Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Man Held in Solitary for Years Without Exercise…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 11/15/23

by | November 15, 2023

The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from an incarcerated man in Illinois who argued that his prolonged solitary confinement and denial of outdoor exercise violates the Eighth Amendment. Michael Johnson, the plaintiff, spent three years in solitary in a small, windowless cell at Pontiac Correctional Center in Illinois, where he was routinely denied the ability to exercise as punishment for behavioral symptoms of his mental illness. In response to the Court’s rejection, Johnson’s lawyer stated “we are saddened to live in an era where imposing such cruelty—let alone on a person known to suffer from mental illness — is acceptable to any federal judge.” NBC News | According to the dissenting opinion from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, the denial of exercise resulted in the severe deterioration of Johnson’s mental and physical health. Johnson “suffered from hallucinations, excoriated his own flesh, urinated and defecated on himself, and smeared feces all over his body and cell.” New York Times 

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U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick has ordered Angola prison to be placed under federal oversight, citing the facility’s “callous and wanton disregard for the medical care of [incarcerated people].” As a result, three “special masters” will be appointed to develop remedial plans and monitor implementation. In her 104-page opinion, Dick cited numerous cases, dating back to 1989, where incarcerated people were isolated in conditions akin to solitary confinement and denied medical care, causing them to die of preventable conditions. Times-Picayune | Solitary Watch’s Katie Rose Quandt and James Ridgeway published a major exposé of the horrific healthcare at Angola back in 2016. In These Times 

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Despite California’s recent implementation of the Transgender Respect and Dignity Act, incarcerated transgender people across the state are still being placed in solitary confinement. In a recent interview with Rattling the Bars, journalist Lee Romney and attorney A.D. Lewis discussed the current uses and impacts of solitary confinement on transgender people. “There are all these euphemisms for what is essentially solitary confinement, and it goes by many names and it has many different sets of conditions,” Lewis states, “but by and large, trans people, especially in county jails, actually experience high rates of restrictive housing.” The Real News 

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Ohio’s youth detention centers have become a bloody battleground for rival gangs who pit incarcerated children against staff and one another. An eight-month-long investigation by a network of Ohio’s newspapers revealed that this chaos has caused the already dangerous conditions within facilities to further deteriorate. Interviews with employees describe facilities as so overwhelmed and understaffed that serious injuries, medical conditions, and even deaths frequently go unnoticed and unreported for hours. According to the report, lockdowns last so long that children are forced to urinate in water bottles and defecate on the floors of their rooms. Cincinnati Enquirer 

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Last year, an annual report from the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice found that only four out of its 16 youth detention centers were in full compliance with state standards. The problems within these facilities included failing to provide the children with proper clothing or bedding, conducting unnecessary strip searches, and confining children to their rooms for 24 hours per day. Earlier this year the ACLU of Illinois filed a lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated youth in Franklin County for civil rights violations, including the use of solitary confinement. One youth was placed in prolonged solitary for “low level infractions,” such as making inappropriate comments to staff and refusing to shower, and having too many sheets in his room. Injustice Watch 

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Hundreds of women have filed rape lawsuits against city jails in New York in response to the state’s extension of the statute of limitations under the Adult Victim Act. One woman suing recounts how the staff member who assaulted her threatened her with disciplinary write ups and solitary confinement if she refused to comply or filed a report. The sheer volume of lawsuits filed by formerly incarcerated women indicates a pervasive culture of assault within New York jails. According to attorney Adam Slater “this is a citywide problem, it’s a statewide problem, and it’s really a nationwide problem. These women are just allowed to be abused.” THE CITY

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In a recent essay, Ridgeway Reporting Project grant recipient Jeremy Busby writes about the retaliation that frequently comes with being an incarcerated journalist. After he wrote an article for a local human rights organization that criticized ineffective prison practices, prison staff confiscated and never returned Busby’s typewriter. Then he was placed in solitary confinement for 23 months following his participation in a news story about failed prison COVID policies. These are just a few examples of the retaliation faced by Busby and other incarcerated journalists.  Freedom of the Press Foundation

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A national virtual day of action was held on November 14, 2023 in support of the federal End Solitary Confinement Act. Speakers from the National Unlock the Box Campaign and other organizations joined Representatives Cori Bush and Sydney Kamlager-Dove to discuss the importance of the legislation and the future of solitary confinement reform. Participants in the virtual day of action were encouraged to sign a petition advocating for the passage of the End Solitary Confinement Act. A video of the virtual rally is available for viewing. | Federal Anti-Solitary Task Force (FAST)

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