(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Jasmine Heiss, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International USA, made the following comments today in response to the introduction in the U.S. House of Representatives of The Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014:
"'The Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014' draws a historic line in the sand with regard to the pervasive use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. juvenile facilities, adult jails and prisons. This practice not only breaches international standards for humane treatment and the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, it is a stain on the conscience of our nation. The introduction of this legislation will help us take a step toward more humane prison practices and shine a light on the tens of thousands of human beings condemned to suffer in prolonged solitary confinement with little legal remedy. We urge Congress to make reforming solitary confinement a top priority and pass 'The Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014'."
The "Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014" would create a comprehensive framework to study, develop and implement national standards for the use of solitary confinement in order to ensure that it is used infrequently and only under extreme circumstances. It will also take an important step toward increasing accountability for prison officials who fail to design and implement humane and constitutionally sound solitary confinement practices. These standards will ensure that reforming solitary confinement is a top priority in each prison system at the Federal and State levels.
The use of long-term segregation in U.S. prisons is increasingly being challenged by U.S. penal experts and others as costly, ineffective, and inhumane. However, thousands of prisoners across the USA remain in prolonged or indefinite isolation, confined to small cells for 22-24 hours a day, often in units designed to reduce sensory and environmental stimulation. Prisoners in administrative or punitive segregation usually have no access to work or meaningful rehabilitation or recreational programs and may spend years with minimal human contact. Some are released directly from isolation units to the streets, despite evidence suggesting that prisoners held in such restrictive conditions find it more difficult than others to adjust on their release, and thus have higher rates of recidivism.
Conditions such as those described above are in clear breach of international standards for humane treatment. The combined effects of the social and environmental deprivations imposed can amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of the USA's obligations under international law. As has been amply documented, U.S. courts provide only a limited remedy for prisoners held in isolation, generally deferring to prison administrators in deciding what restrictions are necessary on security grounds.
Albert Woodfox, for example, has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement in prisons in Louisiana; although he has had no serious disciplinary citations for many years, successive internal review boards since 1972 have reauthorized his continued isolation on grounds of "Reason for Original Lockdown."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.