Historic Lawsuit Challenges the Use of Indefinite Solitary Confinement in Pennsylvania Prisons…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 3/6/24

by | March 6, 2024

New this week from Solitary Watch:

Black Americans make up a disproportionate amount of the U.S. prison population and there are even larger disparities when it comes to the population of solitary confinement. As we close out Black History Month, an article from award-winning incarcerated journalist Steve Brooks provides insight into the relationship between the historic oppression of Black people and solitary confinement. Through his own narrative experience of solitary, Brooks examines the unique impact the practice has on the lives of Black people. Solitary Watch 

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

Multiple advocacy groups have filed a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) to stop the use of indefinite solitary confinement and prohibit people with mental illness from being placed in isolation. Although the PADOC uses many names for solitary, all people held in isolation units are confined to their cells for 21 or more hours per day and strip searched before leaving their cells. “I live in my bathroom, which doubles as a torture chamber, but often feels like a casket,” Khalil Hammond, one of the named plaintiffs who has been in solitary for approximately 12 years.  The Appeal | In addition to injunctive relief for those currently held in isolation, the lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the six named plaintiffs. According to the Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center Saleem Holbrook, this is a historic case that could impact the lives of thousands of people incarcerated across Pennsylvania. The Abolitionist Law Center | In another lawsuit, a man incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Albion has been awarded $85,000 in damages and ordered to return to general population after spending 15 years in solitary confinement. The case argued that the plaintiff’s time in solitary violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment, the same gounds argued by attorneys in the recent class action lawsuit. Go Erie 

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Although the Allegheny County Jail maintains that they do not have solitary confinement, girls held at the facility are housed in near total isolation. Due the the low number admitted to the facility, all female youth are housed in the jail’s medical housing unit. Aside from a limited amount of interaction with the jail’s educational staff, the girls spend all of their time alone. Officials state that the housing practices comply with a 2021 bill that prohibits isolation for more than 20 hours per day, but advocates question whether this remains true on weekends and holidays when school is not in session.  Pittsburgh City Paper 

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In a recent report, the Justice Department Civil Rights Division found that three Mississippi prisons fail to protect incarcerated people from rampant violence and place hundreds of people in prolonged solitary confinement. Over the course of the investigation, officials uncovered systemic deficiencies which created and perpetuated violent and unsafe conditions for incarcerated people. Additionally, the investigators determined that the restrictive housing units “are breeding grounds for suicide, self-inflicted injury, fires, and assaults.” Reason

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Nine Muslim men incarcerated at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) were pepper sprayed while performing regular prayers during their designated meeting time. Although they all lived in the “honors dorm,” a unit reserved for individuals with no recent infractions, the prayer meeting’s violent disruption ended with seven of the men being placed in solitary confinement. Despite disputes by staff, witnesses state that the event was preceded by the on-duty guard for backup and officer responding as if an assault was occuring. Al Jazeera

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In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Dick Durbin spoke to the recent report from the Government Accountability Office regarding the federal use of solitary confinement. During his remarks, Sen. Durbin questioned the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons about the negative effects of solitary confinement. Forbes Breaking News 

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