Congresswoman Introduces ‘End Solitary Confinement Act’ to Terminate ‘Moral Catastrophe’ Posed by Solitary Confinement 

By Adam Solorzano and Madi Whittemore

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Cori Bush proposed a piece of historic legislation July 23—called the “End Solitary Confinement Act”—that establishes limits on the isolation of inmates in federal prisons and detention centers and encourages states to terminate solitary confinement.

Along with Bush, Democratic representatives Jamaal Bowman of New York, Adriano Espaillat of New York, Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California, Rasgida Tlaib of Michigan and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey backed the legislation.

The bill also has multiple co-sponsors and over 150 member organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that have publicly endorsed Bush’s legislation.

If passed, the “End Solitary Confinement Act” would protect vulnerable inmates from isolation, allow for different forms of separation that would allow inmates to have access to basic needs and services, improve due process (protecting procedure), impose more oversight mechanisms, and encourage states to eliminate solitary confinement practices within their state facilities.

Currently, about 122,000 incarcerated people are victims of solitary confinement and spend more than 22 hours a day in isolation, said sponsors, noting the legislation would require incarcerated inmates to have the option of spending at least 14 hours per day outside of their isolated cells.

According to Bush, “Solitary confinement is a moral catastrophe. UN experts have condemned solitary as psychological torture—and that’s exactly what it is. This practice is traumatic for people subjected to it, harmful to communities, and isolating for loved ones,” adding “it is disproportionately inflicted on Black and brown folks, young people, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities.”

Bush referenced a 2016 study done by Yale Law School that highlighted how solitary confinement targets Black and Hispanic communities, pointing out that Black men made up 40 percent of the total prison population while also making up 45 percent of total inmates in solitary confinement.

Rep. Bowman showed support for Bush’s statement regarding the harm of solitary confinement on marginalized communities, asserting, “Merciless practices like solitary confinement directly target marginalized groups—including people of color, young people, LGBTQ+ individuals, and Disabled individuals who are already disproportionately impacted by our prison industrial system—and cause lifelong trauma.”

Bowman continued, explaining, “We must end this form of cruel and traumatic punishment for everyone. I’m proud to join Representatives Bush, Espaillat, Kamlager-Dove, Tlaib, and Watson Coleman in bringing forth this lifesaving legislation to preserve the humanity and dignity of incarcerated individuals.”

In addition to harming marginalized communities, several other members of congress noted how detrimental solitary confinement is to the mental health of inmates—with many like Espaillat, Tlaib, and Watson Coleman citing suicide as a major risk.

Rep. Watson Coleman said solitary confinement has been the key factor in several mental and physical health problems because of “self-mutilation, suicide, heart disease, anxiety, depression, mental and physical deterioration, and heightened risk of death.”

Watson Coleman referred to U.S. attempts to reform its prison system and improve humane treatment of inmates, adding that it “is a step in the right direction towards our goal of rehabilitation and mental health.

“We know the clear, irreversible harm that solitary confinement causes to individuals, yet we continue to use this form of torture across the American criminal justice system” Coleman added.

Rep. Kamlager-Dove also acknowledged how brutal solitary confinement is, stating, “Current practices around solitary confinement would be categorized as human rights violations in any other context in any other country.”

Rep. Tlaib stressed, “We need to lead with restorative justice and recognize the human dignity of incarcerated people by abolishing this dehumanizing practice once and for all.”

“I’m proud to lead my colleagues, advocates, and survivors of solitary confinement in introducing this groundbreaking legislation. Together we will save lives by ending this heinous and immoral practice once and for all,” Bush concluded.

The Democratic lawmakers described solitary confinement as inhumane “torture” that “has no place in America,” hoping this act is a stepping stone in the direction of prison reform and preserving human rights.

About The Author

Madison Whittemore is a rising junior at the University of California, Davis where she studies political science and psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Madison wants to go to law school and study criminal law while working to improve efforts for prison reform and representation for lower income citizens.

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