Fourteen Days in Solitary [1/12/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• The Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reports that the Allegheny County Jail has put the entire population on lockdown for 23 hours a day, despite a referendum that banned the use of solitary confinement in the facility. Recently, 174 people in the facility have tested positive for COVID-19. According to Susan McCambell, president of the Center for Innovative Public Policies, “Any facility that has 100% of their inmates locked down 23-and-one, there’s something really, really wrong with that. If the COVID epidemic has overcome them, that means that they have really poor health care. There are issues with inmate supervision, staff hiring, staff training.”
• In another story from Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh Institute for Nonprofit Journalism interviewed a woman being held in a mental health supervision unit, where for the entire period of her daily four hours of recreation time she is shackled to a table. She describes, “My wrists hurt, there are indents on my skin and it’s red. This has been going on consistently since Christmas.”
• NPR interviewed Vincent Schiraldi, former commissioner for the New York City Department of Correction and current co-director of Columbia University’s Justice Lab, about Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to reinstate use of solitary confinement in New York. Schiraldi insists that “Solitary confinement is inherently inhumane, and Rikers has a multiple decades-long history of deplorable conditions and a culture of violence.” He suggests that the Department of Corrections ought to “rely much more on incentives and programs to limit the use of solitary.”
• Institutions and Practices published an article from Kanav Kathuria exploring the ways that food served in prisons dehumanizes people housed there, with “food serving as a covert, quotidian mechanism of domination.” Kathuria describes how prison food cuts costs, citing the infamous nutraloaf that was served to people in solitary confinement. Kathuria is the founding member of the Maryland Food and Prison Abolition Project.
• A New York State inspector general report determined that the prison system used faulty drug tests to penalize over 1,600 incarcerated people over an eight-month period in 2019, reports the New York Times. These inaccurate tests resulted in solitary confinement, delayed parole hearings, and denial of family visits for innocent individuals. The drug tests came from Microgenics and consistently reported false positives for a number of illicit substances. Inspector general Lucy Lang stated, “This stands as a heartbreaking example of how the absence of transparency can undermine due process and basic human rights.”
• The Lens NOLA reports that the class-action lawsuit at Louisiana’s David Wade Correctional Center, originally filed in 2018, is set to go to trial this week, alleging that “prison officials do not properly screen, diagnose or treat mental illness for prisoners held in solitary confinement.” The lawsuit claims that inadequate therapy is available to people with mental illnesses, that medication is withheld by neglectful medical staff, and that people face physical and verbal abuse from staff.
• The Guardian writes about a radio station run by people in solitary confinement in Texas’ Allan B Polunsky Unit called The Tank. Featuring several different shows hosted by people in lock-up, The Tank was started in early 2020, with some people featuring sound clips of shows and others reading original essays and religious commentary. One host named Ramy Hozaifeh described how disorienting and isolating solitary can be, saying “you just don’t know if you exist anymore. It just kind of removes your humanity from you, and I think the radio has put that back in the equation.”
• Salon reports that Michael Cohen, former attorney for former President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Bill Barr, has filed a lawsuit alleging that he spent sixteen consecutive days in solitary confinement in retribution for writing a ‘tell-all’ book about the Trump administration. Cohen’s attorney claimed, “This is just part and parcel to what the Trump administration represented. They stomped on people’s rights, they retaliated against those who fell out of favor, and they just ignored the Constitution and the law. And we intend on having them answer for that.”
• The Daily Beast reports that the family of Christopher Cruz, who died while in restrictive housing on Rikers Island, is suing the facility for medical negligence. Cruz was unable to pay a $1,000 bail, and despite a documented history of asthma and schizophrenia was placed in solitary confinement in the Anna M. Cross Center, where men are held pre-trial. The lawsuit claims that “Had [Cruz] been reasonably accommodated; he would have been detained in a readily observable cell and would be alive.”
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