Abusive Federal “Double Solitary” Unit Closes…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 2/22/23

by | February 22, 2023

New from Solitary Watch: 

In an essay for our Voices from Solitary series, L. LeDonne describes her experience in solitary while incarcerated in Connecticut’s York Correctional Institution. A musician by training, LeDonne wrote “Seg Song” as a response to the isolation of solitary. “The only remedy I knew was to write, to create, so I would be able to cope with the circumstances surrounding me,” LeDonne recounts. The song, which was sung by LeDonne and others in solitary at the facility, is available for listening on our website.  Solitary Watch

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The French translation of Solitary Watch’s FAQ on solitary confinement in the United States is now available. Translated by Maria Lagana, the document provides answers to common questions about solitary confinement, and includes information on conditions in solitary, psychological consequences, and recent reform efforts.  Solitary Watch

Our pick of other news and commentary about solitary confinement:

USP Thomson federal prison in Illinois

Federal authorities are planning to close USP Thomson’s Special Management Unit, which was widely criticized for its “double solitary” celling arrangement, where pairs of men are locked in small cells. Men at Thomson have reported being put in four-point restraints for hours or days, and at least seven deaths have taken place at the prison since 2019. It is not yet clear where the hundreds of men held in the unit will be transferred.  The Marshall Project | Context: Solitary Watch began reporting in 2013 on the federal government’s plans to open Thomson.  Solitary Watch

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At a public hearing earlier this month, New York legislators had the chance to question acting prison commissioner Anthony Annucci about the state’s solitary confinement reforms, which went into effect last year. Though reports have found that prisons have routinely been violating the HALT Act, which restricts the use of solitary to 15 consecutive days, legislators allowed Annucci to evade questions about the implementation of the law. Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, chair of the judiciary committee, later said he was “appalled” by Annucci’s responses during the hearing.  New York Focus

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A proposal to ban solitary confinement in New York City jails has stalled, even though the legislation has a veto-proof majority in the City Council. Unions representing healthcare workers on Rikers Island have expressed concerns about the proposal, while unions representing corrections officers have consistently opposed any limits on solitary. “They are just dancing around what really needs to be done,” said Melania Brown, whose sister Layleen Polanco died in solitary on Rikers in 2019. “Solitary confinement is deadly.”  The City 

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The family of Kyle Lara, a Washington State man who committed suicide in solitary confinement last year in a local jail, has filed a claim alleging that Lara’s body was left in his cell for 18 hours before it was found. “The county served two meals to his dead body,” said Lara’s mother. “How am I going to tell his daughter that?” According to the filing, Lara had expressed suicidal ideation at the jail but was still put in solitary. Seattle Times

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A bipartisan solitary confinement bill in Virginia has been amended by one of its sponsors to remove many of its key provisions, including a 15-day limit on solitary. “In its current posture, it, in our opinion, would actually be a step backwards,” said Shawn Weneta of ACLU Virginia. The ACLU has transferred its support to a similar bill in the state legislature that would place stricter limits on solitary. VPM | Context: Advocates have criticized Virginia’s restorative housing units for being virtually identical to solitary.  Richmond Times-Dispatch

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Michael Johnson, who was formerly incarcerated in Illinois, has filed a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of being denied exercise for three years while he was held in solitary confinement. As punishment for various disciplinary infractions between 2013 and 2016, Johnson was repeatedly put on “yard restriction” status, and was allowed to exercise only one day each month. Johnson’s petition contends that his treatment in solitary violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.  SCOTUSblog

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A commentary by David M. Shapiro argues that Illinois and other states across the country should ban prolonged solitary confinement. Shapiro points out that Illinois could end long-term solitary by passing the Nelson Mandela Act, which would ban placements in solitary beyond ten consecutive days. “Prolonged isolation is a devastating practice and a moral outrage,” Shapiro writes. “As a prisoners’ rights lawyer for much of my career, I have witnessed too many minds destroyed by isolation.”  Chicago Tribune 


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