New this week from Solitary Watch:
• Solitary Watch Director Jean Casella published a piece examining President Biden’s newly signed Executive Order (EO), which includes a paragraph restricting the use of prolonged solitary confinement, highlighting its “non-specific terms.” The EO includes a request for a report from the DOJ about their effort “to ensure that individuals in DOJ custody are housed in the least restrictive setting necessary.” Casella writes that whatever effects this EO might have, “they seem highly unlikely to come close to Biden’s sweeping promise to end nearly all uses of solitary.”
• The second Monthly Dispatch from Solitary Watch discusses the preconceived notion that many hold that people in solitary confinement are “voiceless.” Solitary Watch Director Jean Casella challenges this notion, saying, “What most people in solitary lack is not a voice or a will to be heard, but rather a way of transmitting their words to the world outside their cells, and a conviction that anyone is listening.”
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• An Uprise RI investigation determined that DOC prison guard and President of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) Richard Ferruccio illegally released the criminal histories and discipline records of incarcerated men who testified in favor of a bill to limit long-term solitary confinement in Rhode Island. Although he publicly released the information during his testimony, when Uprise RI asked the DOC for those same records as a test, their request was denied, on the grounds that they “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
• Juvenile Justice Information Exchange published an opinion piece from Lyle C. May, a man incarcerated in Raleigh, N.C., who opposes Durham County, NC’s proposed $30 million new juvenile jail. He describes his experience entering solitary confinement at 16. He insists, “My lived experiences and that of many others prove that juvenile confinement frequently sets youth up to fail.”
• CBS reports that the mother of Lester Daniel Marroquin, a man who died by suicide in San Diego County Central Jail, is suing the county, alleging that her son was medically neglected by officers who ignored his several attempts to take his own life. Despite this pattern of mental illness, Marroquin was removed from a safety cell and placed in solitary confinement, where he died.
• The Equal Justice Initiative reports that two officers from Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama have been arrested, charged with criminally negligent homicide for failing to prevent the death of Jason Kirkland. Kirkland was severely mentally ill, and died while the two officers were on duty. This is one in a long string of deaths at Donaldson, including Tommy Rutledge, who died by overheating in a solitary confinement cell in December 2020.
• The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reports on President Biden’s unfulfilled promise to end solitary confinement, marking three years since ICIJ released “Solitary Voices,” an investigation into the abuse of solitary in ICE detention centers. That reporting “showed that a high number of mentally ill immigrants had been placed in isolation cells for weeks and months at a time.”
• The podcast Abolition is for Everybody recorded a short episode about what kinds of solitary confinement exist in the US, and the systemic problem of prison and jail systems putting people with mental disabilities into isolation. The podcast features an interview with an attorney from Disability Rights California, who describes the history of solitary confinement and the current campaigns against it in the US, referencing Unlock the Box and Solitary Watch’s efforts.
• Honeysuckle Magazine published a feature on the recently opened exhibition of paintings by Chris Wilson, an author and social advocate, titled “I Can Show You the Way Out.” Wilson was incarcerated at the age of 17 and placed in solitary confinement for 16 years, which he wrote about in a Voices for Solitary piece a few weeks ago. The exhibition is a partnership between Wilson and luxury cannabis brand House of Puff. (Full disclosure: A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Solitary Watch.)