Federal Prisons Under Fire From Watchdogs Over Solitary, Suicides…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 2/28/24

by | February 28, 2024

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

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is being called “an agency in crisis” after a series of recent reports by government watchdogs. Washington Post | One, by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, revealed that the prison system struggles to keep people in its facilities alive. According to the report, 344 people died by homicide, suicide, accidents, and drug overdoses while in BOP custody between 2014 and 2021. Of the incarcerated people who died by suicide, about half died in solitary confinement. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General | A separate IG report criticizes the agency for “shoddy record keeping, falsified documents and destroyed logs related to the special housing units used to discipline inmates.” DOJ Office of the IG | Finally, a comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office found that “federal prisons haven’t addressed longstanding concerns about overuse of solitary confinement,” despite a host of recommendations put forth in earlier reports and studies. Included in the GAO report was an October 2023 “snapshot” showing that about 12,000 people, or 8 percent of the federal prison population were, in solitary confinement–considerably higher than the national average. Additionally, the report found that, in 2022, Black Americans made up approximately 59 percent of people in federal solitary confinement although they only account for 38 percent of the total prison population. Government Accountability Office 

In a recent op-ed, forensic psychiatrist and anti-solitary advocate Terry Kupers discusses the evidence supporting the The Mandela California Mandela Act (Assembly Bill 280). If made law, the Act would significantly limit the use of solitary confinement and increase opportunities for rehabilitation in California prisons and jails. Although Governor Newsome has acknowledged the science proving solitary confinement causes immense psychological harm, he maintains that it is necessary to maintain prison order. Orange County Register

A lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court of Wyoming alleges that three boys were subjected to psychological and emotional abuse, extended periods of solitary confinement, and physical harm while incarcerated at the Wyoming Boys’ School. One plaintiff stated in the complaint that he was placed in solitary confinement more than 20 times for periods ranging from days to weeks. During his time in solitary confinement, he “became so distraught… that he would hit his head against the brick walls, and he ripped out the metal braces on his teeth and used them to cut himself.” Another plaintiff recounts how he was strapped to a restraint chair for two weeks during a 30-day stint in solitary confinement at the facility. WyoFile

Despite the highly publicized arrests of six facility staff members, including the warden and chaplain, sexual abuse and retaliation against incarcerated continues at FCI Dublin. A year after the arrests at the federal women’s prison, survivors filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons for continuing to allow the conditions that facilitated the “rape club’s” abuse. Several women involved in the lawsuit have recently come forward with accounts of retaliation from staff, including placement in solitary confinement and transfers from the facility, for their testimony. Truthout

Calls for body camera requirements inside prisons are growing after video showed and an incarcerated man in solitary confinement being slapped by guards. Leading the charge is Ian Manuel, a formerly incarcerated advocate who spent 18 years in solitary confinement in Florida. When Manuel was 14 years old, he too was slapped by a captain while in solitary confinement, and seeing the recent video “brought up all that old trauma of my childhood, of being abused at the hands of correctional staff.” WFTS Tampa Bay 

After a recent Supreme Court ruling walked back earlier precedent establishing incarcerated people in solitary confinement’s rights to basic human necessities, advocates have begun to strategize how to abolish the practice without the high court. State and local elected officials are uniquely positioned to take up the issue as nearly 90 percent of all people are incarcerated in state prisons and local jails. Since 2009, 42 states have placed restrictions on the use of solitary confinement which leads advocates to believe that more emphasis should be placed on state legislative reform initiatives. The Brennan Center for Justice 

Substitute House Bill 1087 would have prevented incarcerated people in Washington State from being held in solitary confinement for longer than 15 days. Instead of passing the legislation, the state has decided to rely on DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange’s plan to reduce the number of people in solitary confinement. However, the proposed policy does not actually remove anyone from solitary confinement, rather it simply expands the definition of what is not solitary confinement to change report numbers. The Olympian

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