Seven Days in Solitary [8/31/20]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | September 1, 2020

• The Intercept published an article on the use of solitary confinement in response to the coronavirus in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities across the country. Oscar Perez Aguirre, held at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility in Colorado said after his hospitalization for the virus, when he was still so weak that he couldn’t stand, he was placed in solitary confinement for two weeks. Cuban immigrant Carlos Hernandez Corbacho, who was placed in solitary confinement at the La Palma Correctional Center in Arizona after contracting he virus, said, “In the end, what they did was psychologically torture me. That’s how I felt—like they were punishing me for getting sick.” In another Arizona ICE facility, officials placed at least 45 men in solitary after they tested positive. About 5,000 immigrants held in ICE facilities have tested positive for the virus, as of mid-August, and according to ICE, five have died.

• The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that Black immigrants held at the Pine Prairie Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center in Louisiana engaged in a hunger strike beginning on August 10 to protest racist and inhumane conditions under COVID-19. Prison officials placed the strikers in solitary confinement and used “unnecessary lethal force to place them in choke holds, pointed a gun at them,” according to SPLC. Following the hunger strike, the Cameroonian American Council, Freedom for Immigrants, ISLA Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy, and SPLC filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security, demanding the immediate end to the violence and discrimination against Black immigrants and their release from solitary.

• The Davis Vanguard reported that four men recently released from the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California described horrifying conditions, including lack of sanitation, solitary confinement, and denial of coronavirus testing. James, a man who shared his testimony, said, “It’s horrible in there, it really is. It’s like a death trap…I wouldn’t want to go back in there at all.” Another man named Troy said that the only cleaning supplies they received to clean the shower, toilets, and mirrors was Windex. “That’s it. That’s all they gave us,” he said. John, also formerly held at the jail, said that coronavirus-positive people are held in solitary confinement. “You’re in a cell by yourself, you’re coming out for thirty minutes and it’s not everyday. It’s approximately every other day if not two days,” John said. In the last five years, 40 deaths have occurred in the jail, and the jail’s health care provider Wellpath has faced lawsuits for over 70 preventable deaths.

• KCEN reported that Stevie Walker-Webb, an artist and activist, staged a 24-hour demonstration outside the McLennan County Jail in Waco, Texas last week in protest of his brother’s continued stay in solitary confinement. The demonstration marked day 122 that his brother Steven “Waday” Walker-Webb was held in isolation. Walker-Webb was arrested during a bipolar schizophrenic episode on charges of resisting arrest. Walker-Webb’s brother said, “I want people to sit down and to look into that screen and to step into my brother’s suffering with me. To sit for 24 hours and imagine themselves locked in a small closet without any access to human contact, without any access to life, without any access to anything that would make you feel like a human being.”

• The Gothamist reported that New York state prisons have abruptly suspended all testing for drug contraband, according to a leaked Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) memo. The tests had been administered using technology from Sirchie, a forensics company based in North Carolina, and had been criticized for producing false positives. The DOCCS directive nullifies pending disciplinary hearings based on the Sirchie tests but does not address the cases of incarcerated people already found guilty for contraband, many of whom were sent to solitary confinement or lost good behavior time. Victor Pate, an organizer for the HALTsolitary Campaign said, “The harm that has been done can never be reversed…What will be done for the thousands of people who have already been tortured based on false drug tests, who have already suffered permanent psychological and physical damage?”

• The Orange County Register published an opinion piece by forensic psychiatrist and professor Terry Kupers condemning Orange County’s approval of $261 million for a company to build 900 new jail beds at the James A. Musick Jail in Irvine, California. Kupers says this money should be directed towards community mental health diversion programs, rather than the incarceration of more people with mental illness. Kupers, who has extensively researched the effects of solitary, wrote, “Officers at the jail rely almost exclusively on punishment for unacceptable behavior. Instead of helping the inmate with mental illness improve his or her behavior, they punish, often by consigning the individual to solitary confinement—and the time in solitary exacerbates their mental illness and makes their prognosis and recidivism rates dire.” Since 2015, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has seen a 40 percent increase in mental health cases.

• WRAL reported that a North Carolina judge is considering appointing an expert to monitor state prisons’ response to the coronavirus, after the NAACP and ACLU requested oversight measures. The judge ruled last month that the state was failing to meet the conditions his court had ordered in June. Attorney Elizabeth Simpson said that the state is placing sick people in solitary confinement “without access to cold water, sunlight, conversation or exercise,” instead of placing them in medical isolation. “What happens behind these prison walls can only be tolerated because most people never see it,” said Simpson. The ACLU is calling for an expansion of a program that would allow more people to complete their time back in society. According to the state, ten incarcerated people have died from the coronavirus in its custody.



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