Seven Days in Solitary [2/16/22]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | February 16, 2022

 The New York Times reports that in Texas, a lawsuit filed by Dennis Hope asking for relief from his prolonged isolation is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. Hope, who is represented by the MacArthur Justice Center, has been in solitary confinement for 27 years. He was put in solitary after he escaped prison in 1994, and although prison officials determined that he was no longer a flight risk 11 years into his isolation, he remains there to this day. Solitary Watch wrote about his experience in solitary confinement in 2017, where Hope is quoted describing life in the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, where he is housed adjacent to Texas Death Row, as a “never-ending torture chamber.”

 An Associated Press investigation into a federal prison in Dublin, California revealed a systematic cover-up of sexual violence by staff against women incarcerated there. The AP obtained interview records and thousands of documents from the Bureau of Prisons that “detail how inmates’ allegations against members of the mostly male staff were ignored or set aside, how prisoners could be sent to solitary confinement for reporting abuse.”

 The Maine Beacon reports that formerly incarcerated people, advocates, and family members testified in support of LD 696, a bill that would ban the use of solitary confinement in the state. Rep Greyson Lookner introduced the bill, saying, “nobody should be subjected to the horror and psychological damage that is created by prolonged isolation.” The Bangor News reported that Maine’s prison chief denied that the state used solitary confinement at all, disputing hours of testimony and insisting that the isolation units are instead “restrictive housing.”

 Robert Barton, who is in federal prison in Florida, wrote an op-ed for Politico about the frequent use of prison lockdowns in the federal system, insisting, “The real issue isn’t prisoner misbehavior. It’s a culture within the Bureau of Prisons that views its main function as warehousing, and sees its residents as adversaries—animals even—who must be locked away when they get too restive after weeks and months of forced inactivity.”

 Anti-solitary confinement activists rallied outside the Connecticut statehouse on February 9th, expressing their frustration with Governor Lamont’s veto of a bill that would have eliminated solitary confinement in Connecticut from the last legislative session, reports Fox News. Barbara Fair, lead organizer for Stop Solitary CT, stated, “We feel it’s unfinished business we have to get that so that’s why we’re here.”

 SF Chronicle reports that the federal magistrate who heard 36 incarcerated people’s testimony against a proposed settlement in Santa Rita Jail in California has approved that settlement, despite the insistence that the terms would bring in more sheriffs and would not substantively improve the facility’s use of solitary confinement and poor mental health care. The settlement would also seriously disempower individuals at the facility from bringing cases to court regarding conditions at the facility. 

 In Kim Bobo’s column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, she writes about the torture of solitary confinement and its continued use in Virginia facilties, despite the Department of Corrections claiming otherwise. She states, “people who are incarcerated and their families continue to describe human beings going “into the hole,” or into isolation, in barbaric and horrific terms.” Bobo advocates for the passage of Virginia’s Senate Bill 108, which would ban solitary confinement for longer than 15 days.

 Pittsburgh’s public radio station, WESA, reports that despite the mandate that every incarcerated individual get four hours out-of-cell time in Allegheny County, the jail has been in facility-wide lockdowns, causing alarm among some members of the jail oversight board. Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam asked, “If they are so concerned about COVID mitigation… why are they collapsing pods instead of having incarcerated individuals more spread out throughout the jail?”

 The Frederick News Post reports that a bill was introduced last week in Maryland that would prohibit seclusion in public schools. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Michael Hough, stated, “We need to be discussing and addressing—from not just a local level, but also from a statewide perspective—what to do about seclusion and restraint.” A separate bill seeks to place cameras in special education classrooms, following a report that schools in Frederick County “had improperly restrained or secluded students with disabilities more than 7,250 times over two and a half years.”

 A man who has been incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay since 2001 will be repatriated to Saudi Arabia, the New York Times reported. Throughout his detention, Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured and placed in solitary confinement. He was tortured by military interrogators, leading to a Pentagon determination that he could not be prosecuted. The Biden Administration will repatriate him to a “custodial rehabilitation and mental health care program for extremists” in Saudi Arabia in March, reported the Times.

 Truthout reported that a group of 17 House Democrats wrote a letter insisting that President Biden shut down the Glades County ICE Detention Center in Florida amidst complaints of a “systemic pattern of racially based abuse.” Black immigrants in the facility have alleged physical and sexual abuse, rampant use of punitary solitary confinement, and constant anti-black racism. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida stated in the letter, “People’s lives continue to be in danger every minute that the Glades Detention Center stays open.”

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