“Alternatives” to Solitary in New Jersey Prisons Fail to Reflect Reform Law…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 10/18/23.

by | October 18, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

In a recent article, published in partnership with the Davis Vanguard, James Anderson investigates the use of solitary confinement on vulnerable populations at Maguire Correctional Facility, the main jail in San Mateo County. Approximately one-fifth of Maguire’s population is housed in solitary confinement—nearly four times higher than the national average. Interviews with people who’ve been incarcerated at Maguire show a long history of people with disabilities and mental illness being placed in solitary for prolonged periods of time. Solitary Watch 


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

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. Type Investigations | 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 a 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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Transgender women incarcerated in men’s prisons are up to 13 times as likely to be sexually or physically assaulted as cisgender men. As a result, a majority of incarcerated gender-nonconforming people are housed in prolonged solitary confinement. When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act in 2020, it gave hope to many trans people incarcerated across California.Most significantly, the law mandates that officials house transgender people in facilities that align with their chosen gender. However, implementation was met with resistance from prison staff who spread rumors that the transfers would pose a serious threat to the safety of cisgender incarcerated women. As a result, many transgender women incarcerated in women’s facilities have once again found themselves in solitary confinement. KQED

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 Virginia lawmakers have approved a state budget that includes specialized funds for an independent office to oversee the Virginia Department of Corrections. The new office will be composed of a 13-person committee that will select an ombudsman to study VADOC operations and make policy recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly. According to Shawn Waneta, a policy strategist for the ACLU of Virginia, “if we want to make good policy decisions, if we want the legislature to fix problems, they need to have good information to work on.” Among other things, the ombudsman’s office could address complaints related to solitary confinement. Daily News-Record

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Over 60 people carrying seven coffins arrived at a private event hosted by Providence Mayor Brett Smiley to protest the dangerous and unlivable conditions at Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions. The goal of the protest was to get the attention of Gov. Dan McKee and demand both internal and external investigations into the seven deaths of individuals incarcerated at ACI this year. Advocates say officials have continuously unwilling to address reforms, including demands to place stricter limits on the use of solitary confinement. Mayor Smiley refused to answer protesters’ repeated questions as to whether he supported an external investigation. The Brown Daily Herald

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Kentucky’s Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee recently held a hearing on  problems within the state’s Juvenile Justice Department. Among the issues discussed were the misuse of pepper spray on youth, sexual misconduct by staff, and the use of “non-behavioral isolation.” According to a recent report from the Department of Public Advocacy, children incarcerated at Adair Regional Juvenile Detention Center have been placed in solitary confinement for days or weeks at a time even though they did not commit a disciplinary offense. Lexington Herald Leader

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In March, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections began confining incarcerated people to their cells at Waupun and Green Bay Correctional Institutions, citing overcrowding and understaffing. A recent investigation found that Stanley Correctional Institution has also been on lockdown for over a year. Although officials refer to the confinement as “modified movement,” individuals at the three facilities are confined to their cells for 24 hours a day with no visitation, programming, or access to non-emergency medical care. Wisconsin Watch | Recently, approximately 200 people gathered at the state capitol to protest the conditions inside the three facilities and call for an end to the lockdowns. WMTV 

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In a recent essay, Akeem Browder recounts the emotional devastation his family faced following his brother Kalief’s suicide after spending years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island. He also speaks to the further trauma of losing his mother, who died shortly after his brother “from a broken heart.” Browder goes on to argue for the necessity of reforming the New York City jail system, including closing Rikers Island and ending the use of solitary confinement. NY Daily News 

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