Seven Days In Solitary [4/20/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• On the New York Times’ The Daily podcast, reporter Adam Liptak discusses the case of Dennis Wayne Hope, a Texas man who has spent the past 27 years in solitary confinement. Hope’s lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to consider whether such prolonged isolation violates his Eighth Amendment rights. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it could set constitutional limits for how long a person can be held in solitary. (Read Solitary Watch’s article on Hope’s decades in solitary confinement here.)
• The Beacon reports that the Maine Senate passed a heavily amended bill last Tuesday that would eliminate the term “solitary confinement” from state statute. The bill was originally intended to define and regulate solitary confinement, but was amended by senators who denied the state’s use of the practice, despite hours of testimony from incarcerated people indicating otherwise. The House has rejected the Senate’s amendments, leaving the future of the bill uncertain.
• A final settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and the Georgia Advocacy Office on behalf of women with serious mental illness at South Fulton Jail. According to a press release from SCHR, the women were held for more than 23 hours a day in squalid cells, some of which had blood and feces on the walls. “I feel really good about the settlement and am happy that I helped make a difference for people like me,” said JN, a plaintiff in the case.
• The Kansas City Star reports that individuals testified last Tuesday in support of a bill that would create a 10 person oversight committee over the Missouri Department of Corrections. During the legislative hearing, family members of incarcerated people detailed acute mistreatment taking place behind bars. One man said that his son was held in solitary confinement for two months after reporting sexual assault and was allowed to return to the general population only after retracting his allegations.
• The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice will reform the state’s main prison for youth under a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice, reports the Charlotte Observer. In 2020, federal investigators found that the agency was violating the rights of incarcerated children by forcing them to spend time in solitary confinement for minor offenses and failing to provide adequate mental health care. The settlement mandates that the agency must revise its use-of-force policies and limit its use of isolation, among other measures.
• WBUR reports that the Massachusetts Department of Correction has continued to use an unreliable drug test to screen prison mail in violation of a court order, according to a recent lawsuit. Last year, a state judge found the test to be “only marginally better than a coin flip.” Individuals caught receiving tainted mail can face punishments such as reduced eligibility for parole and placement in restrictive housing.
• In a Prison Journalism Project op-ed, E.C. Theus-Roberts describes Colorado State Penitentiary, the facility where he is incarcerated, as “the most violent prison in the state.” Based on his own experience, Theus-Roberts suggests that corrections officers’ “hard on troublemakers” approach is partly responsible for the high rate of violence in the facility. “The more additional punishments are heaped upon prisoners, the less incentive they have to not use violence to express their frustration,” he writes.
• The Frederick News-Post reports that a bill banning seclusion in public schools has passed the Maryland legislature and will be enacted July 1st. “Having a law like this go into effect is really about protecting kids,” said Guy Stephens, founder of the Maryland-based Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint. To date, the US Congress has failed to pass similar legislation, with most Republican members voting against it.
• The Colorado Sun writes that three immigrants rights organizations have filed a complaint alleging racial discrimination and excessive use of force against two Black immigrants held at an ICE facility in Aurora. One man in the complaint alleged that he was placed in isolation for two weeks after being physically assaulted by staff members. “I believe that the treatment to which Black people are subjected at Aurora is racist and unjust,” he said in an affidavit accompanying the complaint.
• NPR reports that defendants charged in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol are forming factions at the DC Jail. Defendants interviewed for the article attributed the rising tensions to the stresses of solitary confinement, among other factors. Due to COVID-19 protocols, all individuals held at the DC Jail have spent long stretches of the past year under 22 or 23 hour lockdown.
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