end solitary confinement protest

Demonstrators protest solitary confinement in New York City on June 7, 2021.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

House Progressives Introduce Bill to End 'Moral Catastrophe' of Solitary Confinement

"Experts have condemned solitary as psychological torture—and that's exactly what it is," said Rep. Cori Bush.

U.S. House Democrats led by Missouri progressive Cori Bush on Thursday introduced a bill that would end solitary confinement—which survivors and experts call torture—in federal prisons and other detention facilities.

Noting that solitary confinement "causes devastating harm and constitutes a form of torture" and that such isolation for "any length of time" can cause self-harm including suicide and a wide range of physical and psychological afflictions, the End Solitary Confinement Act would:

  • End solitary confinement in federal prisons, jails, and other detention settings with limited exceptions, including a four-hour maximum for emergency de-escalation;
  • Protect vulnerable populations from being placed in solitary confinement;
  • Allow for longer-term separation from the general facility population while ensuring all people incarcerated in federal facilities have meaningful access to out-of-cell time, group programming, and basic needs and services;
  • Impose strict due process protections, including access to representation and neutral decision-makers;
  • Create oversight and enforcement mechanisms, including mandatory reporting, a private cause of action, oversight by a community monitoring body, and enhanced media access; and
  • Incentivize states and municipalities to adopt similar bans on solitary confinement.
"Solitary confinement is a moral catastrophe," Bush said in a statement. "[United Nations] experts have condemned solitary as psychological torture—and that's exactly what it is. This practice is traumatic for people subjected to it, harmful to communities, and isolating for loved ones."

"Moreover, it is disproportionately inflicted on Black and Brown folks, young people, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities," Bush added. "I'm proud to lead my colleagues, advocates, and survivors of solitary confinement in introducing this groundbreaking legislation. Together we will save lives by ending this heinous and immoral practice once and for all."

In addition to lead sponsor Bush, the End Solitary Confinement Act is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (Calif.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.).

"Solitary confinement is torture, and it has no place in America," Bowman asserted. "Merciless practices like solitary confinement directly target marginalized groups—including people of color, young people, LGBTQ+ individuals, and disabled individuals who are already disproportionately impacted by our prison industrial system—and cause lifelong trauma. We must end this form of cruel and traumatic punishment for everyone."

According to Bush's bill, "over 120,000 people are estimated to be in solitary confinement on any given day in federal, state, local, and immigration detention facilities."

"Survivors of solitary confinement often carry significant trauma and other physical and psychological harm with them for the rest of their lives," the proposed legislation notes.

Research like a 1990s study of dozens of former Yugoslavian prisoners of war held for an average of six months in isolation found that people locked up in solitary confinement registered brain abnormalities comparable to those who suffered physical head trauma.

"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 directs the U.S. prison program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. "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."

"I implore Congress to swiftly pass this critical legislation," he added, "for it is not only a matter of justice, but a matter of preserving human dignity and restoring hope for those who have been silenced and isolated for far too long across the United States."

Jerome Wright, co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, contended that "solitary confinement is one of human beings' greatest inhumanity to other human beings. It is torture."

"Solitary causes devastating harm and death, while worsening safety for everyone. It should have no place in our society," Wright added. "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."

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