Washington Post Renounces “Double-Celled Solitary” and “Suicide Watch”…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 7/19/22

by | July 19, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

Solitary Watch’s Yen-Tung Lin and Luke Baltay reported on a symposium held in California on July 8-9, where solitary survivors and advocates gathered to “commemorate the tenth anniversary of the historic hunger strike that was organized by men held in the supermax Pelican Bay State Prison” in July 2013, as well as “assess the progress of the movement against solitary confinement, strategize for passage of a sweeping anti-solitary bill in California, and heal with longtime comrades.” Their article looks at the significance and impact of the strike, the progress made and obstacles encountered in the past decade, and future prospects for further limiting solitary confinement in California. Solitary Watch


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

In a powerful editorial responding to a new report on Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in federal custody, the Washington Post faulted the U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General for failing to “address the inhumane conditions of special housing units, where Epstein spent the bulk of his time.” While SHUs often place two people in a cell, the editorial states, “Solitary confinement is torture: Inmates subjected to this punishment are more likely to suffer from psychosis, depression and suicidal thoughts. Being forced to eat, sleep and defecate in front of another prisoner can intensify these effects, as well as increase the risk of inmate-on-inmate violence. For that, it is not a step up from solitary — for some, double-celled solitary is worse.” The editorial also renounces conditions on “suicide watch,” where people “wear rough, tear-resistant smocks and are isolated in harm-proof cells. These cells are even more barren than those in special housing units; they don’t have bedsheets, books, showers or, oftentimes, toilet paper. The lights remain on at all times. Unsurprisingly, these restrictive conditions have been found to make inmates more suicidal…Instead of receiving life-affirming therapy, prisoners struggling with suicidal ideation are treated like radioactive liabilities—locked away while unmitigated misery reflects off the blank walls back at them. Both solitary confinement and the current design of suicide watch deserve no place in a country with a constitutional amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment.” Washington Post | Solitary Watch writer Katie Rose Quandt recently reported on “When Suicide Watch Becomes a Death Sentence.” The Nation 

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Kevin Light-Roth spent the majority of 2009 in One North, the solitary confinement wing of Washington State Prison. While pacing the empty floor during his one hour of out-of-cell time a day, Light-Roth described the unit’s smell as “an overpowering mélange of feces, urine, pepper spray, and industrial-grade cleaning solution.” According to his commentary, the only thing that covers the smell is the sound of screaming and rattling bars by everyone on the unit at once. Although his time in One North was nearly fourteen years ago, Light-Roth says that the conditions of confinement have barely changed. The Appeal

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Of the 32 deaths reported by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in June, nine occurred in prisons without air conditioning. Last June, Kwanetta Harris fainted when the temperature of her solitary confinement cell reached 129°. This year Harris chose to wear only her state issued underwear and bra, referred to as a “Prison Bikini,” and face harassment from staff rather than risk heat stroke in a t-shirt and shorts. The “Prison Bikini” has become commonplace during the summer as women in solitary wait up to nine hours for three cups of cold drinking water supplied by the facility. Although the TDCJ does not pay incarcerated people for their labor, in May they charged incarcerated people 30 cents per bottle of water from the commissary, and limited each person to a maximum of 24 bottles every two weeks. As a result, some women in solitary confinement attempt suicide or self-harm simply so they can be transferred to the air-conditioned psychiatric facility, according to Harris. Prism  

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Immigrant advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s oversight body urging an investigation into the misuse of solitary confinement at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado. According to the complaint, ICE and GEO Group staff jeopardized the health and safety of detained immigrants by placing them in solitary confinement and providing inadequate medical and mental health care. One immigrant interviewed stated that he was placed into solitary confinement eleven times throughout his time at the facility for infractions ranging from speaking too loudly to eating too slowly. Another woman, a sex-trafficking survivor with diagnosed PTSD and depressive disorder, said her requests for mental health care were denied after she complained of feeling unsafe in the dorm. National Immigration ProjectDenver Post

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A recent report from the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) Civilian Task Force questioned the facility’s compliance with state restrictions on solitary confinement. In 2019, the New Jersey State legislature passed the Isolated Confinement and Restriction Act (ICRA) to limit the use of solitary in state prisons and jails. The report states that “the unavailability of certain records has hampered the task force’s review of compliance with time limits.” In addition, the lack of records left the Civilian Task Force concerned that officials at ECCF have been placing vulnerable populations in solitary confinement in violation of the ICRA. Newark Patch

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A televised panel discussion asked “why so many people in U.S. prisons and jails face protracted spells without meaningful human contact,” and looks at efforts to challenge the practice. The show featured Jeremy Young, producer of The Box, a new short film on solitary by Al Jazeera’s “Fault Lines,” along with solitary confinement scholar Keramet Reiter and advocate and survivor Kevin McCarthy. As McCarthy explained on the show: “[Solitary confinement] is an absolute nightmare and it progressively gets worse as the years go on.” Al Jazeera

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In a recent article, Dr. Terry Kupers explores the relationship between solitary confinement and prison suicide and self-harm. According to his research, although people in solitary units make up between 3 and 8 percent of the prison population, approximately half of prison suicides occur there. For incarcerated people in solitary, mentions of suicidal ideation or self-harm can result in being transferred to suicide watch units for observation and further isolation. Often this results in a vicious cycle that leads to further deterioration of the person’s mental health. However, Kupers states that adequate mental health care, decreased stigmatization, and reducing solitary confinement are effective in decreasing rates of suicide and self-harm in prison. Correctional Health Reporter 

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