Seven Days in Solitary [11/4/19]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• According to the Crime Report, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released a report last week that found an increase in the use of solitary confinement across the New York prison system. “The total number of disciplinary solitary sanctions has actually increased, from 37,600 in 2015 to 38,249 in 2018,” according to the report, even though the state signed on to a settlement in 2015, agreeing to reduce the use of solitary. The report found that the increase has transpired under the name of “Keeplock Sanctions,” which isolates a person for up to 23 hours a day “in a bare cell the size of a small elevator.” The NYCLU calls for the state to pass the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement, which would restrict the use of solitary in all forms, including keeplock, to a maximum of fifteen consecutive days.
• Providence Journal reported that the ACLU and Disability Rights Rhode Island filed a class action lawsuit against the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC), claiming that their use of solitary confinement violates the 8th Amendment and federal disability law. Charlene Liberty, one of the six plaintiffs, struggles with psychiatric disabilities, and her placement in solitary drove her to attempt suicide several times. Ultimately, the lawsuit said, officials at the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI) “punished Ms. Liberty with solitary confinement for attempting suicide.” An attorney with the Disability Law Center estimated that at least 100 people with mental illness are held in solitary confinement at ACI every year. The lawsuit calls for an end to isolation of people with mental illness as well as implementation of alternatives to solitary.
• The Seattle Times reported that five hunger strikers incarcerated in Washington State have filed a lawsuit against the Washington Department of Corrections (WADOC), claiming they were transferred from Clallam Bay Corrections Center to Washington State Penitentiary and put in solitary confinement for no reason. The WADOC claims the men participated in a hunger strike, along with dozens of other men, and officials placed fifteen of the hunger strikers in administrative segregation. The department claims the men threatened others who did not participate in the strike, though the plaintiffs claim that the officials have refused to provide any evidence. The lawsuit claims the WADOC has violated the men’s rights of due process and inflicted cruel and unusual punishment.
• According to WPTV, Florida Senator Bill Montford has introduced a bill banning the placement of minors in solitary confinement across the state. Montford said, “We just got to use a little bit of common sense. We know the downsides of solitary confinement. Why take the chance for the youth?” Seven other states have already banned solitary confinement for youth.
• The City published the story of Kenneth Samuels, who spent two and a half years in solitary confinement at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. While the officers claimed Samuels assaulted three guards, Samuels has received $200,000 from the settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the officers actually attacked him. “I’ve got a permanent headache and will likely have to spend a portion of the money on medication,” Samuels said. After the incident, Samuels was given a hearing, but he was reportedly not allowed to present witnesses and since then, one of the accusing officers was convicted of “attempted fraudulent practice” and fired from the department. The hearing officer found Samuels guilty and sent him to solitary for 30 months. According to the DOC, 2,345 people are in solitary across New York prisons and 408 are held in keeplock.
• The Arkansas Times reported that the Institute of Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law School filed a court brief, requesting another trial for a man with psychiatric disabilities who spend 203 days in solitary at the Ouachita River Unit in Arkansas. Charles Hamner, the plaintiff, faced highly restrictive isolation allegedly for his own protection since he cooperated in an investigation. But according to the brief, Hamner was provided “little or no explanation” for his isolation and now experiences “long-lasting psychological and emotional consequences.” In addition to claiming Hamner’s constitutional rights were violated, the brief argued that solitary “damages public trust,” solitary used as protection for witnesses “disinventivizes” cooperation, solitary inhibits successful reentry, and it “undercuts” international support for extradition.
• The Crime Report published an article written by Jeremiah Bourgeois, a recipient of Solitary Watch’s 2019 Solitary Confinement Reporting Project Grant who was released last week after serving over 27 years in the Washington Department of Corrections. Bourgeois, who entered prison at fourteen years old, discusses the adaptation necessary for humans to survive “in the midst of inhumanity” in prison life. Solitary confinement, Bourgeois explains, is one of the “brute force” methods that officers impose on people in defense of safety. Solitary, and in general the treatment of incarcerated people by staff, ultimately induces trauma and reduces people to objects. It is this stripping of humanity that Bourgeois says forced him to adopt a “convict” mentality, which he now returns home with more than two decades later.
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