New this week from Solitary Watch:
The latest fact sheet in our new series covers Solitary Confinement and Prison Oversight. The fact sheet, by Mirilla Zhu, states: “To ensure the effective implementation of solitary confinement reforms, and to monitor prison conditions more generally, a small but increasing number of states have established prison oversight bodies that operate independently of corrections agencies. While independent oversight bodies vary in structure and effectiveness, and come with challenges and limitations of their own, many advocates believe that oversight will play a key role in the success of efforts to end solitary confinement.” Explore the full fact sheet series here.
This week’s pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement:
An onslaught of lawsuits have been filed accusing New York State prison officials of sexual assaults on incarcerated women. The lawsuits come after the state opened a one-year window for survivors to sue regardless of when the assault took place. So far, the Manhattan-based law firm Levy Konigsberg LLP has filed over 500 lawsuits, but it’s estimated that the total number of cases will likely run into the thousands. According to Levy Konigsberg’s lead attorney, some of the cases reveal that women who were incarcerated years apart and had never met were identifying the same assailant. Some women reported that solitary confinement was used to coerce or silence them. Buffalo News | Survivors and advocacy groups are working to bring attention to the numerous sexual assaults that have taken place at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). Following a hearing held by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, the groups formed the Solidarity Committee for Incarcerated Survivors (SCIS) to investigate the “horrific environment of fear and coercion that breeds abuse and assault in prisons…while working to secure protections and resources for currently and formerly incarcerated survivors.” Advocates also cited the California corrections department’s “protocol for investigating sexual abuse, which mandates strip-searching the victim and isolating them in solitary confinement.” Davis Vanguard
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In Alabama, incarcerated people in solitary confinement are forced to live in filthy cells and are denied access to showers, laundry, bedding, and air conditioning, according to reporting in the Montgomery Advertiser. Despite these horrific conditions, the general population of Alabama’s men’s prisons has become so dangerous that some people are asking to be placed in solitary for their protection. A combination of mismanagement, overcrowding, and understaffing resulted in the deaths of 274 incarcerated people in 2022. Last year, two Alabama correctional officers were charged with criminally negligent homicide after failing to give aid to a mentally ill man who was suffocating inside his solitary cell while they were on duty. According to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Charlotte Morrison, being incarcerated in Alabama is “a nightmare most people can’t comprehend.” Equal Justice Initiative
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The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals broadened California’s ability to place people in prolonged solitary confinement by ending a settlement that allowed a federal judge to oversee and limit the practice. The 2015 settlement, which followed a series of hunger strikes, limited the use of solitary confinement to people who had committed violent or dangerous acts while incarcerated. Last year, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken rejected the state’s request to end the restrictions, citing correctional facilities’ use of unverified and confidential information to justify solitary confinement. But judges from the Appeals Court stated that correctional officials are entitled to make decisions about solitary confinement without revealing their reasons. San Francisco Chronicle
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On a recent episode of Behind the Lens, investigative reporter Nick Chrastil speaks to the horrific conditions and mistreatment faced by children incarcerated at Louisiana State Penitentiary Angola. In a recent court hearing, a former teacher at Angola testified that he was never given a roster of students and was denied information about what grades the children were supposed to be in or if they had special education plans. Additional testimony revealed that structural damage at the facility leaves only one classroom available for use, resulting in children spending at least half of class time alone in their cells. Behind The Lens
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Under a new involuntary commitment law, people experiencing mental health crises can be held for up to six days by hospitals and emergency departments in New Jersey. The new law comes after overcrowding in state psychiatric facilities has prevented doctors from finding long term placements within the previous 72-hour limit. Advocates and social service organizations have raised concerns about the potential for racial disparities and mistreatment under the new law, citing disproportionate numbers of people of color being held in conditions akin to solitary confinement. North Jersey
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