This week’s pick of news and commentary about solitary confinement:
Approximately 55 percent of incarcerated people in solitary confinement in Virginia have been there for more than 15 days. Whether in solitary for disciplinary violations or “their own protection,” many of these individuals live in dangerous conditions and face abuse from staff. One man in solitary at Wallens Ridge State Prison recounted how guard often punish people on the unit by denying them exercise or delivering “ghost” meal trays with “nothing on it, and they might go several meals at a time to keep you underweight—miserable, and if you act up, they’re going to take your commissary privileges.” Askari Lumumba, who experienced solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison, said: “I’ve seen guys have breakdowns almost immediately – very sociable people who go back there and can’t take it. They’re kicking the door. They’re pacing the floor. They’re dealing with anxiety. They’re cussing out staff. They’re suffering delirium.” (This story was supported by a grant from Solitary Watch’s Ridgeway Reporting Project.) WVTF | Reports are emerging that at least seven individuals at Red Onion Prison are refusing to eat to protest abusive conditions. According to participants in the hunger strike, included are abuse by guards, the use of dogs to “threaten and intimidate,” and the ongoing use of solitary confinement, which the prison system claims to have abolished. A bill passed last year is supposed to guarantee four hours a day of out-of-cell time, a mandate that the strikers and their outside allies say is not being met. Richmond Times-Dispatch
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety is facing a federal class action lawsuit over placing incarcerated youth in long-term solitary confinement. Three anonymous plaintiffs, aged 15 to 17, confined at Cabarrus Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Concord, criticize the state’s use of solitary confinement and point to the lasting mental and physical harm caused by solitary. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask for an injunction prohibiting any future solitary confinement and the appointment of an independent monitor. The Carolina Journal
According to family and friends, Nasih Khalil Ra’id was planning his suicide for weeks before guards reported finding his body. Ra’id was incarcerated on death row at USP Terre Haute in Indiana, but had been moved to a temporary solitary confinement unit while repairs were being made to the death row unit. In solitary confinement, Ra’id lost access to his main coping mechanism—physical exercise—and began to physically and psychologically deteriorate. Friends reported a noticeable change in Ra’id’s weight and say that he became more hopeless leading up to his death. Indiana Public Media
Following a campaign by family members and advocates, a proposed $50 million expansion to the Santa Rita Jail has been suspended indefinitely. The expansion included the construction of a mental health wing, but was criticized as an ineffective solution to the ongoing problems at the facility. In the past decade there have been 50 deaths and at least 15 suicides at the jail. According to the Sheriff’s Department, there are plans to repurpose existing space for use by mental health clinicians in lieu of the expansion. San Francisco Chronicle | Three years ago, Solitary Watch Contributing Writer Sarah Shourd published an expose of conditions at Santa Rita Jail, viewed through the story of the suicide of one young man with mental illness. The Atlantic
In a recent episode of the ACLU’s At Liberty Podcast, host Kendall Ciesemier interviews formerly incarcerated poet and activist Ian Manuel about his new memoir My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope and Redemption. Sentenced to life at age fifteen, Manuel was incarcerated in Florida for 26 years and spent 18 years of his sentence in solitary confinement. Throughout his book, Manuel discusses the juvenile justice system, solitary confinement, and restorative justice. ACLU
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