Prison Staff Charged in Dehydration Death of Michigan Man; New Film on Solitary in Texas…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 6/28/23

by | June 28, 2023

New from Solitary Watch:

Solitary Watch this week announced the recipients of grants awarded by the Ridgeway Reporting Project for Incarcerated Journalists. The grants program, which is funded by the Vital Projects Fund, will support 16 projects that expose prison policies and practices from the inside out, exploring their impact on incarcerated people, the criminal legal system, and the larger society that permits and pays for them. The journalists, who have experienced firsthand the realities of prison abuse, solitary confinement, inadequate medical and mental health care, environmental contamination, and the “slave wages” paid in prison, will report on these topics and others. Solitary Watch

• • •

Solitary Watch’s Jean Casella appeared this week on WAMU/NPR’s radio show “1A” to discuss “The Problem with Solitary Confinement,” with Tammie Gregg of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, and Jeremy Young of AlJazeera. WAMU | Young is Senior Producer for the documentary series “Fault Lines,” which just released the powerful short film The Box: 27 Years in Solitary Confinement, which “examines the toll of solitary confinement through the story of Dennis Hope,” who spent nearly three decades in isolation. Fault Lines 

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

Eight former and current prison employees are facing charges for the 2019 death of Jonathan Lancaster, who died of dehydration while in solitary confinement in Michigan’s Alger Correctional Facility. Lancaster was reportedly denied medical and mental health care, despite losing “more than 50 pounds in 15 days,” and was “found lying in his own feces and urine.” Michigan State Attorney General Dana Nessel said the death was “a preventable tragedy that played out over days and under the defendants’ supervision,” and charged the prison staff—including a warden and four registered nurses—with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct. Detroit Free Press | A report by psychiatrist Dr. Gerald A. Sheiner, based on prison records, revealed that Lancaster was experiencing full-blown psychosis while in solitary, yet his refusal to eat or drink was dismissed by the staff as a “hunger strike.” Lancaster was also chemically sprayed five times and pepper-balled for “not cooperating,” even though he was described as being “unresponsive” in his cell at the time. In his report, Sheiner details his belief that if Lancaster had received psychiatric care he would not have died. Psychiatrist’s Report |  Lancaster’s family are continuing in their fight for justice and focusing their efforts on systemic change, pushing to get a bill to the floor of the legislature to end solitary confinement in Michigan. Fox News Detroit | Michigan Citizens for Prison Reform, which also supports the legislation to end solitary confinement, held a rally today in the state capital of Lansing to demand that prison body cameras and solitary data collection be included in the state’s budget. MICPR | Also see: Silenced: Voices from Solitary in Michigan

• • •

In Louisiana’s prisons, jails, and youth detention centers from 2015 to 2021, at least 1,168 incarcerated people died, none of whom were sentenced to death. The majority of deaths were medical (81.08%) despite the typically younger population held in these facilities. The high rate of suicides was notable (6.68%), with two-thirds of all known suicides occurring in solitary confinement; 42% of suicides in jails occurring within four weeks of admission; and 46% of suicides being individuals still awaiting trial. The report is the work of the organization Incarceration Transparency, made up of faculty and students at Loyola University in New Orleans. “Prisons and jails…have a constitutional obligation to protect the safety of people in custody, including providing general and emergency physical and mental health care,” the group notes. “Deaths in custody, particularly in jails, should be rare events.  Thus, when deaths occur, it is critical that consistent and reliable data is available to understand the death and its implications for the operation of the facility.” Incarceration Transparency

• • •

The Colorado Department of Corrections is facing a lawsuit aiming to end prison labor. The suit argues that it’s a form of slavery and was outlawed with the passing of Amendment A in 2018— an amendment that removed the “slavery exception” from the Colorado Constitution. According to Valerie Collins, a lawyer representing the group Towards Justice, “The State has continued to require and compel incarcerated individuals to work under conditions amounting to involuntary servitude and under threats of punishments that include being cut off from contact with family and being socially isolated under conditions that approximate solitary confinement.” In October, 2022, a district court ruled that it is unconstitutional to threaten isolation or physical punishment as a response to incarcerated individuals refusing to work, but removing privileges is allowed. Attorneys suing the state plan on appealing the ruling. News 9 Denver

• • •

The City of Philadelphia is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Department of Human Services over the poor conditions in the city’s Juvenile Justice Center. Overcrowding and understaffing of the facility have led to at least 30 children sleeping on mattresses on the floor, less access to non-emergency medical care, and an increase in violence within the facility. Some children are reportedly left in windowless units all day without education, living in what one advocate described as “solitary confinement-like conditions.” According to Philly’s juvenile justice groups, the city and State have been going back and forth for years without making significant changes to improve the lives of the children and reduce overcrowding. Philadelphia Inquirer

• • •

CoreCivic, a private prison company under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reportedly uses torture and abuse in immigrant detention centers to maintain control and silence immigrants who speak out against conditions. Practices such as solitary confinement and medical neglect run rampant in detention centers run by CoreCivic. Despite these blatant abuses, CoreCivic has over $100 million in open contracts with the federal government. The practices used in the detention centers fit the definition of torture under the UN’s Convention Against Torture, and mimic practices used at Guantanamo Bay. Welinton, a former asylum seeker who has since been deported, described his experience in isolation and said “I’d prefer to be dead here in my own country than continue to be tortured there.” Despite ICE and CoreCivic retaliating against people they deem a threat, many immigrants who have experienced abuse in these detention centers continue to speak out. Prism

• • •

A military judge is tasked with deciding whether years of C.I.A detention and torture contaminate the results of an interrogation at Guantánamo Bay. Adbal-Rahim al-Nashiri confessed to his involvement in the U.S.S Cole bombing after being interrogated by federal agents, and defense lawyers are arguing that the confession should be inadmissible in court. According to Steven M. Kleinman, a former member of the Air Force and C.I.A, “prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and brutality like that experienced by the C.I.A. prisoners degrades memory and leads to false confessions.” New York Times

• • •

Get this weekly roundup in your mail every Wednesday, covering the past seven days of solitary confinement news and commentary. Subscribe today.

The work we do is made possible by your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation—large or small—today.


Solitary Watch encourages comments and welcomes a range of ideas, opinions, debates, and respectful disagreement. We do not allow name-calling, bullying, cursing, or personal attacks of any kind. Any embedded links should be to information relevant to the conversation. Comments that violate these guidelines will be removed, and repeat offenders will be blocked. Thank you for your cooperation.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Solitary Watch

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading