Seven Days in Solitary [2/9/22]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | February 9, 2022

 Slate and the Marshall Project co-published an article about the many individuals on death row with a history of abuse in juvenile detention, including overprescription of drugs, hostile environments, and solitary confinement. The article delves into the history of juvenile detention, describing a “narrative familiar to legal and medical experts, in which a victimizer was first a victim of a dysfunctional and abusive juvenile institution run by the state.”

 The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued a press release about a recent court ruling, which found that the California Department of Corrections “is continuing to systematically violate the due process rights of imprisoned men despite a settlement agreement where the agency agreed to sweeping changes to its use of solitary confinement.” CCR litigated the settlement that the California prison system is violating by using questionable gang affiliations and fabricated confidential information to delay parole hearings and put individuals into solitary confinement.

 Radio IQ reports that a Virginia bill limiting solitary confinement to 15 days is moving through the House of Delegates. Although the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) claims not to use solitary confinement, individuals are still isolated indefinitely in Virginia’s “restorative” and “restrictive” housing. The Richmond Times reports that the House of Delegates recently rejected a plan for independent oversight of the prison system. Solitary Watch has reported several stories in recent years on Virginia’s continued reliance on solitary confinement, even as VADOC claims to be a leader in ending solitary.

 Host Doug Henwood of the Behind the News segment on KPFA radio interviewed Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative, and played a 2013 interview with Psychiatrist Terry Kupers, discussing the effect of solitary confinement on mental health. Kupers wrote a book about this subject, called Solitary.

 Rossana Natalini, mother of a man who died by suicide five years ago while held in solitary confinement in Maine’s Cumberland County Jail, wrote an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald calling for the Maine legislature to end the practice of solitary. The mental health of Natalini’s son Dante Majeroni was severely neglected, and Natalini insists that “solitary confinement, isolation, segregation is not the solution. It is inhumane.” 

 The SF Chronicle reports that 39 people incarcerated in California’s Santa Rita Jail were given the opportunity to testify against a proposed settlement reached in a lawsuit regarding poor mental healthcare and overuse of solitary confinement. People testifying claimed that the settlement would make conditions worse by bringing in more deputies and providing inadequate health screenings. One individual commented, “The jail doesn’t need to hire more sheriffs. They need to hire more mental health health professionals.” Last year, Solitary Watch contributing writer Sarah Shourd wrote an investigation for The Atlantic about mental illness and deaths in Santa Rita Jail.

 The Daily Beast reports that when Benjamin Freedland, who is incarcerated, reported GOP operative Anton Lazzaro to the FBI for alleged sex crimes, he was punished with a longer sentence. In order to get through to the FBI, Freedman initiated a three-way phone call, which is a banned activity. Freedland had his sentence lengthened by a month and was placed in solitary confinement.

 NJ.com reports that a civilian oversight committee questioned leaders of the Essex County jail regarding the use of the jail’s Special Housing Unit as solitary confinement. According to a woman who spent time in lockup in New Jersey, the mental health screening given to individuals before they are moved to the Special Housing Unit is dangerously inadequate. This public hearing was the first of many in which the committee will investigate the safety of Special Housing.

 The Albany Times Union reports that The Legal Aid Society of New York is suing the state department of corrections over its failure to release an expert report on the rate of suicides in New York prisons. According to the petition, in New York solitary confinement, the rate of suicide is “10 times the national prison suicide rate.” The strong correlation between solitary confinement and suicide was studied in a 2020 report from the New York HALT Solitary campaign.

 The CT Examiner published a letter to the editor from Ann Massaro, whose step daughter spent time in solitary confinement. Massaro’s late husband testified last year in support of the state’s anti-solitary PROTECT Act, which was recently vetoed by Gov. Ned Lamont. She insists that abolishing solitary confinement should not be partisan, and encourages anti-solitary support the way her husband did, writing, “he saw beyond the politics of this issue and touched his own humanity by understanding this is NOT a political issue.”

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