Proposed “Emergency” Regulations Double Down on Solitary Use in California…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 10/11/23

by | October 11, 2023

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

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has issued new guidelines aimed at reducing the use of solitary confinement. Under the proposed policy, the number of offenses punishable by solitary would be reduced from 34 to 19 and individuals in solitary would be granted at least 20 hours of out-of-cell time per week, including increased access to programming. However, unlike the California Mandela Act, which Gov. Newsom vetoed last year, these new guidelines do not place a specific limit on the amount of time a person can spend in solitary and offer far less out-of-cell time to those in solitary. SF Chronicle | Newsom’s administration withheld the regulations until the last days of the legislative session and invoked an emergency process limiting the window for public comment to just over a week. In response, the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice issued a statement urging “the Governor and CDCR should open this process up to a true public comment period, in order to obtain meaningful stakeholder input, and should modify their regulations to actually restrict the use of solitary confinement.” CCIJustice | The deadline for public comments on the proposed regulations is October 14. People wishing to comment can quickly do so using this online tool: Unlock the Box

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For more than 307 days, Nathan Gray spent the majority of his time confined to his cell in one of New Jersey State Prison’s Restorative Housing Units (RHUs). According to Gray “it was just like being placed in ad-seg.” After the 2019 Isolated Confinement Restriction Act restricted the use of solitary to 20 consecutive days or 30 days in a 60-day period, RHUs were created as a less restrictive way to house individuals guilty of violating prison rules. However, a recent investigation by Type Investigations and HuffPost found that these RHUs may qualify as isolated confinement under the department’s own definition and be in violation of the law.  HuffPost  | Similarly, a new report from New Jersey’s Corrections Ombudsperson found widespread and flagrant violations of the law, with the state holding individuals in solitary for up to year or more, in some cases for relatively minor rule violations. New Jersey Monitor | Meanwhile, a new investigative reporting outlet in New Jersey finds that local jails are also violating the law, especially its ban on solitary for vulnerable populations, and that “isolated confinement of young people remains commonplace.” New Jersey Vindicator

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Efforts by advocates, City Councilmembers, and survivors of solitary to pass Intro. No. 549, a bill to limit solitary confinement in New York City jails, takes on a new urgency following the death of Manish Kunwar at Rikers Island. Kunwar, a 27 year old with mental health issues, was the ninth person to die in custody at Rikers this year. Intro. No. 549 has veto-proof supermajority support by the City Council and, if passed, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement and implement alternative safety measures. Brooklyn Daily Eagle 

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Police and prison officers in Maine have received a perfect use-of-force rating since 1990. Despite the rating given by the state’s attorney general, Maine surpasses every other state in New England in the number of police-perpetrated killings. Over the last several years, sheriffs and prison officials have pushed for the construction of new jails across Maine while advocating against allocating resources for mental health and substance abuse treatment. At the same time, incarcerated children and adults in Maine have reported sexual assault, excessive use of force and restraints, prolonged solitary confinement, and medical negligence. Truthout

Participants in the “Bridges To Life” restorative justice class offered at the Washington Corrections Center must submit to strip searches prior to their housing units. Historically, strip searches have been used as a means of asserting the state’s control over incarcerated people by depriving them of their bodily autonomy. While officials claim that the searches are necessary to prevent drugs and contraband from entering the facility, the arbitrary frequency of their implementation suggests otherwise. In Washington state, “people held in solitary confinement can be strip searched just to go outside in the recreation yard or to use the phone to call loved ones.” Refusing a strip search can also be grounds for being placed in solitary. In the case of Bridges to Life, the strip search requirement is actively deterring incarcerated people from participating in the program. Truthout

In 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that solitary confinement doesn’t violate the Eighth Amendment unless there is proof of “substantial risk of serious harm” and “deliberate indifference” on the part of prison officials. However, a recent op-ed argues that both criteria have been met in the recent lawsuit filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for conditions associated with prolonged confinement at SCI-Fayette. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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