Report Shows Hundreds of Preventable Deaths in Federal Prisons…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

by | February 21, 2024

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

In a recent report, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons routinely subjects incarcerated people to “conditions that put them at heightened risk of self-harm, drug overdoses, accidents and violence.” After analyzing 344 deaths, the inspector general found “unsafe conditions” in nearly all cases. The New York Times | Between 2014 and 2021, 187 people died by suicide while in BOP custody and nearly half of the suicides occurred while the person was isolated in “single-cell [solitary] confinement.” Additionally, the majority of people who died by suicide were classified as the lowest level of mental health risk, meaning they had no treatment plan in place. The Guardian | What’s more, BOP policy only requires an in-depth review after a suicide occurs and the decentralized nature of the system makes implementing policy recommendations nearly impossible. United Press International | The 100-page report ends with a series of recommendations for reducing and more accurately reporting deaths in custody, and sets a deadline of May 15, 2024, for the BOP to report on progress. U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General

Although D.C. Jail officials claim solitary confinement is no longer used, the facility continues to place people with mental health issues in single-occupancy “safe cells.” A suicide prevention expert found the cells to be more punitive than therapeutic: “Confining a suicidal inmate to their cell for 24 hours a day only enhances isolation.” In September 2023, Council member Brianne Nadeau introduced the ERASE (Eliminating Restrictive and Segregated Enclosure) Solitary Confinement Act to address the ongoing use of isolation at the D.C. Jail. Bolts

After passing bipartisan legislation limiting the use of solitary confinement last year, the Virginia legislature is revisiting the issue. Republican representatives are pushing back on measures meant to increase restrictions on solitary confinement, arguing that existing reforms are enough to limit the number of people in solitary. However, Democrats argue that the state is facing litigation over its use of solitary and the harmful effects it has on incarcerated individuals. WVTF

Four people died by hanging over a four year period while being held in solitary confinement at the Hartford County Detention Center in Maryland. A recent investigation revealed that the suicides were connected to a pattern of negligence and policy failures within the isolation housing unit known as “R-dorm.” The results of the investigation showed that not only had the incarcerated people killed themselves in nearly identical manners, but the facility frequently placed the new detainees in R-dorm on a 23-1 lockdown. The Baltimore Banner

Last year, 17 pregnant women were incarcerated in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and 15 gave birth while in custody. Although officials state that only one woman was restrained during childbirth and that the practice is only used when there are immediate security and safety concerns, Wisconsin state law places no restrictions on the practice. However, a recently introduced bill would ban pregnant women from being shackled or placed in solitary confinement. FDL Reporter

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