New Study Finds ICE Locks Thousands of Immigrants in Solitary…And Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 2/14/24

by | February 14, 2024

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

A new study by Harvard-affiliated researchers and the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to “flout international human rights standards” by locking immigrants in solitary confinement en masse. According to the study, approximately 3,000 immigrants were held in solitary confinement by ICE in 2023. Between 2019 and 2023 the number of detained immigrants in solitary confinement with mental health issues skyrocketed from 35 percent to 56 percent. International Consortium of Investigative Journalists | Despite a 2013 directive intended to limit the number of immigrants placed in solitary, especially for people with vulnerabilities, the report found that ICE oversaw more than 14,000 placements in solitary confinement between 2018 and 2023. Although the average duration of time in solitary was 27 days, researchers documented 682 cases lasting over 90 days and 42 lasting over one year. In addition to documenting the extent of ICE’s reliance on solitary confinement, the report makes several recommendations which “serve as a roadmap to completely phase out the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention.” Physicians for Human Rights 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report which found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons continues to hold approximately 8 percent of its population in solitary confinement, well above the national average for prison systems. In February 2023, the Department of Justice released a similar report documenting the BOP’s failure to reduce its use of solitary confinement—also known as Special Housing Units (SHU) or restrictive housing. Forbes | According to the GAO report, the BOP has failed to implement 54 of the 87 recommendations from the previous studies, including monitoring trends in the ways it uses restrictive housing. The report further states that the lack of compliance is due to its not assigning responsibility for implementation to appropriate officials and not establishing time frames for completion. United States Government Accountability Office 

More than 200 people formerly incarcerated in the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services have sued the state since it removed the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse last year. In the most recent lawsuit, 63 plaintiffs allege rampant sexual abuse in 15 Maryland youth detention facilities between 1969 and 2017. One plaintiff recounted that she entered the Maryland system at seven years old and was promised protection by a staff member “in exchange for compliance with the abuse.” Other plaintiffs stated that abusive staff members would offer them food, recreation time, and phone calls as rewards for compliance or punish them with solitary confinement if they refused. Washington Post 

Advocates have begun to raise questions about New Jersey’s compliance with the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act following the suicides of two men held in solitary confinement. The law mandates people in restrictive housing have at least four hours out of cell time each day; however incarcerated individuals report receiving less than one hour. Last year, five people died by suicide while in New Jersey state prison custody. When asked, officials say they do not have “enough information to say what events, conditions and stressors may have led to their suicidal behavior.” NJ Spotlight News

Following her testimony about the dire conditions and rampant abuse at FCI Dublin federal prison for women, Rhonda Fleming was placed in solitary confinement before being transferred from the facility. Fleming told journalists that while in solitary, “the women had no shampoo, no access to the law library, freezing cold, wet cells, [and] very small portions of cold food.” One attorney suing FCI Dublin for the sexual abuse and retaliatory behavior at the prison stated that the transfer seemed to be done so that Fleming would not be at the facility when U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers visits the prison later this month. KTVU

In response to concerns about the dangers of placing youth in solitary confinement, Illinois lawmakers are taking action to limit the practice in the state. The proposed law prohibits the use of room confinement for youth unless there is an immediate risk of harm and imposes a 15–day maximum on solitary confinement. Additionally, the law raises the minimum detention age for felony convictions.  BNN Breaking

Nasih Khalil Ra’id, born Odell Corley, died by suicide on federal Death Row at USP Terre Haute just a few years after the Death Row Visitation project gave him the means to reestablish connections to his children. When the Death Row Visitation project was founded, organizers saw how the mental health effects of living in solitary confinement on death row compounded the sense of urgency felt by family members and incarcerated people in response to the looming threat of execution. A pastor who ministered to people at Terre Haute said, “People need to understand that death row is really just one long death. You’re not living when you’re in solitary confinement. You’re dying.” The Intercept

An eight-month investigation by Truthout revealed that 33 state prison systems and the majority of federal institutions have placed their entire general populations on non-disciplinary lockdown at least once between 2016 and 2023. Often these lockdowns, which constitute a form of solitary confinement, occur repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time, leaving the family members of incarcerated people wondering what brutal conditions their loved ones are subjected to each day. Under lockdowns, incarcerated people have no routines or rights and frequently go days or weeks without showers or recreation. Over the last several years these lockdowns have become more common and many incarcerated people “report threats and actual retaliation for speaking out about prison conditions and violence by staff.” Truthout 

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