Last week, Solitary Watch published an investigation into the new federal prison in Thomson, Illinois, which is in the process of being renovated with an eye toward activation in the next year. Sources show that Thomson is intended to be in effect a supermax prison, with 400 “Administrative Maximum” cells for extreme solitary confinement, and 1500 more “Special Management Unit” cells, where people will be held in 23-hour-a-day lockdown. If activated as planned
On Friday, January 16, a group of advocates representing “a broad coalition of civil rights advocates, faith community leaders, human rights organizations, mental health practitioners, academics, lawyers, and former prisoners” sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The letter expresses concern over “the Bureau’s imminent plans to increase its use of solitary and other forms of isolated confinement with the opening of the new Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois.”
The letter continues: “The creation of more solitary confinement beds at this time simply makes no sense as BOP is also claiming that it has reduced and will continue to reduce the use of isolation in the federal system. This stark contradiction raises serious questions about the Bureau’s efficient use of scarce taxpayer dollars and its disregard of the need for humane policies and practices that foster rehabilitation of prisoners and better public safety outcomes.”
The more than 30 signatories to the letter range from the ACLU and Amnesty International to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and a host of other faith-based groups. They urge Holder and the Department of Justice to delay any plans regarding Thomson’s use until the completion of a year-long audit of the use of “segregation”–solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation–across the BOP. The purpose of the audit is widely believed to be some reduction in the use of solitary confinement in the federal system.
The letter points out: “The creation of more solitary confinement beds at this time simply makes no sense as BOP is also claiming that it has reduced and will continue to reduce the use of isolation in the federal system. This stark contradiction raises serious questions about the Bureau’s efficient use of scarce taxpayer dollars and its disregard of the need for humane policies and practices that foster rehabilitation of prisoners and better public safety outcomes.”
The groups do not express general opposition to Thomson Correctional Facility–which the federal government purchased from the state of Illinois in 2012–but rather to its opening as a supermax prison. In fact, Solitary Watch’s investigation suggests that the prison will need considerable retrofitting in order to convert it from a conventional maximum security prison, with congregate spaces such as mess halls and day rooms, into a supermax facility.
“We are deeply concerned that BOP’s decision to convert Thomson Correctional Center into another ‘supermax’ prison not only constitutes an example of extreme government waste of scarce taxpayer dollars, but that the Bureau is willfully implementing policies and practices which will cause harm to and potentially violate the rights of thousands of prisoners—with negative public safety outcomes for us all,” the letter concludes. “As Attorney General, we call on you to ensure that the BOP is operated in a humane, safe, efficient, and effective manner. Expanding the use of solitary and other forms of isolation in federal prisons accomplishes none of these goals.”
To read the full text of the letter, click below. To date, there has been no response from Attorney General Holder’s office.