Seven Days in Solitary [11/18/18]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | November 18, 2018

• The New York Daily News reported that a state medical review board found that adequate medical treatment could have prevented 50 deaths in the custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in the past five years. The board’s report found in multiple instances, people with psychiatric disabilities committed suicide after being placed in solitary. 54-year-old Alfredo Lopez hanged himself at Great Meadow Correctional Facility in 2015 after staff continually placed him in solitary for his inability to produce urine for drug tests. While in solitary, Lopez was denied his nerve damage pain medication. In his suicide note, Lopez said, “I can’t take the abuse anymore. The mental anguish being locked up for urinalysis, while ALL along my system has been clean… And combined with my nerve damage and the cold cell with which I’m forced to be in 24 hours a day it’s as if I were dead already.”

• The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) settled a 2015 lawsuit that claimed John Dorn, an HIV-positive man in MDOC custody, faced solitary confinement for engaging in consensual sex, though incarcerated people without HIV generally only face a 30-day loss of privileges. The MDOC agreed to change the policy that led to disproportionate punishment of HIV-positive people, re-evaluate the status of people placed in solitary, and pay Dorn $150,000, according to Metro Weekly. Dorn said, “While this outcome has taken many years to achieve, it was worth the fight. I lost over 21 months of my life to solitary confinement for no good reason because of the prior MDOC policy directive. No human being should have to endure that type of punishment.”

• The Nation published an article about the American Prisoner Writing Archive (APWA), a collection of over 1,600 essays written by incarcerated people covering topics such as assault and brutality by corrections officers, suicide, racism, solitary confinement, and lack of medical care. The APWA staff expressed their hope that the archive can “ground national debate on mass incarceration in the lived experience of those who know prisons best.”

• NJ Advance Media covered the use of a padded “timeout,” “seclusion” room at Whitehall Elementary School in New Jersey. School administrators claim the room is used to protect special needs students from themselves when they exhibit behavioral issues, but Stephanie Reiss, the parent of an 8-year-old student with ADHD and autism, called it solitary confinement. While the superintendent says the school informs parents when their child is placed in the room, the boy’s father Scott Reiss said that he first found out about the room through his son, who likened the room to jail. Reiss said, “I have no idea how many times they have been put in there” and called for the school to develop a more appropriate method to calming down children with psychiatric disabilities.


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