Solitary Watch: Seven Days in Solitary

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union released 26 reports alleging extensive abuses in Arizona’s prisons, including claims that individuals are being placed in solitary confinement because prison beds elsewhere are full. A federal class-action lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections is set to go to trial next month.
  • The Bronx Defenders, a criminal defense nonprofit in New York City, released a report documenting the conditions their clients experienced in solitary confinement on Rikers Island. Nearly 60 individuals were interviewed for the report, entitled “Voices from the Box”, including one 18-year-old placed in isolation for over 1,000 days. (Reported on by The Village Voice, WNYC, others)
  • Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed into law a bill that mandates New York City correctional authorities to publish quarterly data on the use of solitary confinement at Rikers Island. The bill also requires the city to release other information, including attempted suicides in isolation and the use of enhanced restraints. Meanwhile, Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte announced new reforms at Rikers, including in the use of solitary confinement.
  • The mother of Bradley Ballard, who died in isolation on Rikers Island in September 2013, has filed a lawsuit against the city and correctional officials, as well as a contractor that provides medical services at the jail and several medical personnel. The one-year anniversary of Ballard’s death was marked by a Jails Action Coalition vigil in front of the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
  • The recent death of another individual held in isolation on Rikers Island has been ruled accidental. Jerome Murdough, who struggled with mental illness, died this past February when temperatures in his cell rose to over 100 degrees.
  • The family of a man who died while in solitary confinement in a San Diego County jail in March 2013 has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court. Bernard Victorianne, 28, swallowed a bag of drugs while he was being arrested for a DUI. Jail staff allegedly placed him in isolation, rather than the jail’s medication-observation unit, despite knowing he had consumed the drugs and “obvious signs of overdose.”
  • Sarah Shourd, a contributing editor at Solitary Watch, published an article on Guernica entitled “Torture Chambers of the Mind.” She writes that the “majority of people subjected to prolonged isolation are not there for violent acts, but petty prison infractions like talking back to a guard, walking too slow or possessing contraband.”
  • Jose Padilla, a US citizen once held as an “enemy combatant” at a South Carolina military prison, has been resentenced to 21 years on a 2007 terrorism conviction. A federal appeals court had previously ruled his original 17-year sentence too lenient, but prosecutors agreed not to seek more than 30 years if Padilla’s lawyers agreed not to utilize records documenting what he endured while in military custody. Padilla has claimed he was tortured for the three and a half years he was held in South Carolina, including through the use of sensory deprivation, “truth serums” and extreme isolation; in 2012 the Supreme Court declined to reinstate a lawsuit filed against US officials.

By Aviva Stahl

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