A Moment of Reckoning for Solitary Confinement in California…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 9/6/23

by | September 8, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

This week, Solitary Watch Senior Writers Juan Moreno Haines and Katie Rose Quandt were named winner of the 2023 Media for a Just Society Award in the category of “Media by a Person Who is Incarcerated” for their article titled “San Quentin Is Still Punishing People for Being Sick.” The article was published in the American Prospect as part of the Type Investigations Inside/Out Journalism Project, and reveals how the California prison’s notorious Death Row “Adjustment Center” was being used for medical quarantine to house people in solitary confinement for contracting Covid-19. 


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

Over the last decade, California has become a center of the national fight to end solitary confinement. Many believe the decisions of California’s legislature and judiciary can set the tone for other states’ approaches to cultural and political issues. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of the California Mandela Act last year indicates a hesitancy around solitary confinement not seen in the state’s otherwise progressive approach to criminal justice issues. The California Assembly has again passed the bill and the Senate will likely vote on it next week; then it will again go to Newsom’s desk for signature or veto. The Marshall Project | Although lawsuits and local legislative efforts have attempted to limit the state’s use of solitary confinement, there has yet to be a permanent solution. Thousands of incarcerated people, including those who are pregnant, disabled, or mentally ill, live in isolation 22 or more hours a day for weeks or months at a time. Los Angeles Times | California has particularly failed incarcerated women, who are often placed in solitary confinement as retaliation for reporting sexual abuse inflicted by prison officials and other incarcerated people. San Diego Union Tribune | As more states pass legislation limiting solitary confinement, California’s inaction, along with the recent decision by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the practice, show the state “remains woefully behind on one of the most pressing issues of our time.” Orange County Register | Advocates gathered in Sacramento on September 7 in support of the Mandela Act, and 38 leading religious organizations in California signed a letter to Newsom. National Religious Campaign Against Torture 

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The ACLU of Alaska has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two individuals who died by suicide while in solitary confinement in Alaska state prisons. In addition to financial settlements, the ACLU is calling for an independent investigation into the record number of deaths that have occurred at Alaska prisons. This lawsuit comes after an Anchorage Daily News investigation earlier this years showed that not only were suicides the leading cause of death in Alaksa facilities, but that officials were knowingly placing at-risk individuals alone in cells unsupervised. Anchorage Daily News

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Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (ERBPP) has seen 59 deaths since 2012, almost twice the national average, many of which occurred while individuals were on suicide watch and in solitary confinement. For years the sheriff who oversees the jail, Sid Gautreaux, has called for the construction of a new facility as the solution to the problems at EBRPP. However advocates and members of the EBRPP Reform Coalition are instead insisting that an independent monitor be installed to oversee operations at the facility. Bolts Magazine

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In Northern California, a $12.75 million settlement has been awarded to the sister of a painter who died by suicide while in solitary confinement in Shasta County custody. The lead lawyer in the lawsuit stated that this is the largest settlement against the jail’s private healthcare company Wellpath. According to the settlement, Wellpath illegally assigned staff who were not registered nurses to the jail which directly contributed to Rendall Johnson’s death in 2018. KTVU 

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For months, individuals incarcerated at Wisconsin correctional facilities have been on lockdown for 22 or 23 hours a day, which effectively places them in prolonged solitary confinement. According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections these lockdowns, referred to as “modified movements,” are not the result of staffing shortages but rather were implemented as safety measures. The advocacy group WISDOM’s Conditions of Confinement Task Force were told that “showers are granted once per week [and] that phone calls are offered every day.” The task force is calling for a two-week limit to lockdowns, the opportunity for at least three showers per week, and the restoration of face-to-face visitation at all facilities. The Cap Times 

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Dozens of child survivors have won a total of $100 million in settlements against the now-defunct Miracle Meadows Christian boarding school in West Virginia. The school, which was operated as a ministry by Seventh Day Adventists, offered treatment to at-risk children. Plaintiffs in the settlements claim that they experienced rampant sexual abuse, starvation, and solitary confinement while living at Miracle Meadows. The most recent lawsuit included allegations that children ages 7 to 12 had become pregnant and infected with sexually transmitted infections after being repeatedly raped, and were forced into abortions by staff. West Virginia revoked the school’s education license in 2014 following an investigation which began after a student was taken to the hospital after drinking cleaning solution.  Inside Edition 

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Oregon has begun implementing Norwegian approaches to correctional reform that emphasize the humanity of incarcerated people. The units that implemented the reforms, facilitated by the group Amend at UCSF, have seen a 74 percent reduction in assaults and an 86 percent decrease in use-of-force incidents between 2016 and 2021. Recently, Oregon State Penitentiary created a healing garden on its grounds, providing many incarcerated people with the first opportunity to interact with nature in years. One incarcerated person stated, “there is both beauty and inspiration in knowing that we, who have fallen through the proverbial cracks in the system, can, if properly motivated and cultivated, grow through those very cracks.” PHYS ORG 

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