Friday, March 27, 2015
The current issue of the Canadian Journal of Human Rights is a special volume focused on solitary confinement and human rights. Articles in the interdisciplinary journal include prisoner writing and philosophy as well as comparative analyses from Europe and the United States.
In the U.S., though its use has decreased since a peak in the 1990s, solitary confinement remains pervasive and concerning; an estimated 80,000 prisoners are currently detained in solitary confinement in the U.S. Indeed, even the mainstream media has picked up the issue, with no less than Vanity Fair publishing an essay on "the horrors of solitary confinement" in its January 2015 issue and the New York Times running Emily Bazelon's essay on "the shame of solitary confinement" the following month.
Activists are determined to bring an end to the practice, and have called for a complete ban on prolonged solitary confinement of more than 15 days. Lawsuits have been one vehicle. A suit in New York City led to favorable reforms. Pelican Bay prisoners mounting a pending suit in California recently won a motion to maintain past prisoners as members of the class, increasing the pressure on the state. Also in California, Statewide Coordinated Actions To End Solitary Confinement (SCATESC), began March 23, 2015, with actions in Arcata, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Cruz and in Philadelphia, PA. More locations will join on April 23rd and then 23rd of each month following.
The upcoming University Periodic Review of the U.S. by the Human Rights Council will provide another occasion for scrutiny of U.S. prison practices. A consortium of groups, led by the Center for Constitutional Rights, submitted a succinct document to the Council addressing solitary confinement. The final paragraph of the submission aptly sums up the current struggle for reform:
"The US warehouses tens of thousands of prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement, a practice
that is well-known cause to devastating psychological and physical effects. These harms are disproportionately visited upon people of color, politically-active prisoners, and those whose
gender or sexual identity is perceived to make them vulnerable to sexual assault. The US Government must take concrete steps to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement; to ensure
meaningful process prior to such confinement; to develop standards that prevent the
discriminatory use of solitary confinement; and to compile data on the use of solitary
confinement across the country."