Seven Days in Solitary [3/16/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• The Colorado Sun reports that the state legislature rejected a bill that would have created a commission responsible for ensuring local jails follow protocol regarding health standards, food and visitation services, and use of solitary confinement. The legislature instead opted to send the bill for further study. Legislation that limits solitary confinement in local jails are rare, and this would have been the first bill to impose statewide standards on Colorado jails.
• The Beacon reports that Maine’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee rejected a bill that would have banned solitary confinement in the state, despite hearing testimony from several formerly incarcerated individuals attesting to the lack of accountability in solitary. Zachary Swain, recently released from prison after spending years in solitary confinement, provided in-depth testimony, insisting, “They don’t follow their own policies. It would be helpful if there was a third party that was unbiased to resolve these issues.”
• A Virginia Public Media video delves into a campaign to end long-term isolation in Virginia prisons, including the state’s two notorious supermaxes. The Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement is calling for an end to the use of solitary confinement beyond 15 days. The Virginia Department of Corrections insists that the isolation practices it uses are not solitary.
• The Marshall Project wrote about people on death row who spent part of their childhoods in abusive youth lock-ups, and the legal approach that places some of the blame for crimes committed later in life on those experiences. The article delves into the case of Terence Andrus, a man on death row whose lawyers argued that his time in a youth lock-up where “kids banged on the steel doors of their cells to demand attention, as the guards blasted classical music to drown out their pleas” had traumatized him.
• CommonWealth Magazine reports that Michael Day, who heads the Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee, has submitted a letter accusing the governor’s administration of “some disturbing instances of noncompliance with both legal obligations and deadlines as well as outright resistance to clear statutory requirements and policy objectives” regarding criminal justice law. In 2019, Solitary Watch reported that, “the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) has done its best to circumvent the solitary reforms and weaken the law’s oversight mechanisms.”
• An article in the journal Healthcare looks at how solitary confinement is a barrier to a full course of health care, describing that, “few have documented the specific mechanisms by which people in solitary confinement are repeatedly triaged out of healthcare access.” The study’s authors note that at least one-fifth of all incarcerated people will experience solitary confinement and write, “Incarceration, and especially solitary confinement, distorts the health and needs of those who experience it.”
• Christopher Blackwell, incarcerated in Washington Corrections Center, writes in the Appeal about the never-ending pandemic within prison. He reports that health protocols are seldom followed, meaning, “Prisoners live in constant fear of testing positive for COVID-19 and being hauled off to quarantine, which can be functionally the same as solitary confinement—a recognized form of torture—or involve being crowded in close quarters with nearly a hundred people.”
• ProPublica reports on the rampant abuse and use of round-the-clock solitary confinement at Louisiana’s newest juvenile lock-up, a facility called St. Martinville, which opened so recently that many judges and attorneys representing youth had never even heard of it until concerns about it came to light. Mark Soler, with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, said “It’s outrageous that children should be held under conditions where they are locked in their room for most of the day and held in shackles when they exit.”
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