Seven Days in Solitary [11/2/2022]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | November 2, 2022

New from Solitary Watch: 

 Yesterday, Solitary Watch announced grants available to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated journalists to report on solitary confinement and other harsh and inhumane prison conditions from the inside out. The Ridgeway Reporting Project honors the legacy of the late investigative journalist and Solitary Watch founder James Ridgeway. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2023. A printable description and application instructions, to be shared with incarcerated reporters, can be found here: Ridgeway Reporting Announcement Call for Submissions.

 In the latest of our series of monthly dispatches, “The Word from Solitary Watch,” Solitary Watch Contributing Writer Juan Moreno Haines, a journalist incarcerated at California’s San Quentin State Prison, explores tensions between the need to decarcerate and dismantle prisons, and the need to improve prison conditions for people currently behind bars. “Working to build a better environment within prisons while simultaneously working to abolish them is not a contradiction,” he writes. “it’s exactly what we need to do right now.”

Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:

 NBC News reports that the use of solitary confinement continues to rise in federal prisons run by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). BOP Director Colette Peters suggests that COVID-19 might be playing a role in this increase, but continues to pledge institutional changes that will limit the use of solitary confinement. As part of Biden’s May 2022 executive order, a report on the federal use of solitary confinement is due to the White House in November. Tammie Gregg, the deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, urges Peters and the BOP to release more data and enforce solitary restrictions before that date. “There are no numbers that are validated around how many hours people are being kept there,” she said. “We need more transparency.”

 In an op-ed from the Anchorage Daily News, Megan Edge describes how transparent and public investigations into the Alaska Department of Corrections (ADOC) revealed the overuse of solitary confinement, distrust among staff and their leaders, and countless deaths of incarcerated people. “Woven into each story are devastating truths about substance misuse, mental health, excessive sentences, an overburdened prison system, failing policies, lack of resources, poverty, racism, and a callous disregard for the treatment of detained people in our state institutions,” she wrote. Edge, now the Director for the ACLU of Alaska Prison Project, shares how a “sweeping, independent review that the public supports its findings” would be the first step in ending this reality. 

 New York Focus continues its coverage of efforts, in both New York State prisons and New York City jails, to circumvent laws and regulations meant to limit the use of solitary confinement. A review of data published by the NY Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) found that nearly one in five solitary confinement sentences violates the current law. On Rikers Island, staff manipulated electronic records to avoid violations of the time limit set for holding new arrivals in isolation areas. The Daily Beast also reports that individuals on Rikers are subjected to 25-hour lockdowns every other day. “For us, it’s more like how many more people [have to die] before something changes?” 33-year-old Daquan Brown told The Daily Beast on a phone call from the jail.

 In the most recent installment of the “Life Inside” series, The Marshall Project published an essay written by Vincent Schiradli, former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Corrections. Schiradli details his extensive history in corrections and how what he witnessed at Rikers reflected the “banality of evil, of the day-to-day, ritualized degradation of people living and working in jails.” He wrote: “Rikers makes almost everyone who encounters it worse.”.

 New York’s HALT Solitary Confinement law, which sharply limits the use of solitary in the state’s prisons and jails, has become an issue in the governor’s race. GOP gubernatorial nominee,Rep. Lee Zeldin repeated that if elected, he would declare a “crime emergency” to suspend the HALT Act as early as January 1st. With the backing of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association (COBA), Zeldin contends that a dramatic increase in assaults on city corrections officers is a result of the new laws, despite many advocates arguing the opposite. Solitary Watch previously co-published an article with The Nation that examines how the correctional officers’ unions continue to push back against prison reforms despite a lack of credible evidence that it threatens either their jobs or their safety.

 In an article for Truthout, Katie Rose Quandt, senior contributing writer and editor at Solitary Watch, reports that Lackawanna County’s Board of Elections voted to leave a referendum limiting solitary confinement off this year’s ballot. In a lawsuit against Lackawanna County, lead organizer Holly VanWert for NEPA Stands Up, is asking the court to compel the election board to place the referendum on the May 2023 primary ballot, stating that the board overstepped and is misrepresenting Pennsylvania law. “I think this is precisely what happens when people in power want to keep that power,” VanWert told Truthout.

 On November 3rd, the Center for Law, Brain, & Behavior will host a free webinar, “When Punishment Meets Penance: The Neuroscience and Practices of Solitary Confinement.” Presented by Dr. Joel Dvoskin and Dr. Adam Haar Horowitz, they will discuss the neuroscience of solitary confinement and its current uses and abuses in the American correctional system.


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