Man With Schizophrenia Starves to Death in Solitary…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week 

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/19/23

by | April 19, 2023

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

Joshua McLemore, a 29-year-old man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, died of starvation after being held naked and alone in a padded isolation cell at Indiana’s Jackson County Jail. A complaint filed in federal court alleges that the jail violated McLemore’s Fourteenth Amendment rights and failed to follow its own solitary confinement policies. Though jail policy requires people in solitary to receive at least one hour out-of-cell each day, McLemore was allowed to leave his cell only three times during his 20 days in solitary.  USA Today

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A federal judge has granted class action status to a legal action filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, allowing up to 500 individuals held in solitary at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison to join the lawsuit. The lawsuit takes aim at the facility’s “segregation reduction step-down program,” which has been described as being identical to solitary. “There’s evidence that VADOC has been aware of the suffering and harm its solitary confinement practices are inflicting, yet it has continued the program anyway,” said ACLU attorney Vishal Agraharkar. “That’s unconscionable.”

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The New York City Board of Correction has released a report detailing failures on the part of the city’s jail system in seven deaths of incarcerated people during the second half of 2022. The report alleges that officers’ failures to follow established policies were “partly responsible” for the deaths, which include three suicides.  New York Post | Michael Nieves, who committed suicide in August 2022 by cutting his throat with a razor, reportedly “lived in fear” of being sent to solitary and rarely expressed suicidal thoughts in order to avoid placement in an isolation unit. NYC Board of Correction

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The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Dennis Hope, a Texas man who has been held in solitary confinement for 27 years. Hope filed his petition to the Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit dismissed his challenges to the constitutionality of his length of stay in solitary. “The idea of putting prisoners in solitary confinement for decades on end would have been anathema to the founders, and we believe that the Supreme Court must someday take up a case to make that clear,” said Easha Anand, an attorney representing Hope. The Court did not provide a reason for turning down the case.  Courthouse News Service

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Sheriff candidates in Arlington County, Virginia participated in a forum hosted by Offender Aid and Restoration where they discussed solitary confinement and jail oversight. All three candidates agreed upon the need to end solitary. “We absolutely cannot put people in holes and forget about them,” said James Herring, a retired police officer who emphasized the importance of providing alternatives to solitary. “We need to connect them to mental and medical health care and keep them connected with family.”  ARLnow

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A bill moving through the Nevada state legislature would place new regulations on the use of solitary confinement. The bill would require state prisons and jails to limit the use of disciplinary solitary, create individualized plans for each person in solitary, and use solitary only “as a last resort” and “for the shortest period of time safely possible.” The bill is currently being discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and would go into effect July 1st if passed.  Fox 5 Vegas 

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In April 2021, a New Mexico prison guard put his foot down on the back of Carl Berry and taunted him, saying “Let me guess, you can’t breathe?” according to a civil complaint filed this week. The lawsuit alleges that the comment, which took place during Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, was a “direct and deliberate” reference to the murder of George Floyd and followed physical and sexual abuse of Berry, who is Black. The guard who reportedly made the statement is still employed by the New Mexico Corrections Department.  SourceNM

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Lashawn Thompson died after being eaten alive by bedbugs in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, according to a lawyer representing his family. Thompson was held alone in a squalid cell in the facility’s psychiatric unit, where he was placed after it was determined that he had mental health conditions. “If you look at those pictures, how deplorable that jail cell was, how did they get to that point in the first place?” said the family’s lawyer, Michael Harper. “It’s not fit for an animal.”  The Guardian

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Incarcerated journalist Joe Garcia writes about how brief phone calls helped him endure the isolation of solitary at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Garcia, who was placed in solitary as a result of taking his role as president of San Quentin’s Inmate Advisory Council “too seriously,” was able to find strength and resilience through his partner’s support. “Her number was the first one I called, and she answered after one ring,” Garcia writes. “It was like hitting the lottery.”  Prison Journalism Project

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