U.S. Senate Hearing, ACLU Focus on Solitary Confinement and Terrible Effects on Incarcerated People

By Ebenezer Mamo

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on “Legacy of Harm: Eliminating the Abuse of Solitary Confinement” here last week, and survivors of solitary confinement, family members, and allies held a rally and press conference urging President Biden and Congress to Enact the End Solitary Confinement Act, S. 3409/H.R. 4972.

ACLU’s press statement noted “today’s hearing comes right after a Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report that said 46 percent of all deaths by suicide take place in federal Bureau of Prisons custody due to solitary confinement.”

The ACLU added another report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office documented “widespread and racist infliction of solitary in BOP prisons, new investigative reporting about staff sexually assaulting women in BOP prisons and then locking them in solitary as retaliation for reporting those assaults, and a new report documenting the increased use of solitary in federal immigration detention.

The ACLU’s Maria Morris, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, wrote solitary confinement is very dangerous and harmful to incarcerated people. The biggest harm from solitary confinement for incarcerated people is suicide.

Morris wrote, in one 15-month period, 15 people committed suicide in Alabama prisons with 13 out of those 15 suicides a result of solitary confinement. Nearly half the suicides in the BOP occur in solitary confinement, even though solitary makes up about eight percent of the population.

ACLU charged people are left in solitary confinement, noting, One of Maria Morris’s clients – a young man who was seriously mentally ill and developmentally disabled – was repeatedly placed in solitary confinement for harming himself – and was in solitary confinement when he ultimately died by suicide.”

The ACLU added another client is a man with schizophrenia. He was kept in solitary confinement for seven years. He routinely heard voices telling him that he needed to harm himself to keep his sister from being raped. He would then start to bang his head on his cell bars, he would be pepper sprayed, decontaminated, and then go back to the same cell, where he would again bang his head on the bars.

This happened over 50 times in one year, said the ACLU. Eventually he was placed in a mental health unit where he was able to have social interaction and be out of his cell, and he almost immediately was able to stop hurting himself.

“Solitary confinement is a dangerous, widespread practice in the Bureau of Prisons and ICE immigration detention, and it must be stopped,” said Morris.

Natasha White, director of Community Engagement, Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), said in ACLU’s statement, The End Solitary Confinement Act is not just a piece of legislation; it is a beacon of hope for countless individuals trapped in a cycle of suffering. Human rights should apply to all humans. Imagine if you had to spend years in a small windowless cell with minimal to no human contact and on top of that not having sunlight or fresh air.” 

White notes how she witnessed suicides, endured sexual abuse at the hands of correction officers, and felt the crushing weight of isolation every single day.”

The ACLU added her ex-husband “spent a staggering 12 years in solitary within Bureau of Prisons facilities. The truth is that solitary confinement leaves individuals broken and irreparable, emotionally disconnected and often filled with rage and despair. It pushes many to the brink of suicide as a desperate attempt to silence the constant torment within their minds.” 

Rev. Kendal L. McBroom, director of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church and Board Member, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said, We are happy to have so many people to advocate and show support for the End Solitary Confinement Act.

McBroom added, “It has been too long for the family that has had to deal with the aftereffects of their loved one coming home and readjusting to life. It has been far too long for a child trying to understand their parent post experiencing the torture of solitary confinement. It has been too long for the human being who has suffered under this heinous practice. It is time to pass the End Solitary Confinement Act.

Jessica Sandoval, national director of the Unlock the Box Campaign, said in the ACLU statement, said passing of the End Solitary Confinement Act is not merely alegislative necessity, but a moral imperative.” 

Sandoval added, “Solitary confinement is torture that inflicts incredible mental physical and emotional harm on these inmates. This country must get rid of these types of government violence and abuse that betray our values of dignity and justice. We urge swift action to change this punishment paradigm and uphold our commitment to human rights.” 

Eddie Ellis, co-director of Outreach & Member Services at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, and survivor of solitary in Bureau of Prisons custody said, I am a survivor of solitary confinement and I spent 10 years there. There was nothing rehabilitating or remotely helpful about it. It is only very harmful. I thank God that I survived those dehumanizing conditions. Solitary confinement is inhumane and destructive. I have been home for 18 years and I still have residual effects of solitary.”

Ellis added, “We need to ban solitary confinement. It causes devastating mental and physical harm, and even death. Nearly half of all deaths by suicide in the Federal Bureau of Prisons occur in solitary confinement. It’s time to ban solitary confinement and do more to help those who are there.” 

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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