Most Accurate Report to Date Finds 122K People in Solitary… and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/24/23

by | May 24, 2023

New from Solitary Watch:

A groundbreaking joint report from Solitary Watch ​and the advocacy coalition Unlock the Box shows that at least 122,840 people are locked daily in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails for 22 or more hours a day. Previous reports have offered an incomplete picture of how extensively the discredited practice is used and the number of people it affects. Often, these counts omit individuals who are held in solitary confinement in jails or who are held for less than two weeks. 

Calculating Torture is based on analysis of data recently released by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) as well as by state prison systems that did not report to BJS, and data from a survey of local jails conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice. The report’s authors caution that it still undoubtedly undercounts the number of individuals who experience solitary confinement, since it does not include people held in isolation for less than 22 hours a day, or those held in solitary in immigrant or juvenile detention. Solitary Watch

Exclusive advance coverage of the report by NBC News noted: “Poor and incomplete data collection makes it difficult to know the full scope of people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. But a first-of-its-kind analysis is aiming to become a benchmark for tracking the practice — part of a larger effort as cities, states and the federal government weigh how to limit its use.” NBC News | Other coverage quoted Solitary Watch’s Jean Casella: “Solitary confinement is the worst thing that can legally be done to a person in this country, short of the death penalty. It’s been proven to be a form of torture…The idea that more than 100,000 Americans—more than 1 in 20 incarcerated people—are subjected to these conditions on a daily basis is shocking, and we hope it will move people to action.” HuffPost

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

In an investigation of 5,600 records of disciplinary cases against prison employees, the Marshall Project and the New York Times found the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) failed to fire officers in 90 percent documented cases of abuse. Despite evidence showing misconduct ranging from group beatings to withholding food, an examination of 290 cases showed DOCCS was successful in firing officers involved only 28 times. New York Times | The records obtained by the Marshall Project overlap directly with the administration of DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci, who announced that he will be leaving the department on June 9. Characterized as an institutional loyalist, Annucci often allied with correctional officers unions to resist legislative oversight, and was criticized for his lack of action on staff misconduct, record Covid-19 outbreaks, and commissary prices so high that many incarcerated people cannot afford food. NY Focus | In 2018, when challenged by a state legislator to spend a night in one of New York’s solitary confinement cells, Annucci notoriously replied: “It would probably be the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time.” YouTube

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Christopher Blackwell published an op-ed in the New York Times recounting the horrors experienced in county jail. A survivor of solitary and contributor to Solitary Watch’s Voices from Solitary, Blackwell recounts how overcrowding and understaffing in county jails can lead to an increase in violence and self-harm. Suicide is the leading cause of death in county jails, especially among individuals with mental illnesses. Blackwell argues, “just as a very short time in solitary confinement can cause lasting harm, weeks or months in county jail can have a huge negative impact on people’s lives, even after they are released.” New York Times

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Once a month, Volunteers for Immigrants in Detention-Albuquerque (VIDA) visits immigrants in detention at Cibola County Correctional Center and Torrance County Detention Facility. In an op-ed, a member of VIDA described how immigrants tell the volunteers of the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to live. They report how many people suffering with mental illness are placed in solitary confinement—often in freezing conditions and without clothing. Earlier this year, a bill that would have reworked the intergovernmental service agreements between ICE and the private companies it uses to manage immigrants in detention failed to pass the New Mexico state assembly. Albuquerque Journal

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On May 19, Governor Tim Waltz signed into law a bill prohibiting the use of solitary confinement in Minnesota youth detention facilities. Originally part of a controversial public safety bill, the youth justice reform measure had bipartisan support passing unanimously in the House and Senate Public Safety Committees. According to data from state and local facilities, Minnesota has placed youth in solitary confinement for 22 hours or more over 7,500 times in the last five years. Since 2018, the state’s three largest youth detention facilities have placed children in solitary for five or more days over 700 times. KARE 11

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An ex-deputy and two former jail officers were indicted for beating 41 year-old Jarrett Hobbs while in the custody of the Camden County, Georgia, Sheriff’s Department. Security footage following the beating shows the three former officers restraining Hobbs and denying him medical attention. Hobbs, who had been arrested for a probation violation, was placed in solitary confinement shortly after the incident. The three former officers were charged with misdemeanor battery and a felony for violating their oath of office. The civil rights attorneys representing Hobbs argued that the culture of violence in the Camden County Sheriff’s Department began long before the beating of Jacob Hobbs, but “it wasn’t until we released this video of the beating that anything happened at all.” Fox 5 Atlanta

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Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law HB218, increasing oversight of private alternative youth treatment facilities in the state. Parents often send their children to these residential facilities hoping they will receive therapy or treatment for mental health or behavioral issues. However, youth living at the facilities report sexual abuse, suicides, and the use of solitary confinement. Celebrity survivor and supporter of HB218 Paris Hilton stated in her testimony, “I could have died in those mountains, and I mourn those that did.” Daily Montanan

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During a hearing in front of U.S District Judge Lance Africk, monitors tasked with overseeing the New Orleans jail gave the first public comments since Sheriff Susan Hutson took office a year ago. Although the lead monitor stated that Huston was more cooperative than her predecessor, conditions at the facility were still dangerous. Among their comments, the monitors reported instances of staff falsifying suicide watch documentation, questionable uses of force by deputies, a waitlist for mental health care, and out-of-order kiosks where detainees can report grievances.  WWNO

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