STRIKES TRIAL OF JAMES CURTIS.

As numerous convicts confined in the newly built and recently opened intensive management unit at the Stafford Creek Correctional Facility in Aberdeen, Washington begin suffering from the sensory deprivation, social isolation, and lack of family contact and community support -- as well as all the other physical, mental and emotional stressors inherent in these super-maximum facilities, James Curtis'3-strikes trial in Shelton, Washington draws near after 2 1/2 years of legal wrangling and Department of Corrections (DOC) stonewalling.

Mr. Curtis, a convict in the Washington Correction Center (WCC)IMU in Shelton, Washington, is being charged under the Persistent Offenders Statute (three strikes and you're out law) for allegedly assaulting a WCC correctional officer (C/O) while being extracted from his isolation cell by six armor-clad C/Os.


Mr. Curtis' attorney is presenting a diminished capacity defense, meaning that Mr. Curtis' mental condition at the time of the alleged incident was so diminished that he was unable to form the intent to commit the crime of second degree assault. Evidence supporting Mr. Curtis defense will include various dramatic testimonies about the cruel and inhumane way he and other prisoners were treated by correctional staff during the first 16 months of his 30 month stint in isolation, about how he was soaked with extreme amounts of a burning chemical agent and denied the legally mandated opportunity to have it washed off before it seeped into the pores of his skin; about how he was stripped naked and forced to sleep in his unbearably cold "strip cell" during the winter months; how he was subjected to excessive use of force; how he was placed on the infamous "A-Tier Modification Program," an illegal and arbitrarily implemented "behavior modification" program, and denied food, water, clothing, outside contact, legal recourse and other things to be named at the trial; and about how he began to lose touch with reality and exhibit signs and symptoms of psychiatric decompensation.

Mr. Curtis' defense will also include expert testimony from the well known Dr. Terry Kupers, a practicing psychiatrist and professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. In addition to an M.D. degree, Dr. Kupers holds a masters degree in Social Psychiatry. Well versed and extremely active, he's a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (Psychiatry, 1974, for life), co-chair of the Committee on The Mentally Ill Behind Bars of the American Association of Community Psychiatrists, a fellow of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Orthopsychiatric Association, and a staff member of the Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley.

A tireless healer, he's also testified in over a dozen criminal and civil proceedings, including local, state and federal courts, regarding analysis of jail and prison conditions and the quality of mental health services. He's served as consultant regarding prison conditions and the quality of correctional mental health care to the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, and to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He's written over two dozen articles and book chapters, edited two books and written four himself, including his current best-seller PRISON MADNESS: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It (Jossey-Bass, 1999).


After interviewing Mr. Curtis several times, watching the videotape of the alleged assault as well as reviewing a vast collection of written documents,it is fully expected that Dr. Kupers will testify that Mr. Curtis' capacity to form the intent to commit the crime was severely diminished at the time of the incident; and that his diminished capacity was a result of the "SHU syndrome," which was defined by Dr. Stuart Grassian, a Harvard University psychiatrist who examined a large number of prisoners during their stays in segregated, solitary confinement units, and concluded that THESE UNITS TEND TO INDUCE PSYCHOTIC STATES.

Dr. Grassian named the psychosis-like symptoms "the SHU syndrome." The symptoms of this syndrome include massive free-floating anxiety, hyperresponsiveness to external stimuli, perceptual distortions and hallucinations, a feeling of unreality, difficulty with concentration and memory, acute confusional states, the emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies, persecutory ideation, motor excitement, and violent destructive or self-mutilatory outbursts.


Dr. Kupers' testimony will include testifying about the devastating psychiatric effects of long-term solitary confinement in punitive segregation; about Mr. Curtis' developmental and psychiatric history; about patterns in Mr. Curtis' disciplinary record and his experiences in long term punitive segregation including the time he spent in the abovementioned infamous "A-Tier Modification Program"; about the destructive psychiatric consequences of Mr. Curtis' experiences in prison prior to the incident of April 21, 1998; about his state of mind at the time of the incident of April 21, 1998, including intense fears and panic about his safety and survival, an inability to rationally assess the degree of danger he found himself in, irrational but extreme fears and uncontrollable aggressive feelings; about his incapacity to form intent at the time of the incident due to his psychiatric condition, the intensity of past traumas and the level of stress he was under at the time; and about certain events subsequent to the incident of April 21, 1998, that bear on his reliability in reporting his state of mind as well as the treatment he was subjected to throughout the period of his incarceration in the Washington Department of Corrections.

PEOPLE INTERESTED IN ATTENDING THIS TRIAL or learning more about the case should contact Durk Krieger or Myra Jackson, the media co-ordinators for Politics of Prisons and the Families of Prisoners Civil Rights Foundation, at the addresses at the top of this news release for the appropriate contact information for Mr. Curtis' attorney, for Dr. Kupers, etc., and for the SCHEDULED COURT DATES AT MASON COUNTY COURT HOUSE in Shelton, Washington in February, 2002.

To arrange for phone or visit interviews please write directly to:

James Curtis # 984533 IMU
Washington Corrections Center
P.O.Box 900
Shelton, WA 98584

View an article by James Curtis with photos of him at
For extensive articles and information on this subject visit
(Please note that some readers may find some of the photographs and case histories contained in these webpages disturbing.)


Course Resources l Dr. Leeder's website l Social Science Home l SSU Home