A group of progressive Democrats in Congress has introduced a bill to end solitary confinement in federal lockups, reported staff writer Brett Wilkins of Common Dreams.
“Experts have condemned solitary as psychological torture — and that’s exactly what it is,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who introduced the bill July 27, 2023.
“Solitary confinement is a moral catastrophe,” Bush said in a statement. “This practice is traumatic for people subjected to it, harmful to communities, and isolating for loved ones.”
The End Solitary Confinement Act for federal prisons would also end the practice in other detention facilities, with limited exceptions. The bill would ensure that all such general populations have access to out-of-cell time with meaningful access to basic needs and other services and group classes.
Further provisions in the bill would require strict due process protections, including access to neutral decision-makers and representation. The legislation would give incentives to states and counties to adopt similar programs and to work on solutions to avoid solitary confinement.
If passed, the new law would create mandatory reporting, enforcement mechanisms, and oversight by a community monitoring body. It would also grant enhanced access to media.
“Solitary confinement is torture, and it has no place in America,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-Mich., a co-sponsor. Other sponsors include Reps. Adriano Espaillat of New York, Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey.
Bowman added that solitary confinement targets marginalized communities including youth, LGBTQ+, disabled persons, and persons of color. Many of these groups already suffer from a disproportionate impact by the prison system, the article quoted Bowman as saying.
Evidence on the harmful effects of solitary confinement cited in the article include that during the Balkan war, dozens of Yugoslav prisoners of war who spent an average of six months in isolation developed brain abnormalities similar to physical head trauma, according to a 1990s study.
The proposed legislation notes that “over 120,000 people are estimated to be in solitary confinement on any given day in federal, state, local, and immigration detention facilities,” and that “survivors of solitary confinement often carry significant trauma and other physical and psychological harm with them for the rest of their lives.”
“As someone who has personally endured the torment of solitary confinement, I can attest to the devastating toll it takes on one’s mental and emotional well-being,” said Johnny Perez, who works with a U.S. prison program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. He added, “The End Solitary Confinement Act is a beacon of hope for those incarcerated in federal facilities nationwide, offering a chance for reform and redemption within our criminal justice system.”
Jerome Wright, co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, considers solitary confinement a great inhumanity and an act of torture.
“Solitary causes devastating harm and death, while worsening safety for everyone,” Wright said. “It should have no place in our society. The End Solitary Confinement Act would be an urgent and critical step in the struggle for human rights and racial justice. Congress must waste no time to pass this act, and the president must sign it into law.”