Seven Days in Solitary [6/10/18]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a 48-year-old man, Dan Vasalech, has been placed in solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh for a remark he made criticizing the administration’s decision to lock down the jail so that the corrections officers could attend the funeral of a recently deceased officer. Vasalech received a hearing for his alleged “insensitive comment,” at which the jail presented no evidence, no testimony, and refused to review the video of the incident. The sergeant sent Vasalech to solitary for 45 days, only allowing him out of his cell for one hour a day. Vasalech’s lawyer filed a lawsuit, calling for his client’s immediate release from isolation and calling his placement in solitary “arbitrary and capricious.”
• Shaye Bear, a woman held at Ellis County Jail in Waxahachie, Texas, on drug charges, gave birth to a one pound, two ounce baby in a solitary confinement cell, after a judge refused Bear’s request to be taken to the hospital because she was bleeding and in pain. The judge ruled that Bear should be sent back to solitary because “then we’ll know your baby is safe.” Bear’s baby died after nine days in neonatal intensive care. The Texas Rangers have begun an investigation into the “circumstances surrounding the birth.” A criminal defense attorney told Oxygen, “Whether you’re a meth addict or a murderer, you’re entitled to decent medical care. That baby was as innocent as a snowflake and is now dead.”
• The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Pennsylvania has been charging children as adults and placing them in adult correctional facilities since the passage of a 1995 state law that reflected the teen “super predator” mentality. Juveniles held at the adult Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center face an average of 32 days in solitary confinement, for punitive or protective reasons, whereas youth held at the Juvenile Justice Services Center receive better access to developmental programs and face only “one-day cooling-off periods” in segregation. Though city officials argue it is illegal to mix the older teens with general juvenile population, this claim has yet to be legally substantiated. The Philadelphia Department of Prisons plans to move the boys to an adult women’s facility, where they will likely face more severe solitary confinement.
• The Correctional Association of New York published a report this week called Prison Within Prison: Voices of Women Held in Isolated Confinement in New York, which focused on the women who are often overlooked among the approximately 4,000 people currently held in solitary confinement throughout New York prisons, in addition to those held in isolation in jails. The report includes quotes from various women who have experienced solitary confinement in New York. One explained, “Not everyone is in solitary because they are bad. Any little thing and you can be put on keeplock [isolation in one’s own cell], like just for speaking back to officers even if you really didn’t say nothing wrong.” The report expresses support for the pending New York legislation Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which would prohibit the use of solitary confinement longer than 15 days and implement alternatives to isolation.
• Law at the Margins published an account by Christopher Young, currently on Texas death row at the Polunsky Unit for murder and scheduled to be executed on July 17. Young describes his experience from the gang-ridden streets of San Antonio to the solitary confinement unit on death row, where he has been locked in his cell for 23 hours a day for the past 13 years. He describes the life transformation he underwent, ultimately mentoring youth on finding paths outside of the gang and prison life. The article calls for Young’s clemency and asks readers to write on his behalf to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
• University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) hostesd a global summit of forty-five experts on the psychological and physical effects on solitary confinement, led by Dr. Craig Haney, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCSC. Haney explained that the “goal of the summit was to develop a set of principles governing the use of solitary confinement based on the latest scientific knowledge about its harmful effects.” The latest research has found that in addition to the detrimental psychological effects, social isolation causes severe, long-term physical effects. The summit aims to use this research to build upon the United Nation’s Mandela Rules, which call for solitary confinement to be used only as a last resort and not for more than 15 days at a time.
• KPVI News Channel reported that the Pentagon has requested an additional $69 million of funding to build a new supermax unit at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where 26 out of the 40 remaining indefinitely detained individuals have never been charged and five others have been deemed eligible for transfer. The commander of the guard force stated, “We ultimately have to plan for whether or not they are going to be here for the rest of their lives.” The detention center has been open since 2002, and President Donald Trump ordered in January that it remain open, despite both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama calling for its closure.
• A class-action lawsuit filed against the treatment of individuals held at the Aurora Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility run by the private prison company GEO Group, has revealed severe medical and mental health abuses as well as potentially illegal forced labor practices at the facility. According to Westword, one plaintiff recalled being placed in solitary confinement, despite his request for asylum status based on the PTSD and psychosis he developed from the civil war in his country of South Sudan. His mental health conditions worsened in solitary. He said, “Being alone makes the voices worse. When I sleep, they come and disturb me. They say the same thing over and over again. They say they are going to kill me and my parents. I get confused about what to do and why they are talking to me. I don’t know how to get rid of them so that I cannot listen to them anymore.”
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