On January 23, 2017, ACLU filed a class action suit against Wisconsin officials alleging severe human and children’s rights abuses. The complaint’s introduction states:
The State of Wisconsin operates the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerate approximately 150-200 youth who are as young as 14 years old, in remote northern Wisconsin. The State routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility. Currently, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections officials lock up approximately 15 to 20% percent or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. Officers also repeatedly and excessively use Bear Mace and other pepper sprays against the youth, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing. These practices constitute serious violations of the children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process, as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
- J.J. et al. v. Litscher et al., No. 3:17-cv-00047 (W. D. Wis. Jan 23, 2017) (Complaint).
- ACLU, CAGED IN: Solitary Confinement’s Devastating Harm on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities (Jan. 2017).
- Erica Danielsen, Prof. Mushlin Testifies in Favor of Oversight in NY State Prisons, Pace Criminal Justice Blog (Dec. 8, 2015).
- Jason M. Breslow, What Does Solitary Confinement Do to Your Mind?, PBS Frontline, (Apr. 22, 2014).
- ACLU, Change is Possible: A Case Study of Solitary Confinement Reform in Maine (March 2013).
- ACLU, Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States (2012).
- Solitary Watch Blog
Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights, testified on February 7, 2017 before the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as part of their scheduled Briefing on Solitary Confinement.
Prof. Mushlin has been advocating for more humane conditions in state and federal prisons and jails, he has testified in the past, and written extensively on the topic. He has been consistently calling to ban the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails coupled with instituting an external and independent oversight to ensure the reform is sustained.
Please read his entire testimony here.
Our blog has written on the use of solitary confinement, its impacts, and the efforts for prison reform many times.
To continue the discussion about this dark penal practice, here is a more recent report compiled and published by ACLU. It sheds the much needed light on the use and misuse of solitary confinement and prisoners with mental and physical disabilities.
This report provides a first-ever national ACLU account of the suffering prisoners with physical disabilities experience in solitary confinement. It spotlights the dangers for blind people, Deaf people, people who are unable to walk without assistance, and people with other physical disabilities who are being held in small cells for 22 hours a day or longer, for days, months, and even years.
Few statistics from the report:
- “Nearly 50% of all suicides by incarcerated people are completed in solitary confinement.”
- “Prisoners with disabilities are placed in solitary confinement even when it serves no penological purpose.”
- “Approximately 80,000 to 100,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the U.S.”
- “32% prisoners and 40% of jail detainees report having at least one disability.”
- “Solitary confinement inflicts psychological and physical damage on human beings.”
- “Prisoners with physical disabilities are placed into solitary confinement due to a lack of accessible cells.”
Prof. Michael B. Mushlin, of Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law, is a nationally renown expert on the prison system in the United States. He has authored a four volume treatise titled Rights of Prisoners, written numerous articles on the issues of prisoners’ rights and prison oversight, and testified in the NYS Assembly Standing Committee on Correction in support of a comprehensive prison reform in New York State.
Most recently he spoke with NowThis News about the state of affairs in US prisons in a clip titled In Some Prisons, Guard Break the Law Instead of Upholding, commenting on solitary confinement, brutality, physical abuse, contraband and corruption in U.S. prisons. To find out more about the life behind bars tune in on Thursdays at 10/9 central to A&E for a rel-life series titled 60 Days In.
New York State Agrees to Overhaul Solitary Confinement in Prisons by Michael Schwartz & Michael Winerip in today’s New York Times.