No Decrease in Solitary Use in Federal Prisons…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 9/20/23

by | September 20, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

A new article originally published in Truthout, by Solitary Watch contributor Victoria Law, examines the impact of recent judicial and legislative decisions in California on the future of solitary confinement in the United States. Throughout the article, Law provides context for the recent California Ninth Circuit decision to a federal magistrate’s ability to monitor and limit the use of prolonged solitary and analyzes future challenges to anti-solitary legislation in California. 


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

Director of the federal Bureau of Prisons Colette Peters testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on how she has sought to improve the federal prison system. Peters stated she had visited more than 20 facilities over the last year to address employee misconduct, including earlier findings that incarcerated women were sexually assaulted by staff in two thirds of federal prisons. While “nearly every Republican questioned Peters about transgender inmates,” Democrats raised concerns about such issues as the treatment of pregnant women in prison, including access to prenatal care and shackling during birth. Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) “said that he was concerned about the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, expressing his disappointment that since Peters came into her position, the numbers of those incarcerated in solitary confinement have not changed. ‘We both know that locking someone in a cell for more than 22 hours a day will not make them a good neighbor [when released],’ he said. ‘Since our oversight hearing last September, we have seen no decrease in the number of people in solitary confinement in federal prisons.'” States Newsroom  In June, House Democrats introduced a bill that would sharply limit the use of solitary in federal facilities. NBC News

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New York Supreme Court Judge Kevin Bryant rejected the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit claiming that the state is in violation of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act. Earlier this year the New York Civil Liberties Union and Prisoners Legal Services filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of incarcerated people being held in solitary confinement-like conditions in several state prisons. One plaintiff told lawyers he was placed in the Specialized Housing Unit for fourth months as punishment for urinating on the floor and throwing sugar packets at a guard. City and State NY

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Drew Doll spent 15 months in solitary confinement during his time incarcerated in North Carolina. Although he has been home since 2009, Doll still spends most of his time in his office with the door closed because that’s where he feels safest. “I didn’t do this when I was a kid. I didn’t do this when I was 30 or 40. I did this after spending a year and three months in solitary,” said Doll at a listening session held by Disability Rights NC. Other survivors of solitary at the event emphasized the lasting psychological effects of their time in isolation. NC Health News 

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According to recent New York City Department of Correction records, the practice of restraining incarcerated people to desks during educational programming has led to an increase in violence. In the last two weeks, eight people have been slashed while shackled to specialized desks with ankle cuffs on Rikers Island. The controversial practice is used in units designed as an alternative to solitary confinement. The administration of Mayor Eric Adams has sided with prison officials who argued that they did not have the proper staff or training to end the shackling—or to end solitary confinement.  The City

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A settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit filed against Jackson County Illinois and county employees allegedly involved in the death of Joshua McLemore. In 2021, McLemore was taken to the Jackson County Jail and placed in solitary confinement after pulling a nurse’s hair during a wellness check. After refusing to wear a prison smock, McLemore spent most of the next 20 days naked in a padded cell, where he walked around and rolled in his own feces, slept for a total of only 15 hours, and lost over 45 pounds. He was not seen by a mental health professional during his time at the jail. McLemore died after falling into a coma resulting from several conditions related to starvation and severe dehydration. Fox 59 Indianapolis

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In a recent op-ed, Ridgeway Reporting Project grant recipient Jeremy Busby describes his experience of the current state-wide lockdown of Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) facilities, which he calls “a version of solitary confinement.” Although TDCJ claims the lockdown is necessary to search for illegal drugs, Busby states it has the opposite effect: “This is a time when prisoners who normally don’t indulge in drugs take them as a coping mechanism.” The lockdown comes at the end of a summer that plagued incarcerated people with deadly heat waves and little or no relief from the institutions holding them, and “the lockdown completely eliminated prisoners’ access to respite cooling areas, cooling showers and cold water,” Busby writes. Houston Chronicle

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Teen Vogue recently released a syllabus of resources on solitary confinement in conjunction with Unlock the Box and Zealous. Included in the syllabus are essays, artworks, interactive websites, and videos that shed light on the practice and the experiences of those who survived or are living in solitary confinement. Teen Vogue

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