Protests Build Against ICE’s Use of Solitary in Immigration Detention…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/3/24

by | April 3, 2024

New this week from Solitary Watch:

Xandan, a trans-masculine writer incarcerated in Texas, has been in solitary confinement for over seven years due to his gender identity and as retribution for his journalism exposing the inhumane conditions faced by transgender incarcerated people. As a 2023 recipient of a Ridgeway Reporting Project grant, Xandan’s latest article “The Horrific Reality of Transgender Individuals in Texas Prisons,” was published in The Advocate. In addition to the article’s searing descriptions of his life in solitary confinement, Xandan also shared with Solitary Watch the diary entries that vividly recount his experience following a brutal 2020 assault. Solitary Watch

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

Following the death of Charles Leo Daniel on March 7, members of immigrant rights groups La Resistencia and Ysuru for Solidarity began monitoring the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma. According to advocates, their vigil has been met with harassment and intimidation. In one case, dash-cam footage shows a large truck driving toward the protesters at high speeds before parking in front of the encampment and sitting with its high beams shining at the vigil. Yakima Herald-Republic | The aggression towards immigrant rights activists comes as Democratic lawmakers begin to speak out against ICE’s use of solitary confinement. Several U.S. Senators have issued letters to the Department of Homeland Security condemning ICE’s use of solitary confinement. Additionally, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have called for a federal investigation into the Northwest facility. However, advocates say that an investigation is not enough and there needs to be consequences. NBC News | News From The States

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Colorado is facing backlash for its use of isolation in its correctional facilities and schools. In hours of emotionally testimony on the state house floor, parents attested to the lasting impact of schools placing children in “seclusion rooms” as punishment for student behavior. One parent described how her fifth-grade child was isolated in a room for throwing his stuffed sloth. When she arrived at the school, her son was holding the stuffed animal up to the room’s window while crying and asking “Can I get out?” The testimony comes as a bill to ban the practice makes its way through the state legislature. Chalk Beat | At the same time, a federal judge has declined to dismiss a lawsuit on behalf of a man who claims he was held in solitary confinement for more than 200 days whale incarcerated at the El Paso County Jail. Colorado Politics 

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In 2018, Massachusetts passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which included measures to limit the use of prolonged solitary confinement. However, incarcerated people in the state say that correctional facilities have just repackaged solitary confinement under new names, such as Behavioral Adjustment Units (BAUs) and Secure Adjustment Units (SAUs). Although there was a phasing out of these units after the 2018 law, as of mid-February the BAUs housed approximately 157 people, 18 of whom had been there for more than 90 days, and the SAUs housed 120 people, with 72 being there for over 90 days. BOLTS 

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Incarcerated people in a section of the Maine State Prison say they are willing to hunger strike for as long as it takes to address conditions in the “close custody unit.”  Although it is not labeled as solitary confinement, individuals in the unit say they are only allowed out of their cells for only one to two hours a day and refused placement reviews. One man participating in the strike stated he has seen “people unravel before my eyes and the scary thing is how many guys I’m seeing get released into the state from this pod.” The strike comes after the Maine Department of Corrections replaced the facility’s warden in February and began an investigation into hazing, harassment, retaliation, and other issues at the prison. News From The States 

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When Janice Parker went to visit her paralyzed son at Angola prison, she was horrified to find him confined to a “dark, grimy room slightly larger than a bathroom.” Her son, who depends on constant care from medical staff, told her that he was placed in isolation for complaining about his care. Parker’s experience is indicative of a larger problem of medical neglect within the Louisiana State prison system. New sentencing laws currently making their way through the state legislature would make the problem exponentially worse by increasing the number of people incarcerated in Louisiana and forcing staff to rely on solitary confinement to manage the prison population. ProPublica 

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Even as the Texas legislature invests more money into its prison system, incarcerated people are still forced to live in dangerous conditions. In addition to lacking air conditioning, most Texas prisons also lack proper heat in the winter. Along with the failures of the prison infrastructure, the Texas electric grid is not equipped to handle the energy needs of colder temperatures. As climate change pushes season weather patterns to their extremes, incarcerated people, especially those in decaying solitary confinement units, are at increased risk of injury and death due to extreme temperatures, reports incarcerated writer Kwaneta Harris. Prism 

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Although New York’s 2022 bail reform law reduced jail populations, especially in New York City, facilities in rural areas still house up to 10,000 incarcerated people. At the same time, New York’s landmark HALT Solitary Confinement law “continues to be openly circumvented by prison wardens and county jailers.” As a result, much of the recent legislative progress is threatened. Now, vulnerable populations must turn to lawsuits to ensure their rights are protected. This, in turn raises questions: “Can openly transphobic and homophobic jailers be relied upon to enforce nondiscrimination settlements? Can disabled and injured youth, especially young Black men, depend upon legal settlements to end abuse in our jails?” Truthout 

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Incarcerated writer and activist Christopher Blackwell was awarded the 2023 Memoir Grand Prize from Narratively for his essay “Chaos and Noise: One Man’s Harrowing Stint in Solitary Confinement.” In the essay, Blackwell writes about the experience of being admitted into solitary confinement and conveys the feeling of falling into “the hole.”  Blackwell states, “This story was written before I had even published a single piece of writing. It was a story based on frustration, anger and pain.” He continues, “I use my writing to highlight inequalities and harm, and I use that to humanize those of us who reside behind these towering walls and endless rows of razor-wire fences.” Narratively 

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