U.S. Use of Solitary Defies International Treaty, UN Finds…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week  

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 11/29/23

by | November 29, 2023

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

In mid-October, as part of a delegation, solitary survivors Ian Manuel and Terrence Winn testified in front of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, ahead of the UN review of the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1992. Manuel and Winn recalled their egregious experiences in solitary confinement and called for an end to the practice, eliciting shocked reactions from the UNHRC. Following the review, the UNHRC released its observations recommendations for the U.S. to be in compliance with the ICCPR, which included “bring[ing] all legislation and practice on solitary confinement, at the federal, state, local, and territorial levels, in line with the Covenant and the international standards as reflected in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules). It should also prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities in prison.” UNHRC Report | Weeks later, Ashwini K.P., the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, visited the United States to see firsthand some of the issues discussed at the review. K.P. released a statement shortly thereafter in which she expressed “deep concern” at the “racially disproportionate use of solitary confinement, including in cases where it is used to punish those who refuse hazardous forced prison labor.” Special Rapporteur’s Statement

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In the recently released white paper “Breaking Through Isolation,” the ACLU of the District of Columbia and D.C. Justice Lab, in collaboration with the Unlock the Box D.C. Coalition, illuminate the need for legislation to end solitary confinement in Washington, DC’s correctional facilities. Through a collection of empirical data and personal narratives, “Breaking Through Isolation” presents an urgent case for why the D.C. government should pass the ERASE Solitary Confinement Act. ACLU DC | DC’s jail has a long history of abusive conditions and extreme use of solitary confinement. At the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, 1,500 incarcerated people at the jail were confined to their cells for over 500 days. Instead of receiving treatment, individuals who tested positive for Covid-19 were locked in a solitary confinement unit where they frequently went hours between staff rounds with no way of alerting staff of emergencies. In December 2020, one incarcerated person told Solitary Watch, “I was coughing up blood for two days this week. I have not seen a doctor. I have been telling sick call but they just walk past me.” Solitary Watch | Support the campaign to end solitary in DC DC Justice Lab

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When the New York state passed the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, local jails quickly found and exploited a common loophole by simply renaming the practice. At Broome County jail, for example, confined individuals are allowed out of their cell for seven hours a day, but this time is limited to a single common room with no activities and only the other people being punished for company. Although the individuals in the confinement unit spend most of the time isolated in their cells, Broome County reported holding zero people in solitary confinement last year. NY Focus 

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While the majority of Americans sat down for Thanksgiving, immigrants detained in Florida were on hunger strike over the severe lack of food provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to a letter from the ACLU, ICE provided immigrants full meals “consisting of a spoonful of meat, three spoonfuls of beans, and a spoonful of carrots.” In response to the hunger strike, staff have threatened striking immigrants with punitive measures, including solitary confinement. Davis Vanguard 

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So far this year, six people have died by suicide in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections. Advocates and researchers are asking for more transparent access to custodial death records in hopes of better understanding the causes of suicide in prison. Without data on who is dying, how, and under what conditions—for instance if they’re in solitary confinement—it is impossible for policy to accurately reflect the needs of the system. According to researcher Kate LeMasters, “Suicides are types of deaths that these institutions play an outsized role in preventing, and it’s pretty egregious when these deaths are still happening.” North Carolina Health News 

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Two former prosecutors now with the Brennan Center for Justice write: “When crime rose during the COVID-19 pandemic, some pundits and politicians jumped to a convenient scapegoat: criminal justice reform. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now. No evidence exists to support a link between crime and reforms that seek to make our system fairer and more effective. Yet the narrative persists, growing with intensity as every election day approaches.” Nonetheless, several states have recently passed legislation aimed at making the criminal legal system more just and equitable. Among these measures was the Connecticut law limiting the number of days a person can spend in solitary confinement. Governing 

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A federal judge has ruled that the mother of a man who died of water intoxication at the San Diego County Jail can proceed with her wrongful death lawsuit. Lester Daniel Marroquin died while isolated in a “safety cell” after an incident where staff shot him with a taser and then he harmed himself. For years, Marroquin had cycled through administrative segregation units and safety cells as his mental health deteriorated. The lawsuit alleges that facility staff knew of Marroquin’s worsening mental health and observed his self-harming behaviors, “including dunking his head in the toilet and attempting to strangle himself,” yet refused to take him to any of his court ordered psychiatric evaluations. Courthouse News Service

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