Seven Days in Solitary [7/30/2017]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | July 30, 2017

• A Maine Superior Court judge has ruled that a prisoner’s length of stay in solitary confinement amounted to “an atypical and significant hardship.” Douglass Burr spent almost two years in isolation at the Special Management Unit at Maine Street Prison for allegedly presenting a security risk. In Maine, the longest someone can be held in the box on disciplinary (as opposed to security) grounds is 30 days.

• Mother Jones published an in-depth look at how North Dakota is trying to learn from Norway’s decidedly different approach to incarceration. After returning from touring the Norwegian prison system, ND prisons chief Leann Bertsch revamped the state’s use of isolation. Now, “solitary stints are short, with clear expectations for how to get out, and the emphasis has shifted from punishment to treatment. Long-isolated prisoners are no longer dumped back into the general population—a new behavioral therapy unit gives them time to adjust to being around people.”

• Air conditioning has been failing at the women’s prison in Nashville. “Inmates who are elderly or taking medications like Xanax, and those in solitary confinement are specifically susceptible to high temperatures,” Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, told the Tennessean. “They can’t open a window to get some breeze. There are no open windows.”

• ProPublica reported on the Enhanced Supervision Housing Units (ESHU) on Rikers Island, which were created as alternatives to solitary for young adults who are said to be violent. Young people are allowed to leave their solitary cells to attend class, but must be shackled during that time – and according to a report recently released by the New York City Board of Corrections, despite being chained to desks the young adults in the ESHU are still vulnerable to attack. “When the Board voted to end solitary confinement for men and women under 22, we did not vote to chain people to desks,” one Board member said in an email to ProPublica. “The Department of Correction misrepresents reality when it says that shackling men’s legs and chaining them together so they can’t move is not punishment.”


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