More Calls for Federal Takeover of “Dangerous and Deadly” Rikers Island…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 6/14/23

by | June 14, 2023

New From Solitary Watch:

Solitary Watch Senior Contributing Writer and Editor Juan Moreno Haines was denied parole for the second time last Thursday after serving more than 27 years in the California state prison system. In addition to his work at Solitary Watch, Juan has written for the Los Angeles Times, Oakland Post, LA Progressive, CalMatters, The Guardian, The Appeal, Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal, and UCLA Law Review, among others. He received a Writing for Justice fellowship from PEN American Center and a Silver Heart Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for being “a voice for the voiceless.” Today is his 66th birthday.

Following his parole denial, Juan sent a statement to colleagues, friends, and supporters, from which the following is excerpted:

“Please know that I am NOT discouraged!…I do not see what happened yesterday as a setback, but part of the plan that will forge a more stable and successful future. This course, set by forces out of my control, is not my destiny. I am part of you, connected to you by unbreakable bonds of love that run so deep that no human can interfere with its truth.

“My heart will not stop for a single moment as we have so much more work to do together. Next week, I’ll be 66 years old, so the reality is that my days on this planet are at a point that I cannot waste time crying over spilled milk. I will get up this morning, fighting…I will show joy that God has once again blessed me with another day that I may service my neighbor. I will do the work of community betterment and I will do this, knowing that I am a part of you!

“In the end: All you can do is all that you can do, but all you can do is enough!”

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Solitary Watch published the fifth in a new series of fact sheets, entitled “Solitary Confinement & the Brain: The Neurological Effects.” As the fact sheet states, “A growing body of research shows that isolation has deep and lasting effects on the chemistry and functioning of the human brain and nervous system. This research provides convincing evidence that in addition to its devastating psychological impact, solitary confinement causes serious—and in some cases, permanent—neurological damage.”

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

Following a tour of the facility, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander are calling for Rikers Island to be placed under federal receivership. During the tour, both officials observed multiple instances where the facility was not in compliance with Board of Corrections rules, including inappropriate use of shackling and “people held in conditions akin to solitary confinement with no clear protocols on how they could get out.” According to a recent federal report, the jail complex has failed to properly investigate officers’ lethal use of force and provide emergency medical care. In addition, the Department of Correction recently decided to eliminate several transparency practices, most notably the reporting of deaths in custody. In a press conference, Williams stated, “I don’t know that (a federal receiver) is a panacea, but right now we have a problem on Rikers Island where it is dangerous, literally deadly and it is unsustainable and has been for a while.” City & State New York

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After decades of litigation and calls from advocates, the California Department of Juvenile Justice will be closing permanently on June 30th. At its peak, California’s youth prison system held over 10,000 young people, with a large proportion held in solitary confinement. According to letters received by attorney Sue Burrell, children and teens were denied education and medical attention, handcuffed for hours on end, and faced brutality by correctional officers. One letter from a child on suicide watch stated they were “forced to kneel in a puddle of urine fully nude in the middle of the hallway.” In response to one grievance claiming the facility withheld food and water from those housed in disciplinary segregation, the superintendent, “You will not receive an investigation into the matters you have addressed. When you follow the instructions that create the safe environment you will receive your food.” The Imprint

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On May 11, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) established a new policy requiring incarcerated people to complete a months-long approval process before publishing creative works. Under the policy, superintendents could prohibit the publication of any creative work outside of prisons if they deemed it portrayed the department in a way that would “jeopardize safety or security.” DOCCS indicated that the directive would apply to journalism in addition to books, art, music, poetry, and scripts. Incarcerated writers and watchdog groups pushed back against the policy, arguing that it violated the First Amendment. However, a day after New York Focus exposed the policy, DOCCS walked back its decision, stating “it was never our objective to limit free speech or creative endeavors.” The reversal coincides with the last week of Acting Commissioner Antony Annuci’s tenure at DOCCS. New York Focus 

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Incarcerated Muslims frequently face discrimination in their efforts to practice their religion behind bars. Facilities across the country often require Muslims to go through several layers of security, including full body pat-downs, before prayer meetings, or use lockdowns to prevent the services from happening at all. Lovelock Correctional Facility in Nevada, for example, stopped allowing incarcerated Muslims to congregate for Friday Jummah prayers in 2018, while regular prayer services for other faith groups continued. One a Muslim man held at Lovelock filed numerous grievances requesting a space to congregate on Friday afternoons. According to notes intercepted after an interfaith meeting with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lovelock chaplain Scott Davis wrote, “I couldn’t say in front of all them that it is because they teach racism, hate, black supremacy. There would’ve been a riot.” Following a lawsuit, Jummah prayers returned to Lovelock but with heightened security. Slate 

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According to a new grand jury report, Sacramento County is in violation of federal law and a 2019 consent decree intended to protect incarcerated people with mental illness. Three years after the consent decree went into effect, the Sacramento County jail still lacks private rooms for medical intake (a HIPAA violation), has dozens of unfilled medical staff positions, and numerous health and safety issues that put incarcerated people at risk of contracting diseases like MRSA. Additionally, in 2021 the Sacramento County Jail held at least 58 people with mental illness in solitary confinement. Despite federal law requiring the elimination of blindspots and 24/7 surveillance camera, the report found that some people at risk of suicide were held in cells without full visibility for six or more hours. Sacramento Bee

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Kevin McCarthy first experienced isolation at the age of sixteen while incarcerated in the California Youth Authority. After being re-incarcerated in his late twenties, McCarthy spent over a decade in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison. In a recent commentary, he recounts his struggle to “retain [his] sanity amidst the loneliness of the concrete and steel” and his participation in several hunger strikes intended to bring attention to the issue. Despite Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoing the bill in 2022, McCarthy is one of many formerly incarcerated people advocating for the state legislature to pass the California Mandela Act this session. Cal Matters

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