Seven Days in Solitary [12/8/21]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | December 10, 2021

 A study published in Science Advances found that largely due to high rates of incarceration, “11% of all black men in Pennsylvania, born 1986 to 1989, were incarcerated in solitary confinement by age 32.” Given the drastic negative effects of solitary confinement, the study’s authors believe that the high levels of incarceration of Black men “itself may have a social impact, threatening public health and collective security against cruel and unusual punishment guaranteed by the Constitution.” The study found that among Hispanic and white people in Pennsylvania, 3.4 percent and 1.4 percent respectively had been in solitary confinement. Researchers looked at the amount of time spent in solitary, gender differences in solitary, and the root causes behind the data, estimating their results from administrative records kept by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 

 WNYC reports that the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University’s School of law is alleging that detainees at the Orange County Correctional facility in Hudson Valley are subject to abuse and racist treatment from staff, including solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, and verbal abuse. The case centers on the maltreatment of a man from Mexico who, despite numerous suicide attempts, was not given adequate mental health treatment and was instead, the plaintiffs allege, “put in solitary confinement, given improper doses of medication, and threatened by correctional officers (‘If I saw you at the border I’d fucking blow off your head,’ and, ‘You locked yourself up because you came to this country, so you don’t get water.’)” 

 In an opinion piece published by the Prison Journalism Project, formerly incarcerated journalist Ryan Moser writes about his experience with solitary confinement, and his conviction that “sending inmates to the hole for petty infractions should be considered a violation of basic civil rights. ” Of his four months in isolation he writes: “I don’t remember the exact day I broke. Day 86? Day 112? My sanity didn’t leave in an instant, like a supernova exploding in outer space. It happened more gradually, like warm summer afternoons that grow cooler or a fistful of gritty sand that slips slowly through your fingers onto the beach.”

The Baltimore Sun reports on a federal lawsuit filed last month by Disability Rights Maryland alleges that people with mental health issues in Maryland are being held in solitary confinement while their treatment is neglected, including one man who was held in isolation for nearly a year while awaiting a psychiatric evaluation. The suit alleges that “defendants are deliberately indifferent to the conditions and health care needs of individuals with serious mental illness in segregation.” The suit would require that the department submit a “Corrective Action Plan” to be reviewed by the court.

 An article in NBC News interviews several formerly incarcerated transgender men about their experience and the constant abuse that they faced in prison. The article discusses the fact that a lot of reporting about the challenges faced by trans people focuses on the experiences of transgender women, leaving trans men out of the conversation and sidelining their unique challenges in the system. Tahj Graham, one of the men interviewed for the article, described being forced to compromise his gender identity by growing out his hair and shaving his beard. “The most pressing issue is us being forced to be someone we are not,” Graham said. “They say it’s a ‘security precaution.’ … It’s just a way to hurt us.” 

 WESA out of Pittsburgh reports that few details have been made public about how Allegheny jail will be meeting its requirement to provide four hours of daily recreation time for all incarcerated individuals, and end the use of chemical sprays and restraint chairs. The deadline for the changes to go into effect was December 5. Although administration for the facility has been confident about meeting their deadline, officers claim that they are unclear about reform plans. County Controller Chelsa Wagner told Allegheny County’s Jail Oversight Board that “We still basically have scant facts from the jail that would instill any confidence,” she told WESA.

 WBUR reports that a Superior Court judge ruled against the Massachusetts Department of Correction in a case alleging that tests the DOC has been using since 2018 to screen attorney mail for drugs are inaccurate, and as a result, the DOC has wrongly prevented many individuals from pursuing their legal cases. People whose legal mail tested positive for drugs were also subject to a range of punishments, including placement in restrictive housing i.e. solitary confinement. Associate Superior Court Justice Brian Davis wrote, “The net effect of DOC’s continuing use of the NARK II Test is to both subject a significant number of incarcerated persons to unwarranted punishment, and to broadly chill and inhibit the rights and ability of all incarcerated person within DOC facilities to meaningfully participate in their own legal defense.”

 On the Hard Luck Show Podcast, producer Danny Murillo hosts a conversation about “the insidious ways the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation]  tried to get around” a number of reforms, including the settlement in Ashker v. Brown that was supposed to end indefinite solitary confinement. The show brings together experts to comment on the history and lingering effects of California solitary confinement, and is offered as an instructive conversation to other states working to end punitive isolation.

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