House Democrats Introduce Legislation Banning Solitary in Federal Facilities… and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 8/2/23

by | August 2, 2023

This week’s roundup of news on solitary confinement:

Last week, a coalition of House Democrats introduced new legislation that would broadly ban the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities. If made law, the End Solitary Confinement Act would limit the use of solitary confinement to a maximum of four hours while staff de-escalate emergency situations. The bill also guarantees incarcerated people at least 14 hours of out-of-cell time and access to seven hours of programming per day. In addition, it mandates that federal facilities report the number of incidents of self-harm and suicide as well as the frequency and demographic breakdown of those who are placed in solitary confinement. To ensure the law is implemented as intended, the End Solitary Confinement Act includes the creation of a civilian oversight body with the power to independently investigate allegations of abuse. Representative Cori Bush, who is sponsoring the legislation, stated, “someday, we will look back and ask why we ever subjected people to prolonged solitary confinement and expected anything other than trauma, violence and death as a response.” Although Senate Democrats introduced legislation last fall intended to reduce the use of federal solitary confinement, it does not go nearly as far as the End Solitary Confinement Act. NBC News 

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Due to dangerous levels of overcrowding and understaffing, children confined at the District of Columbia’s pre-trial detention facility are consistently being isolated in their cells for 23 hours a day for several days at a time. The level of understaffing at the DC Youth Services Center (YSC) has become increasingly worse as the number of children in the facility continues to increase. According to an independent monitor, the staffing shortage is so severe that the department has been breaking its own observational policy for children at risk of suicide. In testimony at a government hearing, advocates and families of those held at YSC expressed concern for the safety of their children—99 percent of whom are Black or Latinx. DCist 

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LGBTQ+ people at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Tennessee created Be the Change (BTC) to organize against the frequent isolation and harm committed against queer and transgender people while incarcerated. Although the state’s laws prohibit incarcerated people from forming organizations, a partnership with the Unitarian Universalists allowed BTC participants to form the first LGBTQ+ community in the state. Programming during their Tuesday night meetings includes LGBTQ Update & Opinion Talk, Lifer’s Program, Trans Sisters Group, and Overcoming the Habit Class. One participant stated, “This community of love, peace and acceptance is the sole reason I am alive … the acceptance and support demonstrated awakened something I thought long dead: my sense of self-worth.” Filter

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Throughout the Iraq War, officers stationed at Abu Ghraib consistently used patrol dogs to intimidate detainees until they urinated or defecated themselves out of fear. In a 2004 address to Congress, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated the practice was “inconsistent with our values as a nation” and “fundamentally un-American.” Despite this public condemnation, at least 23 prisons in eight states have deployed attack-trained dogs on incarcerated people in recent years. One Virginia correctional officer stated that watching the dogs attack incarcerated people, “hearing their screams and desperate pleas and seeing all that blood, was a “primal” experience and deeply traumatizing.” According to limited available data, dog attacks were used 291 times in 2020 during cell extractions, which frequently take place in solitary confinement cells. Insider

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As part of a trip organized by ARrow Center for Justice, Craig Waleed, project manager for the Unlock the Box Campaign at Disability Rights NC, traveled to Germany and Norway to learn how European countries prepare incarcerated people for the return home. However, what shocked Waleed the most about his time in Europe was the difference in the use of solitary confinement. During one facility visit, Waleed asked to view the solitary confinement unit and meet with people housed there. However, by the time they walked to that area of the prison, the only person who had been placed there that day had already been released back to general population. “Someone might go in for 45 minutes or an hour a day and during that time there’s someone, they say, that’s constantly checking on the person. That just made it seem a bit more humane and stood out to me,” Waleed said. North Carolina Health News 

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In a recent essay, solitary survivors Christopher Blackwell and Kevin Light-Roth describe the “grinding monotony of idleness, hunger, uncertainty, and madness is the horrifying everyday reality” of solitary confinement. Inside their cells, incarcerated people are bombarded by the sound of guards,  ancient ventilation systems, and the distressed cries of other incarcerated people echoing off the concrete walls. Throughout the night, they are kept awake by the ceaseless noise and fluorescent lights that never turn off. Blackwell and Light-Roth explain how the constant overstimulation causes “irreparable damage to hundreds of lives and ultimately [puts] our communities at risk.”  Progressive Magazine

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