New this week from Solitary Watch:
• The Arkansas Department of Corrections has secured $75 million to add new 458 prison beds, partially funded through unused federal COVID-19 funds, reports Katie Rose Quandt. Anti-mass-incarceration organization DecARcerate insists, “when we no longer hold those too poor to buy their freedom, address the failure to appear in a different manner, and provide robust pretrial services we will see empty jail beds.”
• Roxanne Barnes interviewed Sarah Shourd about The BOX, a play about solitary confinement currently touring the country. The show is “a means to reach audiences to enact political change (legislative art) and to engage people to promote healing through drama and artistic ritual (therapeutic theater).” The tour has already made several stops, and will be coming next to Chicago; Detroit; Philadelphia; Baltimore; Washington, DC; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Atlanta.
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• Kevin McCarthy wrote an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle about his experience in solitary confinement in California, moving from solitary in the California Youth Authority at 16 to isolation in Pelican Bay. He insists that despite a settlement that followed the 2011 to 2013 hunger strike in California, solitary is still being used in violation of the agreement. McCarthy calls for the passage of AB2632, the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement. He recently co-authored a report which demonstrates that ending solitary confinement will result in $60 million to $300 million in net savings annually.
• An article in the Stanford Law Review by Jules Lobel, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, argues that plaintiff participation in class-action civil rights lawsuits “is both possible and important.” His discussion of “participatory litigation” draws on the successful class-action suit challenging California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in its prisons, and describes “how attorneys actively involved the plaintiffs in all aspects of the litigation: choosing class representatives, deciding on claims to present, making important tactical decisions, negotiating and ratifying a settlement agreement, and monitoring the settlement decree.” Lobel also describes “how the California lawsuit resulted from, and interacted with, a prisoners’ movement that conducted three mass hunger strikes and garnered national and international attention. Ultimately, the article uses the California narrative to develop a theory of participatory litigation that infuses political and legal representation with grassroots involvement…In this model, the representative and the client teach and learn from one another.”
• Gothamist reports on the continued use of solitary at Rikers and the deadly consequences, including most recently the death of 31-year old Elijah Mohammad. Plans from last year to limit solitary are yet to be implemented. Furthermore, City Limits reports that many of these cells have no cooling systems, leading to dangerous overheating. Survivors and family members are calling for passage of a city bill that would end all forms of solitary confinement in jails.
• A class action lawsuit in Massachusetts alleges that the state has illegally held individuals in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years, according to US News and World Report. The lawsuit insists that the state is in violation of a 2018 law in which people in prison are limited to six-months in disciplinary solitary confinement.
• A federal report found that people incarcerated in the U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta suffer abuse, medical neglect, and are locked in solitary confinement for months at a time with only a Bible as reading material, reports the Florida Phoenix. US Senator John Ossoff said, “Given these conditions, it is perhaps not surprising that USPA has led the nation’s federal prison facilities in suicides…”
• WFMZ looks at the effort from community action group Lehigh Valley Stands Up to collect 17,000 signatures on a proposal to eliminate solitary confinement, which would give Allentown, PA residents the opportunity to vote on the issue. The movement towards ending solitary confinement in Leigh comes after Allegheny County passed a similar measure last year.
• The Guardian reports that Black people suffer disproportionately in immigrant detention, facing higher rates of “deportation; sexual, physical, medical, and psychological abuses in detention; and solitary confinement.” Complaints from inside ICE facilities report a pattern of guards riling up people in order to land them in solitary confinement, and a 2020 Punishment and Society Journal study found that Black people in immigrant detention are six times more likely to be put in solitary confinement.
• Louisiana’s governor announced that the state would temporarily send teens to the notorious Angola prison, reports NBC News. The announcement comes after an extended crisis in the state’s treatment of youth in detention facilities, leading to a law that will limit solitary confinement for youth. One former official described the decision to send teenagers to Angola as “ the worst juvenile justice policy decision probably ever made in modern times.”
• Mississippi Today reports that the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman buildings are finally having air conditioning units installed after 121 years of dangerously hot summers. Some of the units with the most extreme heat issues are the restrictive housing units, where people are kept in solitary confinement and temperatures can reach between 95 and 145.1 degrees.
• Jamala Taylor spent 31 years in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison in California. He was released following a change in youth offender laws, which gave a chance at parole to ‘lifers’ that were put in prison before the age of 23. Taylor now works with the Insight Garden Program (IGP). Taylor tells Newsweek, “when you plant something, it’s a really beautiful feeling. It also helped me re-socialize.”