Seven Days In Solitary [4/13/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• Spectrum News Albany reports that New York’s HALT Solitary Confinement Act went into effect on April 1st. The legislation, which was signed into law in 2021, ends the use of solitary confinement in state prisons and local jails for some groups and limits its use to 15 days for everyone else. Though it has been a year since the law passed, the state correctional officers union, which has long opposed limits on the use of solitary confinement, argues that implementation has been rushed and staffing levels are inadequate to meet out-of-cell time requirements.
• CommonWealth Magazine writes that the Baker Administration published an eleven-page letter defending its efforts after State Representative Michael Day questioned its compliance with reforms, including limits on the use of solitary confinement. In response to Day’s charge that the corrections department has been “skirting the intent” of the law by holding individuals in their cells for just under 22 hours a day, the letter stated that while over 1,300 individuals have been held between 20 and 22 hours a day, the department has no “sub-22” policy.
• The Michigan Daily reports on “Solitary: The Family Experience,” an event designed to raise awareness about the Open MI Door campaign. The event was held on the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor campus and featured a replica solitary confinement cell that visitors could step inside. “I think it’s a powerful experience to be able to go in there,” said Mikayla BergWood, a University of Michigan senior who helped organize the event.
• A month-long lockdown at the Allegheny County Jail, affecting 1,666 people, may have violated limits on the use of solitary confinement at the jail, writes 90.5 WESA. In a report, jail officials defended the lockdowns as “a heightened mitigation measure” to limit the spread of COVID, but some members of the oversight board remain unconvinced. “I read the report, and I didn’t see specific reasons why the lockdown was necessary—especially not for the entire month, the entire jail,” said board member Bethany Hallam.
• CT News Junkie reports that the Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would limit solitary confinement and establish independent oversight over the Connecticut Department of Correction. “I was surprised by some of the people who voted in favor,” said Barbara Fair, a founding member of Stop Solitary CT. “They opened their hearts and their minds.” The bill is expected to move to the House and Senate later this month.
• A coalition of immigration advocates filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last Wednesday seeking records of deaths at an ICE detention center in Batavia, New York. According to the Investigative Post, the FOIA request describes a long list of abuses at the facility, including medical neglect, physical mistreatment, and the retaliatory use of solitary confinement. “You don’t have any basic human rights,” said one man quoted in the request. “People really need to know what is going on inside Batavia because the public only hears what ICE says.”
• The State reports that the Richland County Coroner’s Office has ruled the death of Larson Butler a homicide. Butler died of acute dehydration on February 12th while being held in a cell at South Carolina’s Richland County Jail. “But for [the jail staff’s] lack of action, he would be alive,” said coroner Naida Ruther. Butler had been in jail for nearly two weeks awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges.
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