Seven Days in Solitary [3/15/2015]

by | March 15, 2015

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

• A US District Judge has ruled in favor of several plaintiffs named in an ongoing class action lawsuit against the use of solitary confinement in California prisons. Incarcerated individuals who were in long term-term isolation at Pelican Bay – but have since been transferred – will be permitted to remain eligible as class members in the case, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

• Senator Dick Durbin was interviewed on Peoria Public Radio. “Ninety-five percent of the people who go to prison end up out of prison someday, and if you turn a person out who’s been damaged mentally by the segregation, then it’s a risk to everyone else outside, once they’re released,” he said.

• Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, accused United States authorities of refusing him entry to state and federal prisons, particularly those facilities that regularly utilize solitary confinement. “The numbers [of people in solitary] are staggering but even worse is the length of terms…It is not uncommon for people to spend 25, 30 years and even more in solitary confinement,” he said.

• The Hill blog published an op-ed by Antonio Ginatta, advocacy director for the US program at Human Rights Watch, in response to the internal review of confinement practices recently published by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). “The path away from prisoner isolation is clear, and it’s time for BOP to start walking it,” he writes.

• A federal appeals court has reversed a 2013 ruling, thus allowing the state of Virginia to automatically house those on death row in solitary confinement. “The district court, perhaps correctly, described the isolation that characterizes Virginia’s death row as ‘dehumanizing.’ But the Supreme Court has long held … that state correctional officials have broad latitude to set prison conditions as they see fit,” wrote Judge Motz in the majority opinion.

• A federal judge has ruled that Washington violated the Constitution by holding people with mental illness in jails for weeks or even months while they awaited competency evaluations. Many of these individuals were held in solitary confinement during this time period.

• Debate rages on in Dane County, Wisconsin, about how to proceed with renovations to the local jail. Sheriff David Mahoney and others have called for the creation of additional special needs housing in the jail, since many people with mental illness are currently housed in solitary confinement; activists with the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, meanwhile, have maintained that jail renovations will not solve the human rights and racial justice issues that produce overincarceration.


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