Excellent Summary on NPR: NY Activists Launch Hunger Strike To End Long-Term Solitary Confinement

Interview Highlights

On the three major qualifiers for solitary confinement

"The first, which is the Manafort example, is that officials say that they need to protect individuals. So there's something called protective custody. The second is disciplinary segregation. You were alleged to and found to have done something wrong. And the third is called administrative segregation. That often translates into, 'We're scared of you or are worried about you in some way,' and the rules sometimes describe a person as being perceived to be a 'threat' to the security of the institution."


On who gets to make the decision about putting someone into solitary confinement and how long they're going to be there

"Historically, the people who run prisons have made this decision and made it basically unfettered. There have been debates for centuries about — whether what they call dungeons or dark cells. Now we might call them lit cells because sometimes the lights are on [24/7] — there have been debates within people called correction officials about what to do. Over the last decades, in part, as prisoners became people with rights, the prisoners have gone to court and said, 'You can't treat me, as a human being, like this.' So courts have become involved. And legislatures are increasingly involved in asking and sometimes in regulating how long or if people can be kept in isolation and huge credit goes to prisoners.

"I just think it's important to remember that in the 1960s and before, courts talked about prisoners as civilly dead, as people without rights at all. ... Like Nelson Mandela, they imagined a world that took them as human beings rather than a world that totally subjugated them. And they pressed for and convinced federal judges who had for years said, 'Hands-off, defer to corrections people,' to say, 'Yes, you too are a human being with dignity, rights and the Constitution doesn't stop at the prison gates.' "


Oh why the use of solitary confinement has been increasing in recent decades

"The basic story is as prisoners' populations grew — we're talking 1980 war on crime, war on drugs, hard on crime — nothing works. We started seeing the rise and funding for things called 'Supermax,' which are prisons designed to isolate. And by the late 1990s, there were counts of at least 25,000 people in Supermax facilities. We started counting in 2014 and at that point we looked at about 1.5 million people in prison. Of the 1.5 million we found [80,000] to 100,000, a huge number, in these profound isolating circumstances. Since those numbers have come out, and this is a joint project with the people who run prisons who are concerned about this, we're looking at efforts to have those numbers come down.


"The report the Liman Center and the Association of State Correctional Administrators put out last October talks about four jurisdictions working to make change — Colorado, Idaho, Ohio and North Dakota — with leaders saying, 'How can we cut the population, limit it or stop it altogether?' So you're looking at a movement for abolition of solitary confinement. And you're also looking at efforts to reduce it. Key, by the way, to this has to be responsible funding, because resources are needed to change the facilities and to staff the facilities. There are some places in the United States where people who work as staff in prisons are paid $30,000 a year. We need to increase the training, and we need to shift the work from grotesque, disabling activities to enabling people to be part of our social order and return as responsible citizens in it."

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Maddie Mortell adapted it for the web with Samantha Raphelson.




Solitary Confinement under Scrutiny in Albany

By Andrew Millman  WFUV  June 17, 2019


Activists have been on a hunger strike since last Thursday to pressure state lawmakers to make a bill that would limit solitary confinement in New York before the end of the legislative session this Thursday.