Seven Days in Solitary [5/18/22]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | May 19, 2022

New this week from Solitary Watch:

 Thomas Bartlett Whitaker published a piece in Solitary Watch’s Voices from Solitary series, describing his time on “Deathwatch,” a solitary confinement section of Texas’s Polunsky Unit for those with execution dates. Whitaker was housed there before his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. He says, “Nobody wants to live on Deathwatch. Such is the fear that this section engenders that many prisoners won’t even look in that direction when being escorted to visitation or recreation.”

Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:

 The Marshall Project writes about two people who have died in Texas lockup in the last six months from fires in their cells. According to people in the prison, “for years, prisoners and staff say, starting [fires] has been one of the ways that men in solitary air their grievances when they can’t get medical attention, warm food or a chance to go outside for recreation.” 

 NewsChannel 5 reports that children held in a detention center run by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services are still being placed in solitary confinement, despite a state law passed last year banning the practice for minors. The article quotes Disability Rights Tennessee Legal Director Jack Derryberry, who said, “The reality is Children’s Services thinks it’s OK to lock kids in solitary confinement for 23 or more hours a day.”

 Paris Hilton published an op-ed in USA Today about her traumatic experience as a child in the Provo Canyon School, where she suffered sexual assault and solitary confinement. She describes rampant abuse and no oversight in the “troubled teen” industry, and insists, “Anyone can recognize this isn’t treatment; it’s torture.”

 A report commissioned by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was released this past Wednesday, cataloging the abuse suffered by Native American children at state-run schools, the New York Times writes. The report outlined the systemic use of “​​beatings, withholding of food and solitary confinement.” Haaland commissioned this report as an initial step towards addressing “intergenerational trauma” caused by these facilities. 

 Lake and McHenry County Scanner reports that several men who were held in ICE detention in Illinois have filed a lawsuit claiming they were forced to perform unpaid labor while detained. The men were forced to clean the facility without compensation, and if they refused, the suit alleges that they were “locked in their cells or sent to solitary confinement.”

 The Providence Journal writes about the death of Charlene Liberty, who was formerly held in Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institution. Liberty was the lead plaintiff in a case alleging medical neglect and abusive use of solitary confinement for those suffering from mental illnesses in the facility. The suit alleges that “the conditions in solitary confinement [drove] Ms. Liberty to engage in serious self-injurious behaviors, including multiple suicide attempts.”

 Columbia Magazine published an article outlining recent research from the University’s Justice Lab studying solitary confinement. The team has published three papers so far, using interviews from more than 100 individuals, both during and after their time in solitary. One of the Justice Lab’s project directors, Kendra Bradner, said, “My enduring impression is of an incredible, almost impossible-to-capture experience of deprivation and harm.”


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