Seven Days in Solitary [11/23/22]

Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement

by | November 23, 2022

A Data for Progress poll found that a bipartisan majority of voters favor placing strict limits on solitary confinement. Voters indicated that they would support banning all forms of solitary confinement beyond four hours per day by a +32 point margin, with 78% of Democrats, 61% of Independents, and 51% of Republicans expressing support. “This new poll shows that people across the country overwhelmingly support ending this torture,” said Jessica Sandoval, director of Unlock the Box, in a press release. “Now is the moment for lawmakers—from the President on down—to heed this call and act now.”

The Intercept reports that the first public video of the United States government force-feeding an individual has been released. The video shows Ajay Kumar, an Indian immigrant seeking asylum, being force-fed 37 days into a hunger strike while he was held in an ICE detention center in 2019. “Right then, my mind stopped working,” Kumar told the Intercept. “I felt as if [the tube] was going through the throat, tearing the flesh.” Kumar was also put in solitary confinement while he was detained, and had recurring nightmares about being force-fed and subjected to solitary confinement after his release from ICE. 

KQED reports that immigrants in ICE custody are facing retaliation for continuing a work strike to protest being paid $1 a day. Strike participants at California’s Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex detention centers say staff are moving people to solitary confinement in an attempt to break up the strike, which has lasted over six months. “This is what they’re doing to retaliate against people who speak up. This is what they’re doing to intimidate us,” said Pedro Figueroa, who was put in solitary shortly after he joined the strike. 

The New York Times reports that hundreds of women who have accused correctional officers of sexual abuse plan to sue New York under a new law that goes into effect this week. The Adult Survivors Act, which was passed by the state legislature in May, allows people to file civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse no matter how many years have elapsed since the abuse. Sadie Bell, who plans to file suit, told the Times she was locked in solitary confinement for weeks after she was raped by a guard. Despite numerous attempts to seek therapy, Bell said, “I haven’t really received treatment for all of this.”

CNN reports that five guards at Georgia’s Camden County Jail have been placed on administrative duty after they brutally assaulted Jarrett Hobbs, a Black man detained at the jail. After he was assaulted, Hobbs was placed in solitary confinement. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that it would conduct an inquiry into the assault, and Hobbs’ lawyers are calling for the guards to be prosecuted. “There was absolutely no reasoning… to go in that cell with a man sitting there and pummel him,” said Hobbs’ attorney Bakari Sellers. 

9News reports that Disability Law Colorado is investigating the use of four-point restraints in Colorado prisons for a forthcoming report. According to Megan Baker, an author of the report, people exhibiting symptoms of mental distress are sometimes put in restraints for up to 22 hours a day while confined in a small, dark cell. “They’re doing it for hours and hours and even days and weeks at a time while not providing sufficient, meaningful intervention for the people who really need treatment, not restraint,” Baker said. The report is part of an effort to create legislation in Colorado restricting the use of restraints. 

The Prison Policy Initiative published a report on prisons’ increasingly widespread use of mail scanning, in which incarcerated people are denied access to physical mail and given scanned copies. According to the report, at least 13 state prison systems have begun scanning all incoming mail, though there is no evidence that the practice has reduced the flow of contraband into facilities. Policies like mail scanning are especially harmful for people in solitary confinement, for whom mail may be one of their only connections to the outside world. 

In essays published by the Pulitzer Center, actors Anthony Michael Jefferson and Gabriel Montoya reflect on their experiences performing in “The BOX,” an immersive play about solitary confinement, in cities across the United States. Montoya describes how chance encounters with justice-impacted people in each city made him reckon with the vast reach of the prison system. “In the ‘Land of the Free,’ it is easy to meet people who have spent days, weeks, years, and decades without any freedom at all,” he writes. “If we are silent on the issue of how human beings are treated in our jails and prisons, we are even more complicit.”


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