Seven Days in Solitary [8/24/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
New this week from Solitary Watch:
The KPFA radio show and podcast “Law and Disorder” featured a segment based on an article by Victoria Law published last week by Solitary Watch in partnership with The Nation. In the segment, Law talks about her piece, titled “These Labor Unions Are Fighting to Keep Solitary Confinement,” which uncovers how corrections officers’ unions are opposing and undermining effort to roll back solitary in New York and other states.
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Kevin McCarthy describes the time he spent in solitary confinement in California, beginning when he was just 16 years old. The state has a long history of abusing solitary confinement, but current legislation aims to sharply limit its practice. The California Mandela Act would define solitary confinement as more than 17 hours in cell per day, would limit solitary stays to 15 days in most cases, and would entirely ban certain “special populations” from solitary. It would also require every jail, prison, or detention facility in the state, public or private, to have written procedures and documentation about their use of solitary. The Act has passed the state House and is headed for a vote in the state Senate.
• St. Louis Public Radio hosted Bobby Bostic via phone, who at the age of 16 was sent to prison to serve a 241-year sentence. Bostic details how he found poetry while he was in solitary confinement. In his essay, “The Redeeming Value of Art in Prison,” Bostic writes, “It tells the stories of longing, pain, need, wonder, beauty, and sometimes the divine.” Last week, Ronnie Amiyn, a formerly incarcerated poet who had crossed paths with Bostic behind bars, read some of Bostic’s poetry as the headliner at an open mic night in St. Louis.
• German news outlet Tag24 reports on Louisiana activist Terrance Winn, who spoke to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) as part of its 2022 review of the United States. Winn was sentenced to life without parole at 17, but a Supreme Court decision led to his release at age 46. He detailed his perspective on charging minors as adults, long prison sentences, and the mass incarceration of Black and brown people in the United States. He also spoke out against the use of solitary confinement, saying he “probably did 13 years” of his 30-year sentence in solitary. “When you’re going through those solitary moments… it can make you lose your mind,” he explained.
• The Morning Call writes that an anti-solitary confinement campaign in Lehigh County, PA, failed to gather enough signatures to put a ban on solitary confinement practices on the ballot in November. Sharing her experience with solitary confinement at the rally, Sarah Jackson said that she spent five months in “the hole” due to nonviolent actions related to her mental health. The Board of Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue of solitary confinement at the Courts and Corrections meeting on September 7. In a related story, Yahoo! News writes that the public advocacy group PA Stand Up is facing resistance when it comes to getting a referendum on solitary confinement reform on the November 8 ballot in Lackawanna County. Local election officials are still determining whether the petition had enough valid signatures. Other officials, such as Lackawanna County Prison Warden Tim Betti, have said that “having the ability to isolate inmates for longer than 24 hours is a must.” Ashleigh Strange, director of narrative and communication for PA Stand Up, shares that “what we heard from people—with very, very few exceptions—is that they don’t want people to be unnecessarily tortured, and even more so that they don’t want people to be tortured at all.”
• The Appeal writes that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) continues to provide substandard care to its incarcerated patients despite a class action lawsuit, filed more than a decade ago, that ushered in a wave of reforms. Dr. John Raba, the court-appointed monitor for overseeing these reforms, wrote that people in IDOC custody “died from dehydration and malnutrition…or were allowed to deteriorate without intervention.” After examining records of individuals who died in IDOC custody, he found that medical providers repeatedly ignored patients’ symptoms and left them to waste away until their deaths.
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