New from Solitary Watch:
• Director Jean Casella shares one of Solitary Watch’s first posts from 2009, “Santa Was in Solitary and Jesus Got the Death Penalty,” which tells us more about the two figures at the center of the Christmas holiday. Here in the United States, she writes, “Christians go to church to worship an executed savior and shop to commemorate an incarcerated saint. We hope some will heed their teachings, and pause to give a thought and a prayer to their compatriots who are spending this Christmas behind bars.”
Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:
• In an article from The Appeal, incarcerated writers reflect on the complicated emotions surrounding holidays in prisons. Arron Edward Olson describes how he created his own traditions of joy and consistency that gets him looking forward to the holiday season. Raymond Williams shares how his first Christmas in prison was spent in solitary confinement, and how an unexpected gift from a guard moved him to tears. “I cried because I was a kid, alone, in prison, in solitary, on Christmas Eve…I cried because in the darkest moment, on a day when so many other kids were experiencing joy in their loving homes, I was not completely forgotten” he writes.
• In an article for The Nation, investigative journalist Aviva Stahl and Distinguished Professor of Political Science at CUNY’s Brooklyn College Jeanne Theoharis write about how the prison swap of Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout largely focused on grim conditions of Russian prisons. Stahl and Theoharis point out that the dangerous conditions that ignited fear for Griner are also ubiquitous in the U.S. Conditions at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail where Bout was held, have been found to violate international human rights standards. These conditions include the extended use of extreme solitary confinement. “It’s physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally—as unaccommodating to the idea of being human as any place I’ve been,” said Joshua Dratel, who has represented people at MCC.
• The Guardian reports on the death of Jamal Harris, a 23-year-old incarcerated in Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility in Louisiana, who died while in solitary confinement on November 12th, 2022. His mother, Jovon Harris, stated that prior to being transferred to EHCF, Harris wasn’t experiencing the same problems or being denied the psychiatric and asthma medications that he was prescribed. “They wouldn’t give him his meds. He said, ‘I can’t breathe, I need my meds. I have asthma. It’s in my medical report,’ and they threw him in solitary because they say he was being disobedient to the guards,” she said.
• King5 News reports that the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will be fined an additional $250 million for failing to provide timely mental health services to incarcerated people. In 2018, Judge Pechman ruled that DSHS must transport incarcerated people with serious mental illness from local jails to state psychiatric facilities within seven days. However, these wait times have been reported to be eight to ten months. Attorneys for Disability Rights Washington wrote in the legal filing that, “longer wait times in jail means more harm—more time in solitary confinement, more time for illness to become…harder to treat, and more time not receiving the health care they need.”
• Kaiser Health News reports that people detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities continue to be at a high risk for developing severe illness or dying from COVID. As a result, people withhold disclosing their symptoms out of fear of being put into solitary confinement. Ricardo Chambers, detained at Stewart Detention Center, said his COVID experience did not differ from his times in solitary confinement. “You’ll be treated like an animal, caged, and for no fault of your own,” Chambers said.
• In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Brian Calley, previously Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, writes about the extreme strategies schools have been using to punish or segregate students with disabilities. Calley describes these strategies as “restraint and seclusion” practices that include straps or ties to hold children down and forced isolation—placing students into solitary confinement. Calley details how the historical underfunding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Act) by the federal government, as well as the large education gap in specialized training for school personnel, are some of the tangible and actionable steps to protecting children with disabilities.
• ABC 8News reports that the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) is facing a class action suit filed by currently and formerly incarcerated people in their “Step-Down Program” who were subjected to solitary confinement with no due process. The plaintiffs write that the criteria for the program is “vague and opaque” and are designed to keep them in inhumane conditions. “VADOC locks a prisoner in a solitary cell for several months, cites him with an infraction when he eventually violates a rule, and then uses that infraction to keep the prisoner in solitary confinement—despite that prisoner posing no substantial security risk to the general population,” they wrote. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for January 9, 2023.
• The PrisonCare Podcast released part l of “Mental Health and an End to Solitary Confinement” with Mary Buser, author of Lockdown on Rikers, former assistant director of mental health services on New York City’s Rikers Island, and a leader of Social Workers and Allies Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC). In the episode, Buser shares the devastating impact of solitary confinement and the challenges of bridging mental health with corrections.