New York City Ordered to Pay up to $53 Million to Survivors of Solitary… And Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/26/23

by | April 26, 2023

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

The Federal District Court in Manhattan has ordered New York City to pay up to $53 million to people illegally held in solitary confinement. New York’s Board of Correction requires people held in pretrial detention to undergo a fair hearing before being transferred from general population to restrictive housing. According to the lawsuit, between March 2018 and June 2022. Jail officials at Rikers Island illegally denied 4,400 people their right to due process. One plaintiff in the suit described how he was placed in solitary confinement for 485 days before his trial. New York Times | In a press release, Co-Director of the #HALTsolitary campaign Victor Pate applauded the plaintiffs for their courage and called for New York’s City Council “to pass Intro No 549, legislation with veto-proof supermajority support, to finally end solitary confinement in all its forms by all its names.” The legislation, which mandates proven safe alternatives to solitary confinement, was originally introduced in September 2022, but the Council has yet to schedule or hold another public meeting on the bill. #HALTSolitary Campaign Statement

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In mid-April, the Los Angeles Times was granted limited access to tour the segregation unit at California State Prison, Sacramento. Labeled by correction officials as “short-term restrictive housing,” the unit holds people for up to 23 hours per day in 70-square-foot dimly lit cells containing only a bunk and toilet. According to the LA Times, approximately 88 out of the roughly 1,450 people at CSP Sacramento were being housed in segregation. Legal Director for Prison Law Office Margret Mendelson stated that “the only real form of communication in many of these places is screaming through the door jam or through the food port, just in an effort to have some human communication.” Despite the bill being vetoed last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) has reintroduced the California Mandela Act (AB 280) in another attempt to bring the state into compliance with the United Nations 15-day limit on solitary confinement. Los Angeles Times

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A federal judge has advanced a lawsuit brought against Management & Training Corp.. finding the company’s management of the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California, failed to meet Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) performance-based national detention standards. Carlos Murillo Vega, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, claims an employee convinced him the facility had a problem with gangs and that he would be safer in protective custody. Despite entering voluntarily and submitting numerous requests to be transferred out of protective custody, Murillo remained in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for 10-14 months. Courthouse News Service

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Despite having his sentence vacated, Bruce Webster remains in solitary confinement on Death Row at USP Terre Haute. In 2019, a federal judge in Indiana ruled that Bruce Webster’s IQ was in the range for a severe intellectual disability and he could not be executed. Although Bureau of Prisons Director Collete Peters has stated that she is committed to reforms, no movement has been made to transfer Webster for resentencing. Associated Press 

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In 2018, Gourgen Mirimanian died under suspicious circumstances while detained by ICE at the privately-managed Prairieland Detention Center (PDC) in Alvarado, Texas. Despite Mirimanian’s complaints of “burning, squeezing chest pain,” PDC officials claimed that medical staff found “no abnormal physical findings or acute distress” and a “minimally abnormal” electrocardiogram. However, a lawsuit filed by Mirimanian’s family revealed that most video surveillance of the event was not retained by LaSalle Corrections. A review of the limited footage found that although ICE’s public death report states that staff responded at 7:45 a.m., no medical personnel arrived until more than 30 minutes later. Additionally, the lawsuit found that several PDC officials falsified logs stating that they had performed visual checks on Mirimanian in the hours leading up to his death. PRISM 

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Chelsea Gilliam, a transgender woman, has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Public Safety alleging violations of her constitutional rights. Her lawsuit claims that she was originally housed with men, where she experienced sexual assault before being placed in solitary confinement and denied access to hormone therapy. Gilliam stated that she “was treated like an alien from the moment I entered Baltimore City corrections by inmates and staff.” Her lawyer, Eve Hill, argues that Gilliam’s treatment is representative of a larger pattern of abuse towards transgender people. CBS Baltimore

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This week, Jewish Currents publishedIn The Hole”—a memoir of five men’s experiences in solitary confinement. In their essays, Christopher Blackwell, Aaron Edward Olson, Antoine Davis, Raymond Williams, and Jonathan Kirkpatrick describe the minute-by-minute reality of life in solitary. Each perspective brings a different element, together constructing a multi-dimensional understanding of the conditions and their traumatic effects. Jewish Currents

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