Federal Court Orders Arizona to End Its “Unconstitutional” Use of Solitary… and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/12/23

by | April 12, 2023

This week’s pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement:

On April 7, a federal District Court judge in Phoenix issued a sweeping Order and Permanent Injunction in response to “constitutional violations in the provision of health care and in housing certain prisoners in isolation” in Arizona’s state prisons. The class-action lawsuit, in which incarcerated people are represented by the ACLU National Prison Project, ACLU of Arizona, Prison Law Office, and Arizona Center for Disability Law, has gone on for a decade, and went to trial last fall after the court found the Arizona Department of Corrections was in contempt of an earlier settlement agreement. Arizona Republic  While most coverage of the case has focused on what Judge Roslyn Silver called “grossly inadequate” medical and mental health care and subhuman conditions, it also addresses the state’s use of solitary confinement. The injunction places a two-month limit on incarcerated people being held in their cells for 22 hours or more, and bans the practice altogether for individuals under 18 and those designated as “seriously mentally ill.” Jensen v. Thornell  In a draft of the injunction, Judge Silver found that Arizona keeps “thousands of prisoners in restrictive housing units where they are not provided adequate nutrition, nor are they provided meaningful out-of-cell time for exercise or social interaction. Defendants’ treatment of prisoners in restrictive housing units results in the deprivation of basic human needs.” ACLU Case File

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The New York Civil Liberties Union and Prisoner Legal Services of New York have filed a class-action lawsuit against the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, accusing the department of widespread and flagrant violations of the HALT Solitary Confinement law, which places restrictions on the use of solitary in the state’s prisons and jails. NY Focus  The Class Petition and Complaint states that “this lawsuit challenges entrenched practices by which prison officials persist in flouting HALT, subjecting thousands of New Yorkers annually to unlawfully prolonged periods of segregation and other disciplinary confinement in open defiance of the Legislature’s express will.” Fields v. Annucci  An op-ed condemning violations of the HALT law was written by the parents of a young man who took his own life in solitary in New York. Albany Times-Union

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The Bronx Defenders, Center for Constitutional Rights, and New York Civil Liberties Union have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of immigrants detained at the Orange County Jail in New York. The lawsuit describes organized efforts, including a hunger strike, to protest dangerous conditions—including medical neglect, physical assault, and racist harassment. In retaliation, ICE and county officials placed the plaintiffs and dozens of other immigrants in prolonged disciplinary segregation and prevented them from communicating with the outside world. Center for Constitutional Rights    

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Yale Law School’s Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law launched a new interactive platform to connect the public with resources and data on solitary confinement. Seeing Solitary, compiles data collected from surveys by state and federal prison systems, firsthand accounts, policies, legislation, and independent research to educate individuals and support organizations working to reduce the number of people held in solitary confinement Yale Law School 

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Richard Ferruccio, President of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, has been accused of intimidating a witness in a hearing on solitary confinement reform. The witness, called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on HB616, told the committee that Ferruccio stopped him in the hallway, stating, “I saw your testimony last year in the Senate and I found your phone number, and I found your address, and I looked at your house. What a nice house you have.” Last year, Ferruccio was found guilty of publicly releasing the confidential records of incarcerated people in violation of Rhode Island Department of Corrections policy. UPRISE RI 

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In May 2017, Jean Jimenez-Joseph died by suicide while in solitary confinement at Georgia’s Stewart Correctional Center. Despite having repeatedly alerted the prison and the ICE helpline of his suicidal ideation, officials kept him in solitary confinement. A talented drummer and carpenter, Jimenez-Joseph was memorialized by the New York based prog rock band Proper. In the song, titled “Jean”, the band’s frontman Erik Garlington sings “They let a brilliant mind like yours/Waste away behind a locked door.” The accompanying music video shows moments of joy from Jimenez-Joseph’s life and enshrines his essence through the memories of those who loved him. Rolling Stone 

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In 2021, a man held in custody by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) died due to malnutrition caused by a lack of medical intervention. Despite having a diagnosis of dementia, the IDOC allowed him to sign a living will in 2016 and augment the will in 2019 to include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. In a legal settlement following his death, a federal judge appointed an independent monitor to review the medical records of 25 other elderly people who had died in IDOC custody. Nine months after the monitor documented an array of problems, including three cases involving suspicious DNRs, the IDOC has yet to comply with court ordered revisions to their medical policies. WBEZ Chicago

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A month after the hunger strike in TDCJ’s Coffield Unit ended, several men have said they are willing to strike again. On March 1st, 130 men resumed eating after a seven week hunger strike to protest the use of indefinite solitary confinement in TDCJ facilities. When asked what had changed since the strike, Ray Lopez—who has spent 27 years total in solitary confinement—stated, “Well, still nothing. Still nothing, They just don’t have no officers. You know, there can be no impact with ain’t got no officers—we still get messed over.” Texas Standard

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In an op-ed, co-founder of California Families Against Solitary Confinement and solitary survivor Dolores Canales calls for Gov. Gavin Newsom to take action on the use of solitary confinement at San Quentin. As Gov. Newsom begins implementing changes aimed at promoting rehabilitation , Canales argues solitary confinement should be ended. Despite his promises of reform, Newsom vetoed the 2022 California Mandela Act that would have brought the state into compliance with the United Nations’ 15-day limit on the use of solitary confinement. Orange County Register

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