Seven Days in Solitary [9/28/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• TIME reports that the Department of Justice undercounted nearly 1,000 deaths in United States prisons and jails during the last fiscal year. At a congressional hearing on the matter, Vanessa Fano testified about how her brother Jonathan died by suicide in 2017 after being placed in an isolation cell in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a local jail in Louisiana. “Had we been disclosed the information of how horrendous the conditions are in that facility and how few actually receive adequate care,” said Fano, “we would have insisted upon a different outcome.”
• In an article for Truthout, frequent Solitary Watch contributor Victoria Law reports on violations of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act taking place in New York prisons. In addition to holding people in solitary past the 15-day limit stipulated by HALT, advocates say prisons have failed to meet out-of-cell time requirements for Residential Rehabilitation Units (RRUs), which are intended as an alternative to solitary. RRUs are supposed to provide six hours of out-of-cell programming each day, but incarcerated people at some facilities say they receive only two hours of programming, during which they are shackled and chained to desks.
• The Davis Vanguard reports that anti-solitary advocates have delivered a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to sign the California Mandela Act, which would limit solitary confinement in the state. The letter was signed by 45 survivors of solitary and 57 supporting organizations. Kevin McCarthy, who was held in solitary for nine years, spoke about the importance of the Mandela Act on CBS last week. “There’s no penological value in solitary confinement. There’s no restorative value in solitary confinement,” McCarthy said. “It makes people worse.”
• The Bangor Daily News reports that a formerly incarcerated teen is suing the Maine DOC for the abuse and isolation he endured in two Maine prisons. The plaintiff, Alexander Mascal, alleges that he was punished with isolation for behavior related to his mental health diagnoses, in violation of the state’s rules on solitary confinement for youth. When Mascal expressed suicidal intent in an isolation cell in 2014, according to the lawsuit, he was charged with “false public report and criminal mischief.”
• The Alabama Political Reporter writes that a strike organized by incarcerated workers may take place this week. Organizers’ demands include the reinstatement of good time credits, the end of life without parole, and payment for prison labor. According to one incarcerated person, retaliation in the form of solitary confinement and staff violence during the strike is “to be expected.” The Alabama DOC has been known to put people in solitary, sometimes for years, for their role in organizing mass strikes.
• Fox 56 reports that an advocacy group named Northeast PA Stands Up has filed a lawsuit against the Lackawanna County Board of Elections. Over 13,000 signatures were collected for a petition to put ending solitary confinement at the county prison on the November ballot, but the Board of Elections rejected the petition. “They violated the law and the will of 13,000 voters in Lackawanna County,” said Jaclyn Kurin, an attorney for NEPA.
• WDSU News reports that a federal judge has ruled that a plan to transfer youth in custody to Louisiana’s Angola prison can move forward. In a statement, the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) said the plan “will only ensure the past repeats itself: children will be held in solitary confinement, met with excessive use of force, and… denied the education and services they are entitled to.” No other state, LCCR added, is “sending children to a former death row unit in a prison that is synonymous with slavery.”
• The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice has put forth a proposal to reduce the use of room confinement (a common euphemism for solitary confinement in youth facilities) at the state’s youth prison in Bon Air. The proposal limits the use of room confinement to five consecutive days, and bans it entirely for all but six offenses. In 2021, a legislative commission found that Bon Air’s approach to rehabilitation “does not appear to maximize its ability to reduce recidivism.”
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