New Report and Public Database Track Legislation to Limit or End Solitary Confinement

by | January 25, 2023

Today, Unlock the Box released the first comprehensive report on legislation related to solitary confinement that has been passed or introduced in states and cities across the country, along with an interactive legislation tracking tool. Unlock the Box is “a coalition of organizations and movement leaders who partner with state and local campaigns across the United States working to end the use of solitary confinement for all people.” A press release on the new report and legislation tracker follows.

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WASHINGTON, D.C., January 24, 2023 – Unlock The Box, a national advocacy campaign and coalition to end solitary confinement in the United States, today released Banning Torture: Legislative Trends and Policy Solutions for Restricting and Ending Solitary Confinement throughout the United States, the first-ever comprehensive, nationwide analysis of legislation related to solitary confinement.

The first-of-its-kind report utilizes new data made available through the Unlock The Box Legislation Tracker, an interactive database of solitary confinement bills from 2009 to present day. Justice advocates, government officials and policy makers, and public citizens can freely access the Legislation Tracker to review state by state proposals and actions, as well as trend-based data visualizations.

In light of the growing awareness that solitary confinement causes severe damage, increases the risk of death, and worsens safety for everyone, jurisdictions across the country have been introducing legislation to ban or restrict the practice. Among the significant trends found in the Banning Torture report include initiatives to: (1) end solitary confinement for young people; (2) end solitary confinement for subgroups including people who are pregnant, living with physical and mental disabilities, and those with medical conditions; (3) prohibit solitary confinement beyond 15 consecutive days in accordance with the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules; (4) create independent oversight mechanisms to promote effective policy implementation; and (5) fully end solitary confinement for all people.

“The Banning Torture report brings us closer to achieving our ultimate aim of eliminating solitary confinement by empowering public and private sector advocates with information to engage with lawmakers,” said Jessica Sandoval, executive director of the Unlock The Box campaign. “When we began our mission in 2018, we set a 10-year goal to abolish solitary confinement in all U.S. prisons, jails, and youth facilities. We are grateful for nearly 100 bills that have passed in state legislatures since our founding. While there is more work to be done, this report shows that our movement is gaining momentum.”

Since 2009, all but a handful of states have introduced or passed bills to restrict or end solitary confinement. The steady growth in the introduction of legislation significantly accelerated in 2019 and 2020, but action slowed in 2021 and 2022 due largely to COVID-19. Forty-five states have introduced bills to regulate, limit, or ban solitary confinement. Twenty states have introduced bills to limit solitary to 15-days or less, three of which have passed. Only Iowa, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota and Wyoming have not introduced a single related bill as of yet.

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Jean Casella

Jean Casella is the director of Solitary Watch. She has also published work in The Guardian, The Nation, and Mother Jones, and is co-editor of the book Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement. She has received a Soros Justice Media Fellowship and an Alicia Patterson Fellowship. She tweets @solitarywatch.

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