Seven Days in Solitary [12/21/22]
Our Weekly Roundup of News and Views on Solitary Confinement
New from Solitary Watch:
• Our Voices from Solitary series features a new piece by Dennis Hope, who was placed in solitary in Texas in 1994. After more than a quarter century in isolation and years of litigation, in January 2022, he asked the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of solitary “measured in decades, rather than weeks, months, or even years.” The case attracted national coverage. Shortly thereafter, the prisons department transferred Hope out of solitary, an experience he describes in his essay.
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• CalMatters reports on the story of Lorenzo Mays, who spent nearly nine years incarcerated in California’s Sacramento County Jail awaiting trial for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Mays, whose intellectual disability made it difficult for him to navigate the court system, was held in solitary confinement for most of his time in the jail. While in solitary, according to a lawsuit filed by Disability Rights California, Mays experienced hallucinations and developed severe Vitamin D deficiency. “Our system is built to ensnare people like Lorenzo,” said Tifanei Moyer, an attorney for the lawsuit.
• The Connecticut Mirror reports that the Connecticut Department of Corrections was found to have violated the constitutional rights of Richard Reynolds in a jury trial. Reynolds, who was formerly on death row before Connecticut abolished the death penalty, sued the state for subjecting him to harsh conditions of confinement at Northern Correctional Institution. Reynolds’ lawyers said that he was locked in his cell for 22 hours a day at Northern, and that he was put in full restraints when he moved about the prison.
• The Marshall Project reports that many incarcerated people in federal prisons lack access to addiction medication, even though the 2018 First Step Act directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to make it widely available. Incarcerated people who use addiction medication without a prescription are often punished with solitary confinement and other disciplinary sanctions. “I begged them to help me,” said Linda Wainwright, who was sentenced to five months in solitary for using smuggled Suboxone after prison officials wouldn’t give her a prescription.
• In an article for the New York State Bar Association, Patricia Warth discusses the adverse effects of incarceration on people with mental health conditions. Warth focuses on the harms of solitary confinement, which she links to an increased risk of suicide and self-harm. “You don’t even know when you lose your mind,” said Tyrell Muhammad, a senior advocate at the Correctional Association of New York. “You are battling yourself for your sanity, and it’s a hell of a battle.”
• AL.com reports on a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Thomas Lee Rutledge, who died of extreme heat in an Alabama prison in 2020. Lawyers say prison staff knowingly left men in Rutledge’s unit to overheat in their cells, even though they were aware that others in the unit had died in similar circumstances. A coroner’s report for Rutledge said that the men in the unit “never” left their cells, and that they would stuff clothes in the heating vents to minimize air flow from the broken heating system.
• In an essay for Filter, C Dreams writes about how drugs helped her survive solitary confinement when she was incarcerated in Georgia. Dreams, a trans woman who was housed in a men’s prison, recalls being sent to solitary after she was raped in her cell, and remained in isolation for over two months. After her requests for mental health treatment were repeatedly ignored, she began using drugs to cope with her trauma. “Being high is how many of us make our sentences livable, and was certainly how I made solitary livable,” she writes.
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