When Suicide Watch Becomes a Death Sentence…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/17/23

by | May 17, 2023

New From Solitary Watch:

Katie Rose Quandt, Senior Contributing Writer for Solitary Watch, explores how the isolation of suicide watch in prisons and jails can exacerbate trauma and suffering with sometimes fatal consequences. Quandt interviews a range of mental health experts and incarcerated individuals, including Anthony Gay, who was placed on suicide watch in an Illinois jail last year after engaging in multiple episodes of self-harm. “​​After years and years and years of being tortured [in solitary confinement]… it’s to the point where now I have a low tolerance for psychological pain but a high tolerance for physical pain… I never had these types of problems before I went to prison and solitary,” Gay said.  The Nation | Solitary Watch supported the reporting and writing of this story. 

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

The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a friend-of-the-court brief challenging the isolation of Jerry Cintron, who spent 450 days in disciplinary segregation. In a case before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the ACLU argued that Cintron’s lengthy placement in solitary violated his constitutional rights, and that prison staff were aware of his mental deterioration even as they decided to keep him in solitary. The push to hold the Rhode Island Department of Corrections accountable for its use of solitary comes after three men died by suicide in DOC facilities, two of whom were in disciplinary confinement at the time of their death.  The Providence Journal

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An incarcerated individual in Alabama has been placed in solitary confinement after posting videos of medical neglect and talking to reporters, according to outside advocates. Bernard Jemison, the incarcerated individual, has also reportedly been denied personal hygiene items and clothes while in solitary. William Davis, who was featured in Jemison’s most recent video on medical neglect, was also put in solitary by prison officials.  Montgomery Advertiser

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Northwestern Law professor Jamelia Morgan and solitary survivor Michael Saavedra joined Disability Rights California’s Vanessa Ramos for a panel titled “Ending Solitary Confinement and Centering Disability” on Thursday. The event drew upon Morgan’s research on disability and solitary confinement and Saavedra’s litigation conducted from solitary and participation in the Pelican Bay hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. Topics discussed include accommodations in solitary, the intersections of law and organizing, and the relationship between anti-solitary legislation and prison abolition. A video of the panel can now be viewed on Youtube.

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Commissioners in Dallas County, Texas have ordered the juvenile justice department to hand over departmental records following reports that youths have been locked in their cells for up to 22 hours a day. The requested records include “observation sheets,” which document where each child is throughout the day. Jeremy Aleman, whose daughter was held in isolation for months at Henry Wade Detention Center, detailed the devastating effects of solitary in a public meeting with county commissioners. “There is psychosis. There is anxiety. There is depression. There is a worsening of conditions that these children may have suffered before,” said Aleman.  Dallas News 

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William C. Collins, editor emeritus of the Correctional Law Reporter, gathers his reflections on the “Cruel But Not Unusual: Can America’s Prisons and Jails Change, and If So, How?” symposium hosted by the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab (PJIL) at the University of Texas at Austin. Exploring the question of whether prisons can be made humane, Collins’ article includes discussion of litigation case studies, oversight mechanisms, and reform efforts. Correctional Law Reporter | Recordings of the symposium sessions are available on the website of the PJIL

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A commentary from David Stuart highlights the potential of the Solitary Confinement Reform Act, which was introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and would restrict the use of isolation in federal prisons to the “briefest term” and “least restrictive conditions practicable” if passed. Given that the bill contains no absolute limits on how long people can be placed in solitary, Stuart proposes that the bill should mandate independent judicial hearings for placements in solitary lasting longer than one week. “Incarcerated individuals have the ability to seek relief under our civil rights laws after an unduly long period of solitary confinement, but by then, the damage is done,” Stuart writes. “The time to address the potential harm is before it occurs.”  Bangor Daily News

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Mark Pinsley, the Controller of Lehigh County, also argues for the ending of prolonged solitary confinement in an op-ed. In addition to describing the deleterious psychological effects of solitary, Pinsley emphasizes its substantial financial costs. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it costs $216 per day to hold an individual in solitary compared to $86 per day in the general population; litigation against the use of solitary can also cost jurisdictions taxpayer dollars. The takeaway: “Solitary confinement is as expensive as it is barbaric.”  Bucks County Beacon     

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Incarcerated writer Robert Lee Williams reflects on the overdose of his friend Lu at New York’s Elmira Correctional Facility. Because getting caught with marijuana could result in being punished with solitary, Lu started smoking K2, a synthetic drug which has often been spiked with harmful chemicals and ultimately led to his death. “I wonder if the state had tried to treat addiction rather than punish people for it, we wouldn’t have so many of them smoking paper and green stuff laced with deadly chemicals,” Williams writes. “I wonder if Lu would still be alive.”  Prison Journalism Project

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