Seven Days in Solitary [8/31/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• The California state Senate has passed a bill banning the use of long-term solitary confinement in prisons, jails, and private detention centers, reports KTVU in Sacramento. Under the California Mandela Act, AB 2632 (named for the the UN’s Mandela Rules on the treatment of incarcerated persons), solitary confinement is limited to no more than 15 consecutive days and no more than 45 days in a six-month period. It also bans solitary confinement completely for people who are pregnant, have mental or physical disabilities, and are under 25 or over 65. The bill has already passed California’s Assembly and now goes to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom, who has not stated whether or not he will sign it into law.
• The Guardian writes that the Correctional Leaders Association and the Liman Center at Yale Law School have released their biannual report on solitary confinement. The report, titled “Time-In-Cell: A 2021 Snapshot of Restrictive Housing Based on a Nationwide Survey of US Prison Systems,” estimates that between 41,000 and 48,000 people were held in restrictive housing for 15 or more days as of summer 2021. The report found that over 6,000 people had been held in restrictive housing for more than a year, and nearly 1,000 people had been held in restrictive housing for more than a decade.
As Solitary Watch has pointed out in the past, the CLA/Liman reports do not count individuals held in restrictive housing for less than 15 days, and therefore offer an incomplete snapshot of the total population in solitary confinement. Certain numbers reported by state departments of corrections also invite challenge. For example, the figure New York State reported to CLA/Liman was just 140, while the department’s own data for the same month (July 2021) shows 1,743 people in restrictive housing. Solitary Watch will offer more analysis of these numbers in the future.
• The Appeal reports on the Clements Unit’s PAMIO program, a mental health program for people incarcerated in Texas. Program participants described being confined in their cells for days or weeks without access to therapy or recreation; one woman named Edee Davis said mental health staff falsified her attendance in therapy groups she had never been to. Davis wrote about her experience at PAMIO in a Voices from Solitary piece published earlier this month.
• On the third episode of the Not in Isolation: Voices of Youth podcast, hosts Ronnie Villeda and Josue Pineda discuss the profound harms of incarceration and solitary confinement on youth, focusing on Kalief Browder’s experiences in solitary as a 16-year-old on Rikers Island which eventually led him to take his life. In the episode, titled “One Life Too Many,” Villeda and Pineda also discuss alternatives to the mass incarceration of youth, including bail reform.
• Injustice Watch looks at a report on the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center which says the jail has been keeping children confined in their cells for over 13 hours a day, including between 7pm and 7am for what the facility refers to as “sleeping hours.” According to the highly critical report, issued by a blue-ribbon committee commissioned by the Cook County Circuit Court chief judge, detained youths are also locked in their cells for additional time as punishment, or because the facility was short-staffed. The committee recommended that the facility be shut down and replaced with “smaller, community-based facilities” with rehabilitative programming.
• WGNO reports that a three-day peaceful protest at the Orleans Justice Center (OJC) ended when staff raided the protesters’ living quarters and allegedly used tear gas to force them out. Incarcerated people were protesting poor living conditions in the facility, as well as being locked in their cells for 20 hours a day. “It is nefarious the way your Staff members continuously violate our due process and civil rights unsympathetically daily,” wrote the protesters in a letter to facility administrators.
• The Lens reports that an internal document from Louisiana’s Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) outlines the plan to move incarcerated youths to a former death row housing unit at the state’s Angola prison. Advocates for youth, who have been criticizing the plan, worry that Angola could be used as “a kind of systemwide maximum-security unit” to house anyone in OJJ custody. As a result of a lawsuit filed last week, the state will put the plan on hold until at least September 15.
• KQED reports that California’s senators joined their colleagues in the U.S. Senate to issue a second letter questioning ICE on its overuse of solitary confinement. (The first letter, issued in February, had labeled the use of solitary in federal detention centers “excessive and seemingly indiscriminate.”) According to KQED, four immigrants at California’s Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center have been placed in solitary confinement for their role in recent work strikes. “This right here is un-American,” said Mohamed Mousa, who said he was held in solitary for more than 40 days for supporting the strikes.
Additional analysis by Jean Casella.
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