John Oliver Covers Solitary Confinement; Texas Lawmakers Seek to Undermine Independent Investigation of Jail Deaths…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week 

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/5/23

by | April 5, 2023

New from Solitary Watch:

In “The Word from Solitary Watch” for March 2023, Jean Casella writes about how prisons are where America hides the problems it chooses not to confront, and how solitary confinement—often described as a “prison within a prison”—is where prisons hide theirs. Casella quotes from an essay by incarcerated writer Thomas Whitaker, as well as one by the late James Ridgeway, who wrote that the age-old practice of banishment “flourishes today in the American criminal justice system, where prisons and jails are the settings for a new kind of internal exile.” Solitary Watch

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Solitary confinement was the topic of the latest episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which aired on Sunday night. While infusing the episode with humor, Oliver highlights the grave dangers of solitary and the underhanded strategies prison agencies use to keep the practice in place. Among the sources featured was Solitary Watch’s FAQ, our most visited resource, which contains answers to numerous widely-asked questions about solitary (and is now available in Spanish and French!) | 30 Second clip featuring SW FAQ [YouTube]  |  Full 20 minute segment on solitary confinement  [YouTube]

Our other pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement: 

A proposed bill in Texas would allow sheriffs to conduct their own investigations of deaths in county jails, undermining the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, which requires independent investigations of such deaths. Previous independent investigations suggest that reports of deaths published by sheriff’s offices have not always been fully transparent. While the Harrison County sheriff’s office stated that Lonnetta Johnson experienced “labored breathing” at the county jail and died after being transferred to a hospital, an investigation revealed that she had been put on suicide watch in solitary confinement for more than two weeks prior to her death, and was already “cold to the touch” when an ambulance was called.  Bolts Mag

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Katie Rose Quandt, a senior contributing writer for Solitary Watch, reports on the debate surrounding proposals to renovate Cuyahoga County Jail or replace it with a new facility. The jail, which is located in Cleveland, Ohio, has come under scrutiny for its overcrowding, deaths in custody, and frequent use of solitary. Advocates have pushed back against the proposals, maintaining that a new jail will not solve existing problems.  The Appeal 

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The Nevada ACLU has published “23 Hours,” a project featuring the voices of survivors of solitary confinement. Through letters and a podcast series, the project aims to shed light on the extensive harms of solitary and create pathways for legislative change.  3 News Las Vegas | “I’m irreparably damaged. Psychologically, spiritually depraved,” said Kentrell Welch, who has been held in solitary for three years. “How do I hang on to reality? What is reality?”  23 Hours

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Dennis Hope, who was incarcerated in solitary confinement in Texas for 27 years, will have his case considered by the Supreme Court on April 14th. Hope, who contends that his length of stay in solitary violates the Eighth Amendment, has since been transferred out of solitary, but his lawyers say that doesn’t make the case moot.  Twitter | Solitary Watch interviewed Hope about his decades in isolation in 2017 for a feature on prison escapees.  Solitary Watch | More recently, Hope wrote about his experience transitioning out of solitary for our Voices from Solitary series in June 2022.  Solitary Watch

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Sandy Hausman interviews Calvin Arey, who spent much of his eight years of incarceration during the ’60s and ’70s in solitary confinement. Since his release, Arey has been sending books to incarcerated people in Virginia, who have set up “freedom libraries” with the books within their housing units. “These books have put me in a place where my mind is free from the everyday challenges of being in prison,” said Terrence Vaughn, a recipient of Arey’s books. “The negative things that go on in here—you escape this.”  WVTF

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A commentary from the editorial board of the Albany Times-Union reproves the New York corrections agency for failing to adhere to the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Citing a report published last week by the Correctional Association of New York, the board writes that lawmakers should ask the agency to explain itself: “A good place to start is this straightforward question: Why isn’t the state’s prison system following state law, and what will it take to correct that?” AuburnPub

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Mwalimu Shakur writes about the political education and community-building work he has been involved in behind bars. A New Afrikan, Shakur is incarcerated at California’s Corcoran State Prison and spent 20 years in solitary for his political beliefs before being released from isolation in 2018. “Reaching out and educating people has been a beautiful thing,” Shakur writes. “And that’s what I’ll continue to do.”  Knock LA

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