Seven Days in Solitary [10/12/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
• The Marshall Project reports that Alabama prisons are in “deadly disarray” one week into a work strike organized by incarcerated people. Two men have been stabbed to death since the strike began, and one man was allegedly beaten by guards and put in solitary confinement for his role in exposing the strike. Last week, the New Yorker spoke with journalist Beth Shelburne about the longstanding problems in the Alabama prison system that served as the impetus for the strike.
• New York Focus and The Appeal jointly report that New York prisons are using residential rehabilitation units (RRUs) to thwart the intent of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. RRUs are intended as a rehabilitative alternative to solitary, but incarcerated people in the units are shackled during all out-of-cell activities, in direct violation of HALT. “[The prisons] don’t want an RRU unit where they can help people,” said Anisah Sabur, an organizer with #HALTSolitary. “They want to be in a space where you keep people locked in 23 hours a day.”
• In an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, James Causey describes his experience stepping into a replica solitary confinement cell built by Talib Akbar, a formerly incarcerated person who spent over 300 days in solitary. Akbar is traveling with his replica cell across Wisconsin to help people understand the harms of solitary. “I had a hard time doing an hour in this make-believe ‘hole,’” Causey writes. “One thing is certain: It isn’t rehabilitation.”
• The Charlotte Observer reports that nine people have died by suicide this year in North Carolina prisons. At least three people committed suicide after spending extended lengths of time in solitary, including one man who was held in solitary for more than 100 days. Advocates link the high rate of suicide to frequent lockdowns, during which people are locked in cells for upwards of 22 hours a day. “It just leads to a state of despair and depression,” said Kerwin Pittman, policy and program director at Emancipate NC.
• New York Daily News reports that NYC mayor Eric Adams has threatened to veto a proposed bill sharply limiting solitary confinement on Rikers Island. The bill currently has a veto-proof majority in the City Council, and would become law without Adams’ approval if that majority holds. Melania Brown, who lost her sister Layleen Polanco in solitary, and Edwin Santana, who was locked in solitary himself, recently published op-eds in support of the bill.
• PubliCola reports that a youth jail in Washington State, the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center, has continued to use solitary confinement, even though the practice was banned at the jail in 2017. Corrections officials have attributed the use of solitary to understaffing, but local representatives say understaffing isn’t a valid reason to use solitary. “If we literally don’t have the staffing to monitor people… all the reasons we don’t want solitary confinement for youth are still true in that scenario,” said King County councilmember Girmay Zahilay.
• The Associated Press reports that prison reform advocate and former Prison Legal News editor Alex Friedmann has settled a lawsuit with the Tennessee Department of Corrections over its use of solitary confinement for pretrial detainees. The settlement mandates that pretrial detainees held in state prisons must be able to participate in housing classification hearings and appeal placements in solitary. Friedmann was held in solitary at a maximum security prison in Tennessee for nearly two years while awaiting trial under a “safekeeper” order, and was sentenced just last week.
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