After 22 Years in a Solitary Cell, Nevada Man Fights to End the Torture…and Other News on Solitary Confinement This Week

Seven Days in Solitary for the Week Ending 6/19/24

by | June 19, 2024

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

After spending more than 22 years in solitary confinement, Frank De Palma is advocating for an end to the practice. He co-wrote a memoir about his experiences, “Never to Surrender!” and testified before the Nevada Legislature on solitary’s damaging effects on his mental health, self-perception, and social interactions. Journalist Natalia Galiczca profiled De Palma, detailing his journey from an arrest as a teenager, through years of degrading solitary confinement, to his release and ongoing recovery. “Occasionally, he’ll walk across the street to a nearby food market for iced tea,” Galiczca writes. “Or just step outside his door to feel the sun against his skin.” In January 2024, Nevada became the third state to restrict solitary to 15 consecutive days or less. Deseret News

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Suicides in Texas prisons have dramatically increased, nearly doubling over the past four years—with solitary potentially involved in a disproportionate number of those deaths. According to local advocate Brittany Robinson, solitary exacerbates the state prisons’ staffing crisis, worsens safety conditions, and deteriorates incarcerated people’s mental health. Among the victims is Brooklyn Hogrell, who struggled with lifelong mental illness and was placed in solitary confinement as part of a mental health treatment program. She died by suicide at age 21. “They failed my daughter,” Jennifer Rodriguez, Hogrell’s mother, says of Texas’ prison officers. “And I’m sure they’ve failed hundreds of people.” Texas Chronicle 

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Anthony Gay, who spent more than 20 years in solitary, is advocating for reform from a federal prison in Missouri. He endorses the End Solitary Confinement Act, a federal bill, and hopes for the end of solitary confinement in response to self-harm. Gay says the practice creates a “vicious cycle” for incarcerated people—a cycle which deeply traumatized him after he was repeatedly sent to solitary for acts of self-mutilation instead of receiving mental health treatment. Kansas City Star 

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska set up a replica of a solitary confinement cell at the Lincoln Arts Festival to teach visitors about the practice’s harmful effects. Jason Witmer, who experienced solitary in Nebraska’s prison systems, helped set up the display, which includes a small bed and toilet, no windows, and a slot for meals. “Think Outside the Box. Solitary Reform Now,” the display on the cell reads. KLKN-TV

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The Eagle County Jail in Colorado is under fire for using force against incarcerated people deemed at risk of harming themselves. In 66 incidents between 2021 and 2022, officers restrained people using methods like tasers, suicide smocks, or “WRAPs”—a full-body restraint—and often placed them in solitary confinement. Though a local nonprofit, Your Hope Center, used to provide mental health services and advocate for transfers to behavioral health facilities, this service is no longer offered due to a change in insurance. Mindsite News 

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Journalist Julia Carpenter explores the prison library system, which is fraught with censorship and inaccessibility. For people in solitary confinement, book access is particularly limited, as they cannot visit libraries in person and can only request limited titles from a catalog. Their requests often result in copies with missing pages or even deliberately incorrect books, as the person fulfilling the order can send whatever title they want. The article features Kwaneta Harris, a recipient of a Ridgeway Reporting Project grant from Solitary Watch. Esquire

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