Solitary confinement is torture, period. With the understanding that prisons are innately harmful, placing incarcerated persons into solitary confinement adds on more stress and uncertainty of their survival in restrictive housing that impacts their physical and mental health.
Currently, there are over 120,000 people in solitary confinement on daily basis in the U.S., and Latino and Black men make up for the majority of those in restrictive housing in California prisons. These spaces are usually smaller than a parking space, and prisoners who are penalized are required to stay in them for 22 ½ hours. They sleep, eat, drink, and use the restroom in solitary confinement, alone and are prone to sickness and malnutrition than in their regular cell.
Solitary confinement is classified under three categories:
- Disciplinary segregation: The use of solitary confinement to punish a person for breaking prison rules.
- Temporary segregation: The immediate isolation of a person from the general prison population due to a crisis, such as a physical altercation.
- Administrative segregation: The isolation of a person who presents a continuous threat to the safety and security of other incarcerated people, staff, or visitors.
Multiple effects on the mental health while in solitary confinement are carried on once release. Their stability declines rapidly, and it can increase recidivism when their time served in prison is complete. Anxiety and stress, depression and suicidal ideation, cognitive issues, paranoia, poor impulse control, sleep deprivation or insomnia, fear of death, hostility, and much more. Their physical health is also impacted with results of chronic headaches, eyesight deterioration, digestive problems, dizziness, excessive sweating, fatigue and lethargy, weight loss, and joint pain. Most solitary confinement rooms do not have a window and are poorly sanitized.
In Missouri, a transgender woman was in solitary confinement for more than 2,000 days while in prison and has made a lawsuit this month and alleges that corrections officers discriminated her against her because she has HIV. Her attorneys claim that this treatment of torture is cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment) and violates the Equal Protection Clause. With her being known to have HIV while in prison, she was vulnerable to assault and violence from other inmates, and prison officials did not offer her protections despite the risks.
In 2022, legislators attempted to pass AB 2632, an older version of the California Mandela Act that would be later vetoed by California Governor Gavin Newsom (known for being in approval of prison reform), due to the “scope of eligibility” being broad for whom solitary confinement would be exempted from. The populations that AB 2632 would have applied to include: people who are pregnant, under 26 years old, over 59 years old, and those with a mental or physical disability. Newsom declared that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would be the head of making changes to regulations of solitary confinement, but there are yet to be defined in 2023.
However, the bill came back as AB 280 in Spring 2023, reintroduced by Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden from Pasadena. Additions to the bill that give more specification are that it would set limits for confinement to not more than 15 consecutive days, or 20 days total in any 60-day period, requires facilities to keep clear records on the use of solitary confinement in order to provide public transparency, and that it defines segregated confinement in California state law. According to Disability Rights California, an organization that is sponsoring the bill, they mention that AB 280 does not eliminate individual housing when appropriate or necessary including after the 15-day solitary confinement limit and the alternatives for housing should be transition pods and residential rehabilitation units if and when appropriate to ensure the safety of themselves and others, with access to out of cell time and support services.
Here is the timeline of where the bill is at now:
- AB 280 passed off the Assembly floor with a super majority.
- AB 280 passed out of Assembly Appropriations on May 18th.
- AB 280 was heard in Assembly Public Safety Committee on March 14th, 2023 and passed.
Kevin McCarthy on behalf of Berkeley Underground Scholars and Hamid Yazdan Panah on behalf of Immigrant Defense Advocates conducted a cost analysis finding significant savings if we limit solitary confinement in California.
Read their full report here: https://imadvocates.org/cost-of-solitary-confinement-in-california/
- AB 280 (Holden) - The California Mandela Act | Disability Rights California
- California will try to limit solitary confinement — again - capradio.org
- The California Mandela Act, Targeting Solitary Confinement in Jails, Prisons and Immigration Detention Facilities Moves through Committee | Official Website - Assemblymember Chris Holden Representing the 41st California Assembly District (asmdc.org)