Every morning, Mary Frances Barbee wakes up and experiences a “microsecond of happiness before the terror sets in.” Barbee had a heart attack, transient ischemic attack and then a stroke after her sons were incarcerated. She puts on a brave front when they call. “I wonder what they are going through, will they be able to call today, and how long until they are out of lockdown again,” Barbee, 71, says as she chokes back tears. “Will it be for just three hours after many days or weeks locked inside? They have no exercise. Four, six or 12 days without a shower. It is inhumane treatment on a daily basis.” What Barbee is living through is something that millions of people inside and outside razor wire are also experiencing: The purgatory of endless prison “lockdowns” where prisoners are forced to live in isolation that typically exceeds punitive segregation conditions.
Solitary confinement is the practice of isolating a prisoner from all human contact for an extended period of time. It is often used as a form of punishment or to control behavior, but it can have serious negative effects on mental health. Most countries around the world limit the time that a prisoner can spend in solitary to 15 days. The United States doesn’t. There are scores of prisoners across the U.S. who have been in solitary for years and, in some cases, decades. It should be clear to everybody — the courts, the states, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons — that solitary only worsens already bad situations. It shouldn’t be in use.
In prisons and jails across America, between 41,000 and 48,000 people are currently being held in solitary confinement, or “isolation,” as it is called in a new study by the Correctional Leaders Association and the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale University Law School. Those numbers are too high, especially when the United Nations’ special rapporteur for torture has called the U.S. practice of using solitary confinement as a punishment a form of torture. Still, as high as the numbers are, they are far lower than they were in 2014. And there is growing support across the country for solitary confinement reform.
A group of human rights attorneys have filed a joint submission urging the United Nations to review abusive solitary confinement practices used in the U.S. against Black Americans. The submission, which comes ahead of U.N. officials’ April trip to the U.S. to review issues related to racial justice and equality in law enforcement, details the physical and mental health repercussions of solitary confinement. The visit is part of a four-point agenda to end systemic racism and human rights violations by law enforcement against Africans and people of African descent. It comes after the Biden administration extended an invitation to the U.N. in December.
Across the US, some 50,000 incarcerated people are kept under conditions of solitary confinement. Advocates and prisoners have pushed to define the practice as a form of torture, pointing to the devastating psychological and physical effects it has on victims. In Texas, dozens of prisoners are now hunger striking against the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons, which they say disproportionately targets Latinos. Jorge Antonio Renaud, National Criminal Justice Director of Latino Justice, joins Rattling the Bars to discuss the hunger strike and conditions of solitary confinement in Texas.
Sacramento, California – Opponents of solitary confinement said late this week it’s “disappointing” California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the “Mandela Act,” a measure that would prevent “the torture of Black and Brown people in jails, prisons and immigration detention facilities.” AB 2632, the California Mandela Act on Solitary Confinement authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would have placed “comprehensive limits on the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons, and is the first bill in the nation to also cover private immigration detention facilities. The legislation would have banned the use of solitary confinement against pregnant people, individuals with certain disabilities, as well as individuals under 26 and over 59, said advocates, defining “solitary confinement” as holding a person in a cell with severe restrictions on physical movement and minimal or zero contact with people for more than 17 hours a day.
A recently published study of people released from North Carolina prisons confirms what many have long suspected: solitary confinement increases the risk of premature death, even after release. Personal stories, like those of Kalief Browder’s isolation and subsequent suicide, are canaries in the coal mine. Underneath seemingly isolated events, researchers now find that solitary confinement is linked to more deaths after release from prison. These preventable deaths aren’t outliers; in the U.S., where the use of solitary confinement is widespread, an estimated 80,000 people are held...
Shine’s hunger strike is now in its second week and the next few days of pressure are critical! So WAT family: Contact Shane Tharrington and demand Shine's (Joseph Stewart #0802041) release from solitary even if you're not fasting in solidarity: email@example.com & 984-255-6100. The Call-to-Action gives you history and details to elaborate on. Tell Mr. Tharrington: "As a member of Witness Against Torture, I stand resolute against the use of solitary confinement. Re-classify Joseph "Shine White" Stewart because solitary confinement is torture. "
For nine and a half months, Lydia Thornton was locked into her cell nearly 24 hours a day. All of her meals were slid through a slot in the cell’s steel door. She was allowed outside to shower three times each week. Through cinderblock walls, she could hear women in adjoining cells screaming for hours on end. Sometimes they threatened to kill themselves, a threat often followed by an eerie silence. This was administrative segregation, or “ad seg,” in New Jersey’s prison system. Ad seg is one of the many official terms for solitary confinement; other systems call it punitive segregation, special housing units and keeplock.
I was just 17 years old when I was sent to solitary confinement in “Camp J,” one of the most severe lockdown units at one of America’s most brutal prisons, the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. I languished in solitary for 16 months. Back then I didn’t know that Louisiana was the solitary confinement capital of the world. All I knew was that I’d been convicted of a crime I didn’t commit, and I had to maintain my humanity in one of the most dehumanizing places on earth. It’s called “23 and 1” because you spend 23 hours alone in your cell, with one hour to take a shower or make a phone call, if allowed.
Chelsea Manning has been incarcerated for more than two weeks, since March 8. The lack of media coverage of her case is important to note since her questioning is about Freedom of the Press in the 21st Century. She is being questioned in an effort by the government to prosecute the publisher of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, for reporting stories that show US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, violations of human rights at the Guantanamo Bay prison,and the corruption of US foreign policy by corporate power. Wikileaks has published documents concerning many countries as well as US political figures.
Last year I wrote about a whistleblower from New England who took direct action to save a child’s life and who paid for it with his freedom. Marty Gottesfeld is now serving 10 years in prison for trying to save Justina Pelletier from abuse at the hands of her doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston. At the age of 14, Justine developed searing stomach pain and inexplicable digestive problems. Her parents took her to a series of doctors until a metabolic geneticist at Tufts Medical Center diagnosed her with mitochondrial disease, a genetic malady that can lead to weakened muscles, neurological problems and dementia.
By Staff of Solitary Watch - Three men incarcerated in Massachusetts who were working with a prison reform caucus of state legislators have been thrown in solitary confinement, in an apparent retaliation against their activism and an attempt to disrupt further communications. In the middle of the night on March 23, 52-year-old Timothy Muise, 44-year-old Shawn Fisher, and 39-year-old Steven James were taken from their cells at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, handcuffed, and transported by van to three separate prisons spread across the state..
By Bernardine Dohrn for Leiden Law Blog - Children are still being held in isolation in detention and correctional facilities across the United States. Children can be found curled up on cement floors in bare cells for 22 hours a day, and for days at a time. In order to use bathroom facilities in Los Angeles County Jail, young people must bang on their cell door and hope that someone comes to escort them to a bathroom. This week, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure placing broad restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for youth confined in detention pending trial.
By John Kiriakou for Other Worlds - A prisoner is kept in a small cell — usually 6 feet by 10 — alone, for 23 hours a day. For one hour a day, he or she may be taken into a small cage outside, with the opportunity to walk in circles before being taken back in. Even the outdoor cage can usually be opened and closed remotely. The idea is to keep the prisoner from having any human interaction. Those who’ve been through it call it a “living death.” The United Nations calls it torture. The practice is widespread in the United States. And until recently, it was applied even to juveniles in the federal prison.