NEWS: Roundup of National News on Solitary Confinement, May 2014

May 28, 2014
Attorneys for a man who admitted helping to kill a correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California’s San Joaquin Valley are trying to keep him out of the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. because he has serious mental health problems, including bipolar disorder and an intellectual disability.  The Justice Dept. is arguing that prison assignments are up to the Bureau of Prisons and the judge in the case has no say in the matter.

May 27, 2014
Decades of solitary confinement will continue for a Thoman Silverstein who killed a guard and three other incarcerated men while in prison. The ruling of the 10th Circuit found him too dangerous to release into the general prison population. The man had claimed that his 30 years in solitary has caused him psychological harm so he was seeking a “step-down” to less restrictive conditions of confinement.  He cited his age, the fact that he has committed no disciplinary infraction since 1988, and the fact that staff psychologists gave him a low risk of violence rating. But, deferring to the Bureau of Prisons, the court denied his request, citing his old gang affiliation and the possibility it could be re-activated or the need for protection from the gang is he refuses to rejoin.  The man’s description of his time in solitary is included in the link below.

A woman held on drug charges in the Wichita County Jail in 2012 filed a suit against Wichita County and other entities for allowing her to deliver her baby in solitary confinement without help, resulting in the infant’s death.

May 26, 2014
Report on women in solitary discusses special ways they are affected: it damages relations with their children; it damages the child by not permitting contact or demonstrations of affection; children may be put in foster care; women in solitary are barred from programs that might aid them in preventing children from being taken away permanently; many are rape survivors who continue to be abused; and the possibility of re-traumatization may intensify feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, fear and paranoia.

A man in Northern State Prison in Newark, NJ is suing the state on the grounds that he has been kept in solitary confinement for 8 years, without due process and in violation of his rights against cruel and unusual punishment. He was accused of plotting uprisings in 4 prisons and the assassination of then Newark Mayor Booker, but no changes were ever brought and no evidence present. The trial is scheduled for July.

May 25, 2014
Boy of 15 was put in solitary confinement in a maximum security cell at the Utah State Prison after he pled guilty to participating in an armed robbery and was given two concurrent sentences of 1-15 years.  He pled guilty after what his father says was bad legal advice that he would probably get a light sentence.  His father is concerned that he will be destroyed by the isolation.

May 24, 2014
Immigrants in detention facilities across the country are often coerced into working for $1 a day or less.  Some report that they have been threatened with solitary confinement if they did not work, even when they were ill.  And, at least one woman said she was put in solitary for no reason, but the work gave her a tiny bit of freedom and the opportunity for contact with others.

An article on the relationship between decreased funding for programs for the mentally ill in Colorado and the increases in the percentage of mentally ill people in the prisons, also notes that, once they’re in, people with behavioral-health problems have more trouble getting out.  A study showed they stayed an average of five times longer than other individuals in the prisons.  And, despite the pledges to remove mentally-ill people from isolation because of concerns that it is counterproductive and inhumane, jailers say solitary confinement is still used routinely.

May 21, 2014
The Justice Department has settled its lawsuit against the State of Ohio to end unlawful seclusion of youth in juvenile correctional facilities.  The State Department of Youth Services (DYS) will also ensure that young people in its juvenile facilities receive individualized mental health treatment to prevent and address the conditions and behaviors that led to seclusion.

NY Times article reports that “attacks on health care workers and other civilian staff members at Rikers Island have spiked over the last year, as officials have scaled back their use of punitive measures and expanded treatment for the swelling ranks of mentally ill [people] at the … jail complex.”  They report that violent incidents are up since July 2013 and all but 3 of the 39 incidents involved incarcerated individuals with a mental health diagnosis.  The problems are said to be slowing down reform efforts.  But Mayor De Blasio has vowed to implement reforms including providing more intensive clinical attention to mentally ill people in the jail instead of solitary.

After roughly 10,000 gallons of chemicals leaked into a West Virginia watershed, officials at Charleston’s South Central Jail claimed that the people incarcerated there were given plenty of clean water to drink. But people who were incarcerated there say they were sometimes given too little clean water so they resorted to using contaminated tap water. Many say they suffered a myriad of health problems after exposure to the chemicals in the water supply, but if they asked to see a nurse too many times they could be sent to solitary confinement.

May 20, 2014
Marty Horn, the Former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction and former Secretary of Corrections of Pennsylvania argues that holding Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing in solitary confinement is unjustified because: he has not yet been tried and found guilty; and, the standard for such separation should always be behavior—not affiliation, crime or beliefs. He further argues that means must be found by his jailers to reduce the extreme social isolation he is experiencing to avoid psychological deterioration.

New Mexico’s Department of Corrections Cabinet Secretary Gregg Marcantel, spent 2 days in solitary.  He is now making changes in policy – i.e releasing people who are not dangerous. (60-80 so far.)

