Seven Days in Solitary [9/13/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
New this week from Solitary Watch:
• Solitary Watch has released a new fact sheet that documents the collateral consequences of solitary confinement. According to the fact sheet, these consequences include “the destruction of family relationships, lasting financial hardship, exclusion from work and educational programing, additional time behind bars, increased recidivism, and even shortened life spans,” and often leave their imprint for years after people have left solitary.
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• A newly released documentary from The New Yorker titled “The Box” explores the lasting trauma that solitary confinement inflicts on survivors. The film features James Burns, Five Mualimm-ak, and Pamela Winn, who share stories of their experiences with solitary and discuss the psychological effects of isolation. In solitary, says Burns in one particularly moving scene in the film, “having punches being rained down on you was better than not having any contact at all.”
• Gothamist reports that the New York prison department’s own data shows that prisons are violating New York’s solitary confinement restrictions. The HALT Solitary Confinement Act prohibits people from being placed in solitary for more than 15 days in a row, but a new report from the department indicates that 228 of the 490 people in solitary as of August 1st were there for more than 15 consecutive days. “When we violate a rule in prison, we suffer the inhumanity of solitary confinement,” said Jerome Wright, co-director of the #HALTsolitary Campaign, in a press release. “What happens when they violate the law? The status quo has got to go.”
• NBC News interviews Kevin McCarthy, a survivor of solitary who has played a key role in advocating for the California Mandela Act (AB 2632), which would sharply limit the state’s use of solitary confinement. “California has the chance to join the more progressive states to pass this law and conform with the UN’s suggestion on solitary confinement, which says any longer than 15 days is torture,” McCarthy said. The bill was passed by the state legislature in August, but Governor Newsom is yet to sign it into law.
• The Prison Policy Institute has released a report titled “The state prison experience: too much drudgery, not enough opportunity” that looks at labor, discipline, and programming in state prisons. Drawing on data from a 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics prison survey, the report finds that 35% of people who were disciplined for a rule infraction were punished with solitary confinement, including 17% of people whose infractions were minor.
• In an op-ed in The Verdict, Austin Sarat, a political science professor at Amherst College, calls for states to end the extreme isolation faced by people on death row. By closing their death rows, Sarat writes, states can “end the destructive practice of segregating and isolating people awaiting execution.” Sarat notes that, unlike in the early days of the United States, “time on death row is now counted in years or decades, not weeks.”
• The Morning Call reports that activists and local residents criticized the use of solitary confinement at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh County Jail during a meeting held by county commissioners last week. “I can tell you, without question, that solitary confinement is torture,” said John Thompson, an organizer with the Abolitionist Law Center who spent more than 13 years in solitary. A recent campaign fell short of the number of signatures needed to put a ban on solitary at the jail on the November ballot.
• New York Daily News reports that Rikers Island has expanded its use of lockdowns for youth incarcerated at the Robert N. Davoren Center. Between January and July 2022, the jail had 238 lockdowns for so-called “emergencies,” a 64% increase compared to the same period last year. “The fact that the city is inflicting these torturous conditions at disproportionately high rates in units holding young people is particularly disturbing,” said Anisah Sabur, an organizer with #HALTsolitary.
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