U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Solitary Confinement…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 4/17/24

by | April 17, 2024

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

The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on solitary confinement. Titled Legacy of Harm: Eliminating the Abuse of Solitary Confinement, the hearing opened with remarks from solitary survivor Damon Thibodeaux, who stated, “life in solitary is made all the worse because its often a hopeless existence.” Over the next two hours, the committee heard testimony from witnesses regarding the conditions of solitary confinement and the longstanding mental, physical, and psychological harm it causes. United States Committee on the Judiciary | Committee member Cory Booker (D, NJ) said at the hearing: “This is sick, this is unacceptable and this is un-American.” He stated that solitary confinement “is a practice that is so byzantine, so universally condemned by other peer nations, so torturous to individuals … it is stunning to me that this practice goes on in our nation at such a widespread level.” Courthouse News Service | Ahead of the hearing, the Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce (FAST) held a press conference featuring advocates and solitary survivors, urging federal lawmakers to pass the End Solitary Confinement Act. WHIO-TV

In a statement that acknowledged the failure of reform attempts, Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters announced plans to close FCI Dublin. The closure comes after the FBOP invested an unprecedented amount of resources into addressing issues at the facility ranging from aging infrastructure to a prolific culture of sexual assault committed by staff. A series of investigations and litigation over the last several years exposed an ongoing “rape club” at the facility where victims were threatened with solitary confinement if they spoke out. Despite FBI involvement and U.S. Court orders, the FBOP “determined that FCI Dublin is not meeting expected standards and that the best course of action is to close the facility.” As a result the 605 women currently incarcerated at Dublin, as well as all staff, will be transferred to other facilities. Associated Press | However, as journalist Victoria Law points out: “For the women who have been raising an alarm for decades about the widespread and systemic sexual abuse committed by its prison guards, it should have been a victory. But they warn that if the closure simply results in shuffling them to other prisons across the country rather than access to compassionate release and early release, the decision simply compounds the harms they have already experienced.” Truthout

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The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Restore Justice, and Uptown People’s Law Center released a report titled Ending Long Term Solitary Confinement in Illinois, describing the urgent need for solitary confinement reform in Illinois. The Illinois General Assembly is considering the Nelson Mandela Act (HB 4828), which would restrict solitary confinement by prohibiting prisons from holding individuals in solitary for more than 20 hours a day for more than 10 days. Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

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Until recently, incarcerated people in Washington State had little knowledge of the legislative decisions that affected their everyday lives. In 2020, the nonprofit Look2Justice (L2J) began working with advocacy groups to bring incarcerated people to Olympia to testify during criminal justice legislative hearings. As a result, the voices of incarcerated people have been heard regarding legislation to change the cost of prison communications, rein in extreme sentencing practices, and limit the use of solitary confinement. The Appeal | However, this year lawmakers left many criminal justice reforms on the cutting room floor and some, like a bill to limit solitary confinement, never even got a hearing. Many of the reasons why have to do with this being an election year, fundraising, and bipartisan concerns over public safety and victims’ rights. KNKX

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A bill to limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile justice settings, which was passed unanimously by the Tennessee State Senate earlier this year, died in the House. Members of the House Civil Justice Committee voted to send the bill for “summer study”—a common way of killing legislation. The death of the bill comes as donations from a PAC run by the owner of several Tennessee juvenile justice facilities made donations to six Tenessee lawmakers. News Channel 5 

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The Wisconsin Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee recently held a public hearing on a proposed set of rules that would further restrict the use of pepper spray, strip searches, restraints, and solitary confinement at youth prisons. According to the proposed rules, staff would only be allowed to use the above measures if there is a serious risk to security, harm, or imminent threat to others. These measures are just the latest in a series of reforms after years of litigation resulted in a federal judge appointing an independent monitor to oversee the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. CBS58 

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