DOJ Launches Civil Rights Investigation of Two Deadly South Carolina Jails…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 11/8/23

by | November 8, 2023

New this week from Solitary Watch:

The gifted and prolific incarcerated writer Tony D. Vick has served 28 years in prison in Tennessee, three of them in solitary confinement. In a new essay in our ongoing series Voices from Solitary, Vick reflects on the time he spent in solitary, the lingering effects of isolation, and the tension between “solitude and community” in prison. “In solitary,” Vick writes, “I read the graffiti scratched into the concrete walls. Words written by great poets before me. A few words scratched with fingernails or etched with blood can reveal the urgency and desperation of the writer. ‘K-Dog was here,’ are letters pressed into the wall as evidence of life, and where blood, sweat, and tears are shed. And the words ‘Fuck Prison,’ yell out like a harmonious hymn echoed by all inhabitants of this hallowed space.” | Solitary Watch 


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

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office (USAG) have launched a joint civil rights investigation into the conditions at local jails in South Carolina. Cannon Detention Center is under investigation for suspected negligent medical and mental health care, the use of force by staff, and the overuse of solitary confinement, while the investigation into Glenn Detention Center will examine dangerous living conditions and failure of staff to protect incarcerated people from violence. | The State | The investigations come after the body of 27-year-old Lason Butler was found covered in rat bites in a solitary confinement cell. Butler, whose death was ruled a homicide, died of dehydration after losing 42 pounds over one month while being held in isolation on traffic charges. | The Root | According to a statement released by the DOJ, the department found “significant justification to open these investigations” based on the increasing number of deaths, attacks, and escapes at both facilities. | U.S. Department of Justice [Photo montage of Lason Butler’s jail cell: WIS News 10]

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After eleven-year-old Timothy Murray’s father died of cancer, he approached the administration at his elementary school in Brownsville, Texas, in search of counseling services and clarification on the school’s dress code. Instead of receiving assistance, he was met with allegations of threats against the school’s principal. After denying the allegations, Timothy was handcuffed and arrested by local police, and placed in solitary confinement in a juvenile detention center for three days while prosecutors pushed charges of “terroristic threat” and additional time in detention. Although Texas law allows minors to be placed in solitary confinement for 24 hours, juvenile justice experts argue that Timothy’s rights and state laws were violated. | Texas Observer

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A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections alleging that conditions inside Waupun Correctional Facility constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Men incarcerated at the facility have been subjected to months-long lockdowns alongside negligent medical care, rodent and roach infestations, and other restrictions. According to the lawsuit, “critically ill prisoners have begged prison officials for treatment, only to be told ‘be patient,’ ‘it’s all in your head,’ or ‘pray’ to be cured.” | Wisconsin Examiner | In response, Wisconsin Democrats are introducing a legislative package aimed at ending the lockdowns and improving conditions inside Wisconsin prisons. The package is comprised of 17 bills addressing different issues within the facilities, from access to personal hygiene to mandating minimum standards for solitary confinement. | WPR

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As Washington state prisons age and the climate continues to rapidly change, facilities struggle to safely house incarcerated people. Continued public health crises and neglected maintenance have caused the condition of many units, some which are decades old, to dangerously deteriorate. One unit was so filled with mold the “Women developed scalp fungus or their hair fell out in clumps from chemicals and fecal contaminants in the water.” Without proper investments into infrastructure, climate change will continue to damage facilities and push prison staff to increasingly rely on solitary confinement to manage incarcerated people, write Sarah Sax and incarcerated journalist Christopher Blackwell. | Type Investigations/High County News 

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In June, a grand jury report found that Sacramento County Jails could be placed under federal receivership if the county did not make significant improvements to conditions, including overuse of solitary confinement. Since then, the two facilities have captured the attention of elected officials, advocates, and residents. In September, four staff members were found guilty of bringing fentanyl and other contraband into the Midtown Jail. A short history of the Sacramento County Jails provides context to better understand current conditions and potential paths forward. | Capital Public Radio 

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Incarcerated writer, nurse, and mother Kwaneta Harris writes about how she has “raised her kids over the phone”—or “tried to, when prison officials let her make a call.” Held in Texas prisons for sixteen years, more than seven of them in solitary confinement, Harris has struggled to maintain contact with her children while regularly being denied phone privileges by prison officials due to her writing and activism behind bars and the help she offers to other incarcerated women. | Lux

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In a recent episode of Public Defenseless, host Hunter Parnell interviews UC Irvine Professor Keramet Reiter regarding her decades of research into solitary confinement. Throughout her scholarship, Reiter has examined the vast array of American and international solitary confinement practices and offers insight into the systemic problems underlying its use. | Spotify

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