Women in Federal Prisons Face Widespread Sexual Abuse…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 6/21/23

by | June 21, 2023

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

In 2021, a woman named Melissa approached the FBI with a complaint against FCI Dublin, a federal prison for women in California. What followed was a year-long probe by the FBI and a bipartisan investigation by the U.S. Senate. According to their report, over the last decade Federal Bureau of Prison employees—including FCI Dublin’s warden—have sexually abused incarcerated women in at least two-thirds of federal women’s prisons. BOP staff have the power to “place someone in solitary confinement, whittle away opportunities for good behavior and early release, or prevent visitation,” if they do not comply. As writer Natalia Galicza points out, these revelations come nearly five years after the advent of the #MeToo movement, demonstrating how the experiences of thousands of women can be excluded simply because they are incarcerated.  The Deseret News

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Until last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) supplied women in solitary confinement only with a white gown and undergarments, while men in solitary confinement received a two-piece uniform. Women are required to purchase all additional clothing items, including winter jackets and shower towels, from the commissary. Clothing restrictions were further tightened after an escape. According to one woman, “They confiscated all our $25 boots we purchased—jackets, jumpsuits, blankets.” Now, after a number of researchers have called out the practice, TDCJ employees have begun handing out two-piece uniforms to women in solitary. TPR | Texas Standard

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On June 14th, Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo signed into law SB307, capping the use of solitary confinement in state facilities at 15 consecutive days “unless correctional officers deem it necessary to keep the person in confinement for the safety of themselves or others.”  The law also prohibits correctional officers from placing a person in solitary confinement within the 90 days prior to their release or if they’ve been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. The passage of SB307 is part of a long-term effort led by state Senator Pat Spearman to reform the use of solitary confinement in Nevada prisons and jails. The Nevada Independent

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Despite widespread support from legislators, a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement died in committee when the Rhode Island General Assembly adjourned on June 15th. While correctional officials claim they do not use solitary confinement, people incarcerated in Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Facilities (ACI) are often kept in parking space-sized cells for up to 22 hours a day. According to advocates, the House and Senate Judiciary Committee stated the bill was not voted on due to a possible settlement with the ACLU and the Center for Justice that could overhaul the use of solitary confinement in the state. Open Doors RI Co-Executive Director Nick Horton stated, “we find it extremely frustrating that the pending litigation process is being used as an excuse by the legislature to not move forward when this issue has been clearly ignored.” The Public’s Radio | Rhode Island Monthly 

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In an interview with Truthout, disability/mad studies scholar Dr. Liat Ben-Moshe discusses the carceral nature of medical institutions. According to Ben-Moshe, carceral settings are defined by a sense of debilitating restriction or lack of self-agency. While psychiatric and long-term care facilities are not prisons, they are all ”closed institutional settings in which people can’t leave or can’t make decisions about their lives.” For disabled and mentally ill people, institutionalization in carceral facilities often means being subjected to traumatizing and dehumanizing practices like strip searches and solitary confinement. Dr. Ben-Moshe argues that examining psychiatric and medical institutions as carceral institutions ensures abolitionist frameworks include disabled and mentally ill people. Truthout

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With little to no mental health infrastructure, prisons and jails often use solitary confinement in response to incarcerated people with mental illness behaving in what are perceived as dangerous ways. A recent journal article describes the many ways solitary confinement exacerbates existing mental health issues. While isolation for safety purposes is not meant to be long-term housing, many people on suicide watch are left in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. The authors argue that if isolation is used on people in psychiatric distress it should be for no longer than 24 hours before they are connected to higher levels of care. JAMA Network 

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A recent session hosted by the U.N.’s Subcommittee on Torture featured a new “Guiding Statement on Alternatives to Solitary Confinement” produced by Physicians for Human Rights Israel and the Italian human rights group Antigone. Dr. Terry Kupers, one of several U.S. signatories to the statement, noted: “While the statement is entirely consistent with the U.N.’s Mandela Rules, it provides a different pathway to achieve the aims of the Mandela Rules.” The Guiding Statement addresses the driving conditions that lead to the use of solitary confinement. In addition to recommendations on ending the solitary confinement pipeline, the statement also offers government officials, prison administrators, and health professionals interim steps to reduce the use of solitary. Background Brief | International Guiding Statement

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