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

June 23, 2014

A judge denied bail to a friend of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect who is being held in solitary confinement in a Plymouth county jail while he awaits trial on charges of impeding the investigation into the deadly attack.  He is not charged with participating in the bombings or knowing about them in advance.  But judge says he is still a flight risk.

June 19, 2014

A new report says the percentage of incarcerated individuals in Ohio who are members of recognized gangs remains steady at about 16 percent of the overall prison population.  The highest percentage are at the state’s supermax prison in Youngstown.

The keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project spoke “passionately” about what solitary confinement does physically and psychologically to incarcerated people.

June 18, 2014

A man who is serving a life sentence at the Supermax prison in Florence for the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania has won a federal appeal, giving him the right to visit and correspond with a larger circle of friends and relatives.  He had claimed that restrictions known as special administration measures, or SAMs, that are aimed at preventing communication with terrorists are preventing him from talking with family and friends.

In most episodes of the second season of Orange Is the New Black, solitary confinement looms large.  But will people come to think of it as the new normal?

The Box, a new graphic novel tells the story of a man who, as a teen, spent time in solitary confinement in New York City’s Riker’s Island jail.

West Virginia is beginning a study of its juvenile justice system to find better ways to keep youthful offenders out of detention centers. This was spurred by a lawsuit filed by Mountain State Justice which alleged that the young people at the former Industrial Home for Youth were illegally strip searched, placed in solitary confinement, and denied adequate access to exercise and educational materials. A judge had ordered the home closed.  In his announcement of the study, the governor cited successes in the state Justice Reinvestment Act, which focuses on community-based supervision, risk assessments, investment in drug courts and other community-based treatment options for substance abuse.

A lawsuit has been filed in Missouri in connection with the death of 36-year-old man, who was being held for trial at the Daviess-Dekalb County Regional Jail.  The suit claims that he was beaten severely and shot with a taser gun on multiple occasions and that he was kept in solitary confinement for 12 days in a cell without a toilet, sink or running water so that he was forced to sit in the cell in his feces and urine.

June 17, 2014

In South Africa, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services is being sued for torture-related damages.  Solitary confinement and other torture methods continue despite progressive laws.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is planning to implement new censorship regulations they say are designed to improve clarity about what materials should be considered contraband and which constitute threats to prison security. The rules include censorship of any material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”  Prisoners’ rights groups say the rules are overly broad and meant as retribution for political organizing as they would most likely be used to target the letters of activists, as well as publications that regularly cover prisoners’ rights.

In a Maryland jail, teens charged as adults face isolation and neglect.  Young people, thought to number in the thousands across the country, are trapped in a kind of purgatory–facing charges in adult court and held in adult facilities, but kept in involuntary lockdown for “their own protection” from the adult prisoners who surround them.

June 16, 2014

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) is pushing the American Institute of Architects to prohibit the design of spaces that inherently violate human rights in their code of ethics.  The organization is collecting, from formerly and currently incarcerated people, drawings of the spaces in which they experienced solitary confinemen. These will be displayed in UC Berkley’s Wurster Hall Gallery in the fall. The architect behind this effort, says he is not advocating that we put the firms that do prisons out of business but would like it if they would foreground human rights in their work.

June 14, 2014

Man exonerated thanks to DNA evidence after 32 years in Supermax Prison now accused of murder in gambling dispute.

June 13, 2014

A new study, Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution details our government’s post-9/11 strategy in domestic terrorism cases, finding that most were unfairly prosecuted. Included in the discussion of the tactical patterns of preemptive prosecutions, is the pre-trial use of solitary confinement and special administrative measures (SAMS).

June 12, 2014

NYCLU testimony before the New York City Council on the use of solitary confinement in city jails supports the council’s efforts to provide oversight to the practice of punitive segregation and expresses the hope that this will be the first step toward comprehensive reform of the harmful conditions and practices that persist in New York City jails.  It recommends complete abolition of the practice of subjecting human beings to extreme forms of isolation and deprivation.

A federal court has ruled that the Indiana Department of Correction was wrong to put a man in solitary confinement for using a computer at the request of prison officials.  He had been asked to download materials at the request of prison librarians.–Inmate-Computer

June 11, 2014

A man with mental illness and a low IQ who was held in solitary cell in the Durango, Colorado city jail claims his psychological condition was worsened and he became suicidal.  Prison officials argue he was in “protective custody” and it was not solitary confinement because he could talk to other men in the cell block through the door.  Advocates point out that individuals who need protection should still be able to participate in programs.

June 9, 2014

The secretary of the Department of Corrections of New Mexico went undercover to experience solitary confinement.  He notes that the most dangerous individuals must be kept in segregation, but other methods, like taking away privileges should be used when punishing those who are less dangerous.  He says that as a result of his time behind bars, the system is already seeing changes.

The ACLU has issued a new report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, which documents the ACLU’s multi-year investigation into the five CAR facilities (Criminal Alien Requirement contracts) in Texas.  The issues raised include: evidence of shocking abuse and mistreatment, families torn apart, and the excessive use of solitary confinement.

June 8, 2014

The Daily News says that only a very few of the people at the Rikers jail who are mentally ill are in the special mental health unit and receiving needed services.  Efforts to eliminate the use of solitary confinements have led to others being in the general population where there is now more violence.  They argue that “Corrections must give up the illusion that it’s ending solitary until the department actually has the means to manage its … population without it.”

