New this week from Solitary Watch:
• In the latest installment of the Voices From Solitary series, Solitary Watch published several poems written by Charles Tooker, which he composed in solitary confinement. Tooker has spent three years in solitary, and uses creative expression to cope with the isolation. His three pieces are entitled “It’s a Lifestyle: Ode to PTSD,” “Untitled (Unexceptional and Unforgettable),” and “Appeals to the Bowerbirds.”
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• Truthout reports on Residential Mental Health Units in New York prisons, where people with mental illnesses are warehoused for 20 to 24 hours a day. Although the units are supposed to be a non-solitary alternative for people with mental illness, residents are offered little programming, and recreation occurs alone in a fenced-off pen. A report from HALT Solitary and Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement found that Residential Mental Health Units “essentially have failed to provide an effective and humane therapeutic environment for a large percentage of its residents.”
• The Crime Report describes the findings of a report from the MacArthur Foundation about the overrepresentation of LGBTQ people of color and people with disabilities in prisons nationally. The report highlights the higher levels of harassment experienced by LGBTQ individuals, denial of gender affirming care, and more frequent placement in solitary confinement.
• The Pennsylvania Capital Star reports on a hunger strike at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution-Greene, where six people began refusing food on June 7th to protest the conditions of their solitary confinement, according to the Human Rights Coalition. They are insisting that a pathway out of solitary be provided to them, and that access to commissary food and family visits be restored. As one of the protesters summed it up, “They are weaponizing this [Intensive Management Unit] program against us.”
• The Prison Policy Initiative published a comprehensive report detailing the “unmet health needs of people in state prisons.” The report describes how when individuals are housed in solitary confinement, their mental health deteriorates, and that those with disabilities are often punished with isolation. According to the report’s recommendations, state prisons should “immediately reduce, and eventually eliminate, the use of solitary confinement, euphemistically known in some states as ‘restrictive housing’ or ‘segregation,’ which can cause permanent psychological damage.”
• News Channel 2 reports that a judge dismissed a lawsuit from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association aiming to repeal the HALT Act. Jerome Wright, co-director of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, stated: “We demand that prisons and jails, and the staff who work there, now embrace the law and fully implement all of its provisions in order to relieve suffering, save lives, and make everyone safer.”
• NBC News reports on Louisiana’s passage of new restrictions on putting youth in solitary confinement, marking the first time that the state has put limits on isolation for young people. The new law will mandate that individuals will not spend more than eight hours in segregated confinement, and that staff will check on their mental health within the first few hours and notify their parents. The debate around this topic has increased in recent years, following the deaths of two children held in solitary in 2019.
• Newsd writes about the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26th each year, on the anniversary of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Among the provisions in this convention is a mandate against solitary confinement. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness for those suffering torture worldwide.