“Unrelenting” Solitary on Federal Death Row Alleged to Violate Constitution…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 1/25/23

by | January 25, 2023

New from Solitary Watch:

The Unlock the Box campaign has released a report, Banning Torture: Legislative Trends and Policy Solutions for Restricting and Ending Solitary Confinement throughout the United States, billed as “the first-ever comprehensive, nationwide analysis of legislation related to solitary confinement.”  Solitary Watch | Also now available: An interactive data tracking tool on solitary confinement legislation from 2009 to the present that includes “state by state proposals and actions, as well as trend-based data visualizations.”  Unlock the Box 

Our pick of other news about solitary confinement:

A federal class action lawsuit alleges that death row conditions at USP Terre Haute violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as well as international human rights treaties. The lawsuit states that men on death row at the federal prison are automatically placed in solitary confinement upon arrival, and often remain there “for decades.” Death Penalty Information Center | Context: During his campaign, President Biden committed to “ending the practice of solitary confinement, with very limited exceptions such as protecting the life of an imprisoned person”—which he could do in the federal system by executive order—but he has yet to make good on that promise. Solitary Watch

A new book by Reuven Blau and Graham Rayman paints a comprehensive portrait of Rikers Island through interviews with over 130 people. In an excerpt from “RIKERS: An Oral History,” lawyers, prison officials, and formerly incarcerated people describe the use of solitary confinement at the facility. “Eventually you find yourself talking to yourself and then eventually you find yourself counting the cockroaches… people go crazy in there,” said Barry Campbell, who was incarcerated on Rikers in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The City | The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council has made banning solitary in city jails a top priority for its 2023 legislative agenda. The Good Men Project

A hunger strike against solitary confinement in Texas prisons has entered its second week. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed that 38 men were still on strike as of last Thursday, though advocates believe the number to be higher. Texas Tribune | Strikers have reported retaliation for their participation, including missing property and interference in communications with the outside world. Texas Public Radio  | An outside representative for the strikers told the press that the participants “truly feel [the strike] is in the best interest of all, including the prison employees who are suffering appalling conditions as well.” The Guardian

The New Jersey Department of Correction has weakened protections for trans people by allowing prison officials to override their requests to be housed according to their gender identity. The policy change comes after Demi Minor, a trans woman, impregnated two women at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. Following the discovery of the pregnancies, Minor was transferred to a men’s facility, where she was placed in solitary confinement. “It has been pure hell back here in solitary: lack of food, being sexually harassed and housed around men who flash their genitals and refer to me as ‘he-she bitch,’” Minor wrote. The Appeal 

Activists rallied at a federal courthouse in Jacksonville, Florida last Friday to demand the closure of the Baker County Detention Center. The activists say the facility has mistreated detained immigrants by denying them reasonable access to attorneys and housing them in inhumane conditions. News4Jax | Context: In 2019, an unannounced inspection by the Department of Homeland Security found that solitary confinement practices at the facility “infringe on detainee rights.” Department of Homeland Security 

A deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC), Ryan Thornell, has been appointed as the new director of the Arizona prison system. The conditions of confinement in Arizona prisons were recently found unconstitutional by a federal judge. Thornell will be responsible for implementing reforms, including changes to solitary confinement, to bring the prisons in line with constitutional standards. Though Thornell believes there should be limits on solitary, said Zach Heiden of ACLU Maine, which has litigated cases against the Maine DOC, “We have not had a total meeting of the minds about solitary confinement.”  AZ Central

On January 24, California Assemblymember Chris Holden reintroduced the California Mandela Act, which would limit solitary in state prisons to 14 days, and ban it altogether for several vulnerable populations. Twitter | Last year, the bill passed in both houses of the California State Legislature but was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Advocates vowed to reintroduce the bill and fight for its passage. Los Angeles Times


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