According to U.S. military officials, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl suffered harsh treatment at the hands of his Taliban captors, including long periods of solitary confinement. They kept him in a metal cage in the dark for weeks after he tried to escape. He is reported to be struggling with emotional issues.

A NY Times editorial praises the recent settlement between the DOJ and Ohio re: juveniles in solitary, supporting treatment as the best alternative.  But a letter to the editor from the Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance adds the view that the single most effective way to end the practice of solitary confinement for children is keep them out of adult jails and prisons.  Many are tried as adults, sent to adult jails and prisons and put in solitary for their own protection.[%22RI%3A7%22%2C%22RI%3A16%22

June 7, 2014

The solitary confinement units in East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meridian, Mississippi, privately run by Management and Training Corporation, are described by civil rights lawyers and medical and mental health experts, noting that: the people held in those units spend months in near-total darkness; illnesses go untreated or inappropriately treated; dirt, feces and, occasionally, blood are caked on the walls of cells; and, many individuals were forcibly injected with an  antipsychotic drug, even though they were not acutely psychotic. A lawsuit against the corporation and DOC officials also notes corruption amongst officers and failure to stop violence.  Later this year, a judge will consider whether to grant the plaintiffs class-action status.

June 6, 2014

A report on some of the real stats related to women in prison shows: more than 600% increase since 1980; most of the women are there for non-violent drug related offenses; many are pregnant when admitted to prison; Black and Latina women are most effected; and the women are more likely than men to be the victims of staff sexual abuse.

An article in the Atlantic praises Colorado’s rule restricting solitary confinement for the mentally ill, but warns about the abuse of classifications. The article also discusses the federal standards and the discretion they give to prison officials.

Jails are not part of the solitary confinement bill passed in Colorado.  The ACLU-Colorado now intends to turn its attention to the isolation of mentally ill people in county jails, but acknowledges that a policy change there may be more difficult because practices there are “a hodgepodge of different activities not very well regulated by the state,” and because a shortage of psychiatric beds and a lack of funding for alternative mental-health treatment may put a huge burden on the jails.  The point is made that, “Communities have to find the resources.”

The Colorado governor signed a bill banning the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill people.

June 5, 2014

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Prison Law Office can move forward with a lawsuit against the state of Arizona as a class action. The attorneys had argued that the state had long ignored the mandate to provide adequate health care and that individuals in the prisons have suffered unnecessarily and even died while waiting for basic care.  In addition to seeking adequate medical, mental health, and dental care for Arizona’s prisoners, the lawsuit challenges the state prisons’ use of solitary confinement because of the harm it creates.

Counterpunch features an article on how the US is spreading mass incarceration around the world, exporting systems of abuse in programs that are reflections and extensions of our own internal situation.  Reports of physical and psychological torture, include isolated confinement.  Although the reported reason for this effort is the war on drugs, the reports sees social and political control as  the real reason as many of the people held in these US funded facilities are political prisoners, striking farmers, indigenous leaders, union leaders and human rights advocates.

June 4, 2014

Attorneys for a man accused of kidnapping and murder but not yet tried asked the court to have him removed from solitary confinement.  The judge ruled that he should not be treated differently in jail.

June 3, 2014

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) will issue new standards which prohibit the use of room confinement for discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or reasons other than as a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to a youth or others.  The change is expected to have national impact. The revised detention standards also call on JDAI sites to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), to protect the rights of youths with disabilities, and to accommodate those with limited English skills.  JDAI also pledges a reinvestment in juvenile justice into early intervention and better prevention efforts.

In Florida, trial is to begin for mentally ill Muslim man.  Advocates say there are government videos showing FBI informants teaching and pushing the man into committing acts of terrorism.  He was held in solitary confinement for two years before his trial, but is now in the medical area of the Pinellas County jail under suicide watch.

June 2, 2014

A federal judge allowed hundreds of California incarcerated individuals to join a lawsuit (Ashker v. Brown) challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California prisons.  The court also denied the California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s (CCPOA) motion to intervene in the case.  The lawsuit applies only to individuals in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay; people held in isolation at the state’s three other security housing units are not included.  Several articles question if this will bring the end of solitary confinement.

May 30, 2014

A federal court official says that treatment of California’s most severely mentally ill prisoners is haphazard and often inadequate, delivered by a fractured, understaffed system in which doctors discharge patients back to prison because they are afraid not to.  The investigation of conditions at two state psychiatric hospitals and the psychiatric hospitals run within four state prisons was ordered by a judge after he rejected California’s bid to end federal oversight of prison psychiatric care.

In Massachusetts, two men who had been tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison when they were still youth are going before the parole board to ask for their freedom, under a controversial 2013 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling granting dozens of teenagers convicted of murder eligibility for parole.  One of the men had spent 7 of his 20 years in prison in solitary confinement.

May 29, 2014

A bill that would change policies regarding solitary confinement has been passed by the CA state senate.  The bill’s author says it will lead to safer prisons.  But, while it may have some desirable provisions, both people in prison and advocates for their rights oppose this bill because for the first time in history it would put into state law authority for CDCR to place individuals in solitary confinement for mere alleged gang membership without any accompanying serious misconduct.  They would also want it to incorporate a provision that would prohibit CDCR from using the testimony of an informant to place someone in a SHU unless that person’s testimony was corroborated by independent third party evidence.


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