Kids Locked Up Alone in Filthy Cells at Baltimore County Jail…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 3/22/23

by | March 22, 2023

Youth at the Baltimore County Detention Center have been locked in squalid, rat-infested cells for 23 hours a day, according to a letter from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Youth are not separated from adults at the facility and students with disabilities are not afforded individualized educational plans, in violation of federal law. The letter reported that conditions for youth have not improved since the last time the public defender’s office conducted an investigation of the facility in 2018.  The Baltimore Sun

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An investigation into the police killing of 19-year-old Jacob Harris in 2019 draws attention to Arizona’s “felony murder” law, which allows people to be charged with murder if a death occurs during the commission of a felony regardless of whether they caused it. Due to the statute, three of Harris’ friends were sentenced to decades in prison for his murder, even though it was a police officer who killed him. One of Harris’ friends sentenced was Johnny Reed, who was just 14 at the time of Harris’ death and has spent much of the last four years in adult prison, where he was held in solitary on account of his age. “I’ve had to overcome depression and all kinds of things. I’ve been locked up in Solitary Confinement a few times, and that takes a whole different toll on your conscience,” Reed said in an email. The Appeal

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A bill moving through Rhode Island’s state legislature aims to limit the state’s use of solitary confinement. Known as the Solitary Confinement Reform Act, the bill would require at least four hours of out-of-cell time for all individuals in solitary and ban vulnerable groups from placement in solitary altogether. Advocates gathered at the State House earlier this month to rally legislators to support the bill. “I watched my [sister’s] mental health decline due to the conditions and regulations of solitary confinement… she was seeing faces on walls and hearing voices that weren’t there,” said Elisha Liberty, whose sister Charlene attempted suicide multiple times while in solitary.  The Providence Journal

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The Death Penalty Information Center reviews an article in the Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems, which provides an overview of death row conditions in jurisdictions with capital punishment in the United States. Out of the 27 states that operate death rows, 11 house their death row population in permanent solitary confinement. As the author of the law review article states, the policy of keeping individuals on death row in indefinite isolation lacks “the support of the majority in either contemporary practice or social values.”  Death Penalty Information Center

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Unlock the Box’s Jessica Sandoval describes how solitary confinement contributes to the United States’ mental health crisis in a commentary for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sandoval points to research showing that half of all suicides in prisons and jails take place in solitary, and that spending any amount of time in solitary sharply increases the risk of death after release. “We simply cannot continue to ignore the facts and collateral damage of this unjustifiable practice,” Sandoval writes. “Legislators and advocates must continue their efforts to end solitary confinement for the most vulnerable among us.”  NAMI

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A commentary from Chandra Bozelko looks at how corrections agencies have often undermined attempts to limit solitary confinement, finding their way around legislative or court-mandated reforms in states from California to Massachusetts to New Jersey. “Even when fundamental reforms appear to be achieved, that achievement is tentative in nature,” Bozelko writes.  WitnessLA | Context: Solitary Watch’s Katie Rose Quandt wrote about the Massachusetts Department of Corrections’ efforts to circumvent solitary confinement law in 2019.  Solitary Watch

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Poet, lawyer, and solitary survivor Reginald Dwayne Betts joined Unlock the Box’s Nafeesah Goldsmith for a conversation about advocacy and storytelling on World Storytelling Day this Monday. Betts, who discovered his love of literature after being slid a book of poems in solitary confinement as a teenager, talked about the potential for stories to create change and how creating poetry out of redacted legal documents allowed him to bridge the gap between his two professions. Betts is the founder of Freedom Reads, an organization dedicated to expanding access to books in prisons through freedom libraries.  Facebook Live


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