Criminal Justice Task Force Releases First-Ever Federal Blueprint for Ending Solitary Confinement

Blueprint Provides Specifics for How the President and Congress Can Make Good on Biden's Promise to Stop This Torturous Practice

June 7, 2021 9:30 am

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce (FAST), a coalition of which the American Civil Liberties Union is a member, released the first-ever Blueprint for Ending Solitary Confinement by the Federal Government today. This document outlines how the United States government can use executive, administrative, and legislative action to end the torture of solitary confinement in federal custody, including in Bureau of Prisons facilities, U.S. Marshals Service facilities, and immigration detention.

There are a growing number of states that have taken a stand against the torture of solitary confinement,” said Johnny Perez, director of the U.S. Prisons Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and a survivor of solitary confinement. “It is time for the federal government to lead by ending the practice once and for all and incentivizing states to do so. We are hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will follow through with their campaign promise to end solitary by any name and in all forms.”

Currently, more than 10,000 people — representing nearly 8 percent of the total federal prison population — are in some form of solitary confinement in federal BOP facilities on any given day. This is a substantially higher percentage than the national average in state prison systems, and even higher than in the federal BOP a decade ago, before reductions were made under the Obama administration.

“Medical and mental health experts, impacted people, and advocates agree that solitary confinement — like that which ultimately resulted in the deaths of Layleen Polanco and Kalief Browder — is torture,” said Tammie Gregg, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Stop Solitary Campaign. “The debilitating, dehumanizing, and even deadly effects on incarcerated people are an ongoing stain on the American legal system. We strongly believe that the reforms outlined in this Blueprint will go a long way towards eradicating much of the senseless and counterproductive harm that has been caused. By taking bold action in the federal carceral and immigration systems, the administration can demonstrate that we can keep staff and incarcerated people safe without isolation. We look forward to the day when solitary confinement is a distant memory.”

Specifically, the released Blueprint calls for the U.S. government to:

  1. End all forms of solitary confinement in federal custody, other than brief lock-ins measured at most in hours to de-escalate emergency situations, or true medical quarantine in units overseen by medical staff;
  2. Ensure that all separation/alternatives to solitary, regardless of what they are called, involve access to full days out-of-cell (at least 14 hours per day) and meaningful programming and activities (at least 7 hours per day) without restraints and with at least several other people in group spaces conducive to meaningful human engagement;
  3. Enhance due process protections, using neutral decision-makers and representation at hearings; and
  4. Create oversight and enforcement mechanisms, including ensuring people wrongfully placed in solitary have legal recourse, as well as mandating data collection, independent oversight by an Ombudsperson, media, and community stakeholders, and incentives for states and localities to end solitary and create safer and more effective interventions.

In federal custody, as in state and local jurisdictions across the country, solitary and other forms of restrictive housing and practices are disproportionately inflicted on Black people, Latinx people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming people, people with mental health needs, and young people. Across the country, since the pandemic began, there has been a 500 percent increase in the use of solitary confinement, with more than 300,000 people being held in these cruel and inhumane conditions since June 2020 in the federal and state systems.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both committed to ending the practice of solitary confinement in their 2020 campaigns and policy platforms. These commitments were shared widely among other leading Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Cory Booker.

At the same time, states and localities across the country are restricting the use of solitary across partisan lines, and multiple local and state jurisdictions are moving toward fully ending solitary. In 2021, 70 pieces of legislation were filed across 32 states to end some aspect of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails.

The blueprint is online here.

About the Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce (FAST):

Convened by leading nationwide experts on solitary, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Vera Institute of Justice, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Unlock the Box Campaign, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the #HALTsolitary Campaign, the Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce is working to fully end solitary confinement in federal prisons and detention facilities, and end solitary in states and localities as well. The Taskforce is comprised of civil rights, human rights, faith, and health organizations and leaders, including people who have survived solitary confinement, people who have had family members in solitary confinement, and their allies. Members of the Taskforce have been working to end solitary confinement across the country and have come together to push for an end to solitary confinement federally.

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