An Egyptian-born imam (known as Abu Hamza)was convicted of terrorism charges in New York and faces a life sentence. He was extradited to the US in 2014 with four other terrorism suspects after a long battle in UK and European courts, in which the defendants argued that the long-term solitary confinement they would likely face if convicted amounted to torture. Apparently, the US government, as a concession to the British government, promised not to hold him in solitary confinement at ADX Florence if he were convicted.

May 16, 2014
An Omaha man who went on a killing spree last year shortly after he left prison had been in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day during his final years in custody and was then released with no attempts to help him ease back into society.  According to a state Ombudsman, the isolation might have worsened the man’s already severe mental health problems since in isolation he did not have the same access to mental health services as other people in the prison.  Lawmakers have begun an investigation into the case and whether it reflects larger problems in the state corrections system.

A Portland, Maine lawyer said he can cite at least four cases in the last two months where mentally ill people are being arrested and held in solitary confinement for misdemeanors.  In one case, his client called 911 repeatedly, asking to be taken to the hospital because he didn’t have medicine for his schizophrenia. The client was arrested for misuse of the 911 system and violation of conditions of release, both misdemeanors. The client was kept in solitary confinement for 10 days.  According to the State’s Atty. Gen., although there is a statewide procedure on how to deal with maximum security or solitary confinement, when it comes to county jails, it’s up to each of their discretion. – ixzz3264dQwaD

May 14, 2014
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder, Jr. spoke out against what he described as the unnecessary use of solitary confinement for imprisoned juveniles who suffer from mental illness.  He noted that “solitary confinement can be dangerous, and a serious impediment to the ability of juveniles to succeed once released … [and that] … this practice is particularly detrimental to young people with disabilities – who are at increased risk under these circumstances of negative effects including self-harm and even suicide.”  He promised his department will continue to work to end excessive seclusion of youths with disabilities.

Lawyers for a transgender Georgia woman say that she has served most of her sentence in solitary to keep her “safe” from physical and sexual violence in the prison after she was raped. And, being placed in isolation has prevented her from receiving life and employment counseling as well as recreation time. The director of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, sees putting rape victims in solitary as a longer-standing women’s rights issue: the phenomenon of blaming the victim. She is put in lock-up but not the person who perpetrated the act, who still gets to be with his friends. The view is that the victimized individual should at least have a choice about this “protection.”

A man is suing several New Orleans ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials for First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations, claiming that they held him in in solitary confinement for five months after beating him and denying him medical treatment for his injuries. He had been arrested for a traffic violation, but then asked to see a lawyer when they demanded that he sign deportation papers.

May 9, 2014
The host of Democracy Now! Amy Goodman, penned an op-ed voicing her opposition to solitary confinement, which was published in several outlets across the country – in Idaho, Illinois and Wisconsin.  She mentions the position of the Texas Correctional Employees calling for reductions in the use of solitary confinement.  And she mentions the work of CAIC on the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act.

People in prison and advocacy groups in California who were involved recent hunger strikes have expressed a position on two bills currently moving through the California state legislature. They support Assembly Bill 1652, which would prohibit the state from placing individuals in solitary confinement simply on the suspicion that they belong to a gang (“gang validation”); they oppose Senate Bill 892, which was designed to achieve more comprehensive reforms, because it neither explicitly prohibits “gang validation” nor indeterminate terms in solitary confinement units.

May 8, 2014
Rep. Cedric Richmond (LA) introduced The Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014 to begin the development and implementation of national standards for the use of solitary confinement, which will ensure that it is used infrequently and only under extreme circumstances.

May 6, 2014
Amnesty International USA is calling for another investigation into the deaths of two men in South Jersey’s Burlington County. County prosecutors concluded both men died of “natural causes,” but the Amnesty group claims that conclusion ignores evidence of medical neglect.

May 5, 2014
The Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope and WISDOM, which is lobbying to cut in half the prison rolls in Wisconsin invited legislators to a church event to discuss the practices of the Department of Corrections of holding incarcerated people unnecessarily past their eligible parole dates, and subjecting them to solitary confinement under conditions described as “torture.”  They pointed out that several individuals had fulfilled their requirements for parole and were denied release, while others weren’t provided the programs needed to meet the requirements.  Several legislators promised to investigate.

May 3, 2014
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), an organization of health professionals dedicated to human rights advocacy  and outspoken in opposing the use of U.S. medical professionals in interrogations have released a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urge them to eliminate all existing procedures allowing for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees.  They note that the Army Field Manual (especially Appendix M) still includes abusive techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, exploitation of fear, attacks against ego or self-esteem, and the creation of feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

A man who had been kept in solitary confinement 23 hours and 20 minutes a day for more than two years has lost a federal lost his appeal in a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections.  The court found that his due process rights were violated because prison officials did not review his housing classification status, but also held that the Department of Corrections and 11 named officials were entitled to qualified immunity.

May 2014
An account by a retired CIA officer on the torture and imprisonment of a Vietnamese freedom fighter and the failure by the CIA and the South Vietnamese to break him through years of torture and isolation.


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