Solitary Confinement

Today’s post is all about solitary confinement and the debate taking place about the harms it causes.

This is a problem  for us in Hawai`i. Saguaro has built a special unit for solitary (protective custody, it’s called). It is easy for untrained guards to lock folks down. Not so good when folks with mental health issues decompensate while locked down. We can change things by SPEAKING OUT for human rights and dignity.


California’s Secret Solitary Courts
Sarah Shourd, The Daily Beast, Oct. 6, 2015

Despite a new settlement that bans indefinite solitary confinement in California, prisons are finding new secondary excuses to lengthen time in the SHU.

“A change in policy in California just last month could result in an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 prisoners being released from solitary confinement into the general prison population.

“Seventy-eight of these prisoners have been isolated for more than 20 years. Like being confined to a small fish bowl in the dark corner of an attic—these prisoners will suddenly be thrust into a much larger aquarium, teeming with life.


“’Let’s say a Correctional Officer (C.O.) decides a guy is a real pain in the ass,’ says Carbone. ‘Maybe he has institutional notoriety, maybe he’s been filing too many complaints, or the C.O.s just don’t like him. They can take an ordinary rule violation, transmute it into gang activity, and make sure said prisoner stays off the mainline for a long time.'”


Like Being “Buried Alive”: Charles Dickens on Solitary Confinement in America’s Prisons
Michael Stern, The American Prospect, Oct. 8, 2015


“In 1842 Dickens wrote a scathing critique of solitary confinement in America. Nearly two centuries later, little has changed.

“More than 170 years before Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy denounced the “human toll” of solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons in his concurring opinion in Davis v. Ayala this June (see “Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement” in the Fall 2015 issue of theProspect), Charles Dickens had reached the same conclusion. The system of “rigid, strict, solitary confinement” is cruel and wrong,” he wrote in American Notes, his 1842 report on his travels in America that year.


“Dickens urged his American readers to abolish the Silent System: “Nothing wholesome or good has ever had its growth in such unnatural solitude, [and] even a dog … would pine and mope and rust away beneath its influence.” But his common sense and common decency have not prevailed. Eastern ended its solitary confinement practices in 1913 and was closed in 1970. But the soul-destroying methods of isolation and deprivation it pioneered have become mainstream once again in America’s prisons. It’s finally time to abolish them.”


Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement
How we can reduce, make more humane, and ultimately eliminate a practice that, in Justice Kennedy’s words, drives prisoners “to the edge of madness”
Margo Schlanger & Amy Fettig, The American Prospect Long Form, Fall 2015


“Solitary is not now, if it ever was, reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

“Prisoners are in solitary for talking back to officers, posting on a Facebook page, or possessing too many stamps.

“After a half-century of steep increases in imprisonment, a bipartisan consensus is finally emerging that the United States keeps too many people locked up. The current incarceration rate is four times what it was in this country in 1970 and five to ten times higher than rates today in Western Europe and other developed democracies. The cost to the American public is enormous—over $85 billion a year. In this one area, the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist agree with a broad swath of religious leaders, civil rights and civil liberties advocates, and liberal politicians. All criticize our current criminal justice policies as inhumane, ineffective, and unduly costly.


  1. Prisoners should never be subject to long-term solitary confinement when it is not truly necessary for safety and security.
  2. Solitary confinement should be used for the least time possible.
  3. Prisoners who are particularly vulnerable to serious medical and mental-health injury should not be confined in solitary confinement for more than an emergency period.
  4. Out-of-cell time is critical.
  5. Solitary confinement should not include sensory deprivation or complete social isolation.
  6. When prisoners are placed in solitary confinement, they should be closely monitored by correctional and health staff.
  7. Prisoners should be given realistic incentives and support to follow facility rules.
  8. Empower independent oversight.”


What Can Reforming Solitary Confinement Teach Us About Reducing Mass Incarceration?
It’s not about non-violent offenders. And it won’t be cheap.
Taylor Pendergrass, The Marshall Project, Oct. 13, 2015


“The “justice reinvestment” principle — ensuring that savings from reducing mass incarceration are reallocated back into the system in order to improve safety — is equally applicable when it comes to reducing solitary confinement.

“Although it would have been hard to believe even several years ago, reform of solitary confinement is starting to look inevitable. For decades, a small movement of the incarcerated and their families, advocates, medical and mental health professionals, and forward-thinking corrections leaders labored against solitary confinement with only rare, incremental, and quiet success. Compare that to the last few years: two of the largest prison systems in the country (California and New York) announced major solitary reforms, solitary confinement was front and center at three U.S. Senate hearings, 15 states considered reform legislation last year, Justice Anthony Kennedy all but invited a constitutional challenge to the practice, President Obama advocated reform, and the national organization of corrections executives called solitary a ‘grave problem.'”




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