Report from Senate Hearing on Solitary Confinement

by | June 19, 2012

Our report on today’s hearing was published by Mother Jones. It starts out this way:

The cell placed at the back of the hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was a pretty accurate replica of a real isolation cell—the kind that exists in supermax prisons and solitary confinement units all over the country. It measured about 7 feet by 10 feet, with a tiny covered window too high to see out of and nothing inside but a bunk and a toilet. The door contained a slot through which a guard slides a food tray; for many prisoners, this represents their only human contact for the day. These are the conditions in which some 80,000 inmates live on any given day in American prisons and jails. They spend at least 23 hours a day in their cells, and some remain in solitary for years or even decades.

Solitary confinement in our prisons and jails may be the most pressing domestic human rights problem to which most Americans remain largely oblivious. But today, supporters and foes of the practice descended on Capitol Hill for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, convened by subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin. An overflow crowd of some 200 spectators came there to witness what was—somewhat amazingly—the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement.

Durbin opened the proceedings with a surprisingly strong indictment of  solitary confinement as it is practiced in US prisons. The senator, who  had visited the notorious Tamms supermax in his home state of Illinois  and was apparently much-affected by the experience, called on his  colleagues to visit prisons in their states and witness the conditions  for themselves. “America has led the way with human rights around the  world,” Durbin said. But “what do our prisons say about our American  values?”

You can read the rest on

A full transcript of the hearing has been added to our Resources section, along with an archive of over 70 pieces of written testimony submitted before the hearing.

Opponents of solitary confinement are urging concerned citizens to follow up on this historic hearing by writing to Chairman Durbin and other members of the subcommittee to thank them for holding the hearing and urge them to further investigate and institute reforms of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. For more information, see “Petitions and Letter Writing” on our Action page.


Solitary Watch encourages comments and welcomes a range of ideas, opinions, debates, and respectful disagreement. We do not allow name-calling, bullying, cursing, or personal attacks of any kind. Any embedded links should be to information relevant to the conversation. Comments that violate these guidelines will be removed, and repeat offenders will be blocked. Thank you for your cooperation.


Leave a Reply

Discover more from Solitary Watch

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading