Use of Solitary in Federal Prisons Increases Under Biden… and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 2/8/23

by | February 9, 2023

New from Solitary Watch:

In the latest in our series of monthly dispatches, The Word from Solitary Watch, Staff Writer and Editor Vaidya Gullapalli explores how solitary confinement is used to retaliate against individuals in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers who participate in strikes and other forms of peaceful advocacy. “Imprisoned people who protest dangerous conditions and agitate for change risk grave harm,” Gullapalli writes. “The least we can do is bear witness—and lend support.”  Solitary Watch

Our pick of other news and commentary about solitary confinement: 

A cell at ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison in Colorado where men spend decades in solitary confinement.

A new Department of Justice (DOJ) report, mandated by President Biden’s Executive Order on criminal justice reform, found that the number of people in solitary confinement in federal prisons has increased 29 percent since December 2015.  DOJ | The report found that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has failed to implement even the modest reforms to solitary outlined in a DOJ report issued under Obama administration in early 2016 (and analyzed by Solitary Watch at the time). Solitary Watch | Despite Biden’s campaign promise to end solitary confinement, the number of people held in federal solitary has increased 7 percent since the publication of the Executive Order in May 2022. NBC News | “The result of the President directing DOJ to report on steps it has taken to reduce solitary confinement has so far simply maintained the status quo,” said Jessica Sandoval, director of Unlock the Box, in a press release. “The President should issue a new executive order that actually directs DOJ to end solitary confinement.”  Unlock the Box 

Two Virginia legislators are leading a bipartisan effort to make changes to the state’s use of solitary confinement. The bill put forth by state delegates Don Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) and Glenn Davis Jr. (R-Virginia Beach) would guarantee at least four hours of out-of-cell time per day to all incarcerated people, including those held in solitary. The bill was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates on Friday, and is headed to the Senate next.  Washington Post | Though the initial version of the bill included a 15-day limit on solitary, the amended version that was passed by the House did not include that provision.  WVTF

The Texas prison hunger strike is winding down after more than three weeks of organizing. Consisting of hundreds of participants at its peak, the strike brought widespread attention to the state’s egregious solitary confinement practices.  Texas Observer | Advocates reported that 22 people were still on strike as of Saturday, though the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says it knows of only six strikers left.  The Guardian

Terry Meza, a Texas legislator, has filed three bills to reform solitary confinement in the state. One bill would limit placements in solitary to ten consecutive days, the second would ban placements in solitary for gang affiliation, and the third would require state health agencies to study the mental health effects of solitary. Marci Marie Simmons, a prison rights advocate who was formerly incarcerated, expressed optimism about the proposed bills. “Every time one even gets written, every time a bill gets written in our favor, that’s a small win,” Simmons said.  Texas Public Radio

Tashon Burke, who spent eight years in solitary confinement, stands trial on Wednesday for narcotics charges. Burke was arrested in September 2021, a week after he was released from solitary at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail. “Burke illustrates the emotional rollercoaster of maxing out from his 10-year prison sentence, catching a glimpse of freedom, only to be re-incarcerated for a crime he did not commit,” the Abolitionist Law Center said in a press release. Abolitionist Law Center | Burke wrote about the trauma of solitary confinement in a Voices from Solitary piece published last year.  Solitary Watch 

Youth at Michigan’s Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility are reportedly being held two to three in a cell due to overcrowding. While the majority of youth have been held in their own cells, some have been forced to cell with others, leading to conflict and heightened tension. All youth at the facility are confined to their cells for most of the day, and are allowed only two hours out-of-cell each day for recreation, classes, and showers.  Detroit Free Press

Two new appointments to an advisory committee intended to provide independent oversight of the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) have alarmed advocates. One of the new appointees is on the leadership of a local correctional staff union, and the other is a DOC staff member who publicly opposed the legislation that created the committee last year. (That legislation, the PROTECT Act, also banned prolonged solitary confinement across the state.) “These two people seem the furthest away from what we would need on the committee,” said Daryl McGraw, a criminal justice advocate who is on the committee.  CT Mirror

In Georgia, where more than 4,000 people are in solitary confinement, prison conditions have continued to worsen despite two ongoing DOJ investigations. “The number of deaths has skyrocketed in the last few years, the quality of the food that is served is just below that served to animals, and the quantity wouldn’t keep a child alive,” said an incarcerated organizer for Georgia Prisoners Speak. With skepticism mounting about the DOJ’s ability to fix conditions, advocates say that the only viable solution is to decarcerate.  The Appeal

A commentary by Alex Duran and Arthur Rizer argues that New York should close Attica prison. The site of a 1971 prison uprising that remains the nation’s most deadly to date, Attica continues to be known for its high rates of violence and dangerous conditions, including its extensive use of solitary confinement. “We cannot begin to mend the wounds of our painful past while sites of torture are standing,” the authors write.  Newsweek


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