Senators Introduce Bipartisan Federal Prison Oversight Bill…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/3/23

by | May 3, 2023

New from Solitary Watch: 

In April’s installation of “The Word from Solitary Watch,” contributing writer Sarah Shourd writes about the extreme oppression of solitary confinement, and the incredible resilience of the human spirit in the face of it. Shourd highlights the organizing that has taken place inside prisons over the decades, from the Attica uprising in 1971 to the California prison hunger strikes in 2013. “Using torture to suppress dissent changes the nature of that dissent,” Shourd writes. “Sometimes, it makes it more visionary, and even harder to contain.”  Solitary Watch

Our pick of other news and commentary about solitary confinement: 

Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced the Federal Prison Oversight Act, which would establish independent oversight of federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities. If passed, the bill would require the Justice Department’s inspector general to conduct risk assessments of BOP facilities and create a BOP ombudsman with the authority to make unannounced visits to facilities. The bill has support from organizations across the political spectrum, including the ACLU, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the National Council of Prison Locals, a union representing corrections officers.  ABC News | Context: The Federal Anti-Solitary Task Force has identified oversight and enforcement mechanisms as one of four key requirements needed to end solitary confinement at the federal level.  FAST 

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An investigation sheds light on routine lockdowns in California women’s prisons. While lockdowns were rare before the start of COVID-19, they now take place up to four times per week, according to women interviewed for the investigation. “It’s a standing joke that we can’t go 48 hours without some kind of major crisis that locks us down,” said Cecilia Fraher, who is incarcerated at the California Institution for Women in Chino. Women reported experiencing deleterious mental and physical health effects from the lockdowns, including severe headaches, depression, and menstrual irregularities.  STAT News

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Two bills that could limit solitary confinement are being debated in the Texas legislature. The first would limit placements in solitary for disciplinary reasons to at most three days, while the second would end placements in solitary due to gang affiliation. Currently, incarcerated individuals who are validated as part of a gang are allowed to remain in solitary confinement indefinitely. The bills, which have yet to be discussed by the full House or Senate, have limited time to advance before the end of the legislative session on May 29.  Houston Chronicle 

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Yad Duu Quay Mark Cook Jr., a Lingít man detained pretrial on misdemeanor charges, died by suicide in solitary confinement at Alaska’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Cook, who suffered from debilitating back pain, had spent weeks in isolation prior to his death.  Alaska Public Media | Context: An investigation published earlier this year reported that suicides among pretrial detainees in Alaska have “unfolded at a startling pace.”  Anchorage Daily News 

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A new report details the lived experiences and policy recommendations of 73 women and trans people serving lengthy or life sentences in Pennsylvania’s women’s prisons. Titled “From Victim to Victor,” the report was authored by incarcerated people in collaboration with outside advocates and features poetry and artwork, analysis of themes from interviews and surveys, and profiles of women facing death-by-incarceration sentences.  Truthout | 62% of respondents surveyed for the report said they had been placed in solitary, often for minor infractions. “There was feces smeared over the walls and not cleaned properly… they never answered the buttons for help,” wrote one respondent.  From Victim to Victor 

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A 16-year-old who has been incarcerated since the age of 11 was found dead in a Texas prison. According to prison administrators, Joshua Keith Beasley Jr. died by suicide, though his mother has questioned that narrative. In the juvenile facility where he was incarcerated prior to being transferred to the adult system, Beasley was verbally abused and locked down in his cell for lengthy periods of time. “They didn’t try to fix the brokenness,” said Beasley’s mother after her son’s death. “They just broke him more.”  Texas Tribune

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Billy Sinclair, who was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2006, recounts his experiences in solitary in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to turn away Dennis Hope’s petition challenging Hope’s 27 years of isolation. During his incarceration, Sinclair was held in solitary for upwards of 22 months in some of Louisiana’s most violent and punishing isolation units. “Some recover, most do not,” Sinclair writes of the individuals who are placed in solitary. “Society in the end pays the price for the human damage done to them.”  The Crime Report

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