Seven Days in Solitary [1/19/22]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | January 19, 2022

 The Washington Post reported that ​​the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program sued federal immigration officials for failing to release records about the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. The clinic’s director, Sabrineh Ardalan, stated, “There is clear evidence that long term solitary confinement has devastating effects, particularly on trauma survivors. It is essential that we obtain these records in order to ensure that DHS is not continuing past harmful practices.”

 Keri Blakinger wrote for The Marshall Project about Biden’s unfulfilled promises to enact prison reform, and the steps he still needs to take one year into his presidency. Blakinger says that while campaigning, Biden had “promised to reduce the prison population, combat racial disparities in the justice system and improve conditions behind bars by eliminating solitary confinement.” Blakinger writes from experience behind bars about how national policy can drastically change the day-to-day living conditions inside, and articulates the disappointment of incarcerated people and prison staff with Biden’s inaction.

 In an opinion piece for City Limits, Ashish Prashar condemned New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s plan to reestablish the use of punitive solitary confinement. Prashar, a justice reform campaigner, insisted, “Our new mayor should know solitary confinement does not curtail violence in jails, decarceration does.” Essence Magazine covered a recent, several hundred person hunger strike on Rikers protesting inadequate medical care and the Adams’ administration’s poor handling of the crisis. Adams allied his administration early on with jail unions, according to the New York Times, drawing sharp criticism for his dismissal of thousands of discipline cases against jail officers.

 Jalani Lovett died in solitary confinement inside Los Angeles’ Men’s Central Jail. His family has demanded the facility, which has been plagued with scandals in the past, be held accountable and provide answers to exactly how Lovett died and when, reported the Guardian. “I want the truth to come out,” Lovett’s mother stated. “To me, this was murder. They killed my son.”

 The first day of testimony in federal court portrayed torturous conditions and little oversight to protect individuals inside at a Louisiana state prison, reported the Lens NOLA. The plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit alleged abuse by staff at David Wade Correctional Center, with one individual describing being regularly sprayed with chemicals while in solitary confinement, saying, “It’s like your body is on fire. It’s like a heat you can’t get rid of. It’s excruciating pain. It takes your breath away.” The alleged abuse included the overuse of restrictive housing that worsened mental healthcare for those inside, with one individual saying in his testimony, “You don’t want to talk about anything too private because these guys will use that against you.” Solitary Watch found similar accounts in a 2019 report outlining the impact of solitary in Louisiana.

 The Tampa Bay Times reported on Florida’s overuse of solitary confinement. Chez-Armand Blackwell, now with the Hidden Voices Project, described his 12 years of solitary confinement in prison, saying, “The human condition isn’t built for it.” Researchers in Florida discovered that 1 in 8 people in prison are being held in restrictive solitary confinement, and Black people were two times as likely to be put in solitary than white people. Anyone who spent time in a mental health unit was fourteen times more likely to be placed in long-term solitary confinement. Blackwell described his time in solitary having a lasting effect, which he elaborated on in a Voices from Solitary piece written for Solitary Watch.

 Christopher Blackwell, incarcerated journalist in Washington State, wrote a piece for Jewish Currents about the prospect of enduring another prison lockdown as COVID cases rise in the US. “We are forced to remain confined in close quarters with dozens of others while waiting for test results,” Blackwell said. “If the tests bring bad news, we face quarantine conditions that are indistinguishable from punitive solitary confinement, leaving us locked in a small room for 23 hours a day.” He added, “We never know exactly how at risk we really are.”

 Right On Crime, the Koch brothers-backed conservative criminal justice reform project, released a report “outlining a bi-partisan case for major reforms in our federal solitary confinement policies.” The report highlights the failure of solitary confinement to reduce recidivism rates and the dangerous lack of oversight in long-term isolation, claiming, “What was once considered a last-resort disciplinary practice in federal prisons has morphed into a default option when other correctional and administrative protocols fail.”

 ScienceDirect published a study evaluating the mental and physical health effects of solitary confinement on 99 men incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The researchers found “significant physical and mental health burdens and unmet healthcare needs.” Looking specifically at the half of respondents with mental health issues and the third with physical health issues, researchers reported that “those with pre-existing, often multiple, health issues struggled to maintain their health given restrictions to daily living, isolated idle time, and limited healthcare access in solitary confinement.”

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