With some 80,000 prisoners in solitary, the United States leads the world in isolating its citizens as well as incarcerating them. Though growing local and national movements are fighting solitary confinement as costly, dangerous and fundamentally inhumane and have made great headway in some places, in New York State, report Jean Casella and James Ridgeway in the new issue of The Nation, the prison system is in effect rigged to keep thousands of inmates in solitary for weeks, months, years, even decades.
In the first-ever hearing of its kind, a Senate panel heard testimony recently on the psychological and human rights implications of solitary confinement in US prisons. Casella and Ridgeway’s organization, Solitary Watch, is urging citizens to contact Committee Chair Dick Durbin and other members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, thanking them for holding the hearings and imploring them to take further action. The ACLU is also sponsoring a public statement to show widespread opposition to the misuse of solitary confinement. Join the call, and check out the venerable civil liberty group’s page of activist resources detailing how to get more deeply involved in the fight against solitary confinement. After you’ve weighed in, share this information with friends, family and your Facebook and Twitter communities.
In a 2009 New Yorker essay, Dr. Atul Gawande rightly asked : “If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any country in history has?”
Many of the witnesses called to testify at Durbin’s recent hearing described how solitary confinement can cause intense suffering and mental illness. A recent episode of Democracy Now! featured Anthony Graves, a former Texas prisoner who was fully exonerated of a murder conviction after spending eighteen years behind bars, much of that time in solitary confinement, and veteran journalist Ridgeway explaining why this practice needs to be stopped.
A weekly guide to meaningful action, this blog connects readers with resources to channel the outrage so many feel after reading about abuses of power and privilege. Far from a comprehensive digest of all worthy groups working on behalf of the social good, Take Action seeks to shine a bright light on one concrete step that Nation readers can take each week. To broaden the conversation, we’ll publish a weekly follow-up post detailing the response and featuring additional campaigns and initiatives that we hope readers will check out. Toward that end, please use the comments field to give us ideas. With your help, we can make real change.