Refusing Forced Labor in Prisons Is Punished with Solitary…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 5/29/24

by | May 29, 2024

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

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel of experts urged Congress to support legislation or a constitutional amendment to reform the use of forced prison labor. Prison labor is used nationally for farming, fighting wildfires, and other high-risk jobs. Over three-quarters of all incarcerated people are forced to work without minimum wage protections for cents an hour, or not paid at all in many states. The work is mandatory, and those who refuse are subjected to punishments like solitary confinement or loss of family visits.  Members of the committee were split along party lines on their responses to the issue, with Senators Dick Durbin and Cory Booker, among other Democrats, supporting the idea of regulating prison labor and working towards more rights for incarcerated workers, while Louisiana Republican John Kennedy  dismissed the argument as “emotional” and unproductive. Courthouse News Service ⎸ Prison reform advocate Terrance Winn, Principle Human Rights Researcher for the ACLU Jennifer Turner, Manhattan Institute Fellow Charles Lehman, and Distinguished Professor of Law at Loyola University Andrea Armstrong testified at the hearing.  U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary 

A federal court confirmed that incarcerated people can sue the Michigan Department of Corrections for violating their own rules by placing an incarcerated person struggling with mental health issues in solitary confinement. MDOC uses administrative solitary confinement to house incarcerated people who are unable to be placed in the general population due to a range of reasons. The court affirmed that incarcerated person Timothy Finley, who experienced nearly 24 hours a day of isolation, self harm, and severe injury in solitary confinement, had the right to sue MDOC for damages. Detroit Free Press

Waupun prison’s lockdown procedures in Wisconsin have been alleged by many to be cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited under the Fourteenth Amendment. An ongoing lawsuit covers a range of malpractice, including neglected medical and mental health care, and extended periods of solitary confinement. However, a federal judge has dismissed eight out of the ten plaintiffs, citing that they had not exceeded all internal complaint processes, a common defense against incarcerated people bringing suit. All complaints, including those against solitary confinement, were dropped except two concerning neglected medical and dental care. Wisconsin Public Radio

Architect and Professor Dana McKinney and historian Lisa Haber-Thompson explore the role that prison architecture plays in creating carceral environments. They describe the choices made in designing prison facilities, like using cold, hard materials such as concrete and having little to no natural light when possible to create a “criminal atmosphere.” McKinney and Haber-Thompson argue that architects and designers must reckon with their role in mass incarceration when designing these buildings, and how these architectural choices further harmful practices like solitary confinement. Inquest

A new ban on incarcerated people’s use of social media proposed by the federal Bureau of Prisons threatens the First Amendment rights of individuals behind bars. The BOP proposals included a ban on friends and family members posting on behalf of incarcerated people, and move the use of social media “to commit crimes” to the same level of offense as assault and murder, punishable by delayed parole, solitary confinement, and other severe disciplinary actions. Activists and incarcerated writers say that these proposals are extremely harmful and are meant to silence incarcerated people who seek to expose conditions inside prisons. The BOP says that these proposals are not yet in effect and they are seeking public feedback.  Context

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the United States House of Representatives passed the Federal Prison Oversight Act, a bill requiring the Department of Justice to inspect each facility in the federal Bureau of Prisons system. The bill also would create an independent inspector position to investigate claims made by incarcerated people and staff. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) said in a statement, “Incarcerated Americans should not fear death when they enter our Federal prison system, and correctional officers should not fear for their safety in the workplace.” In the wake of high profile medical neglect, abuse, and generally unfit facilities, the bill seeks to create accountability and reporting on the state of federal prisons. Senators Ossof (D-GA), Braun, (R-IN), and Majority Whip Durbin (D-IL) introduced a companion bill to the Senate. ReasonH.R.3019 | Earlier this month, Solitary Watch Senior Writer Katie Rose Quandt exposed the rampant use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. American Prospect

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