What Will Be the Next Step Forward in the Movement to Ban Solitary Confinement in the U.S.?

With major victories coming out of both California and New York this year, a paradigm shift is taking hold in the U.S. on the use of solitary confinement. We’re likely to see more big landmarks in the months ahead, Consider the case of Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola 3, who has spent more than 40 years in solitary in Louisiana State Penitentiary: he is awaiting a decision from a federal appeals court as to whether he should be allowed the unconditional release granted him by a U.S. district judge this summer. This follows decades of litigation, including a due-process challenge to his solitary confinement.

Or maybe a federal court decision in South Carolina, where Lumumba Incumaa argues that he is being denied due process after spending 20 years in solitary despite never having a disciplinary infraction in all that time. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit recently held that Incumaa is entitled to a trial to determine whether the corrections department's process for deciding which prisoners must stay in long-term solitary meets minimum requirements of procedural due process.

Or maybe the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case out of Virginia. Alfredo Prieto has petitioned the high court to rule on the denial of his due-process challenge to Virginia's policy of permanently assigning death-sentenced prisoners to solitary confinement. Five other Virginia death row prisoners have brought a challenge to the policy on 8th Amendment grounds.

There could be further breakthroughs by state legislatures. Bills to restrict the use of solitary have been introduced in at least 15 state legislatures just this year.

Or the next big development could be from voluntary policy changes by top prison officials.  In 2013, Colorado voluntary ended its policy of housing prisoners with severe mental illnesses in long-term solitary confinement. And last year, it limited the duration of solitary to 12 months. Washington State prison officials recently cut the number of its prisoners in solitary by almost 50 percent, by developing special housing for mentally ill prisoners and creating a program to train guards to handle gang members to prevent violence.  

It would be a huge mistake to think we can now coast to victory.

There are still tens of thousands of people in solitary in the U.S. Despite President Obama’s recent call for solitary reform, his administration is getting ready to open a new $200 million Supermax prison in Illinois in 2016 — doubling the number of federal prisoners held in extreme isolation. We will have to keep up unrelenting pressure to advance the gathering national momentum to stop solitary, so that this historic opening isn’t squandered.   

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Anonymous

How about not incarcerating people who commit victimless crimes?

If someone is a dangerous belligerent, could all not be better served by a lobotomy of dangerous criminals? Science has discovered dangerous criminals have a different brain wiring. A lobotomized predator might then be harmless and it could save money by less security, released into general population or even into mental facility or back into society.

Anonymous

If someone's serving a life sentence for murder or attempted murder, they probably SHOULD be kept in solitary. Why should other prisoners' lives be put at risk simply to satisfy the conscience of people that aren't in corrections? I don't really care whether a murderer has a "disciplinary record" or not. And sometimes prisoners are kept in solitary to protect THEM (child rapists come to mind).

Robert Kent Bra...

Solitary Confinement,more cruel than the Soviet Gulag! A disincentive to bad behavior,probably not.Be fair,not cruel,be a good example!

David

Perhaps the best idea would be if we simply stopped incarcerating anybody, for any crime whatsoever. No more litigation over the death penalty, life w/o parole, solitary confinement, kosher meals, whether the state should pay for sex change operations, etc., etc., etc. Think how much money we would save if, no matter the crime, we just gave convicted criminals a stern lecture and then sent them on their way? Yes, I think ending all incarceration for any and all crimes should be the way we proceed.

Ali

Ummm....these comments are hate-filled and ignorant. You all do know that the vast majority of prisoners in solitary confinement will re-enter society, right? Do you want your new neighbor to be someone who has been kept behind a door for 20 years without any opportunity for improvement or do you want someone who has worked to address some personal and/or behavioral issues prior to release? It is important that we care about this issue because it impacts us all.

Kristin Troxell

As much as I support that ACLU is NOW backing the issue of banning Solitary Confinement in the United States, you (like other movements) have only begun to support this issue once a settlement was made in Ashker vs. CDCR. My husband, Danny Troxell, and his co-defendant, Todd Ashker, asked for ACLU's support on this issue in 2011. When ACLU went to Pelican Bay to discuss the overuse, and lack of due process for all inmates in the SHU for 10 years or more, with the Warden, ACLU opted NOT to support this issue.
The fact ACLU is stepping up as if they were part of this issue from the start, is false. As grateful as I am to have my husband on the main line after 30 years is Solitary Confinement, and all the other inmates (of all races), ACLU did not support or endorse this movement until after the settlement.
A little late in the game.

Douglas

A disincentive to bad behavior,probably not.Be fair,not cruel,be a good example! cool math games It is important that we care about this issue because it impacts us all.

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