On February 12, federal judge Cynthia Reed Eddy of the US District Court of Western Pennsylvania ruled that Shoatz’s suit should be decided by a jury trial. “While Shoatz may have been subjected to the same conditions as other inmates on administrative custody status, the fact remains that Shoatz endured these conditions for 22 consecutive years,” she wrote in her decision. Furthermore, she noted that the Supreme Court had stated, in Hutto v. Finney, that solitary confinement may be unconstitutional “depending on the duration of the confinement and the conditions thereof.”
Read this article in The Nation about how the case of Russell Maroon Shoatz, who spent nearly 30 years in solitary confinement, could set a precedent for others held in prolonged isolation.
By his 70th birthday in 2013, Russell Maroon Shoatz had spent nearly 30 years in extreme solitary confinement. A prisoner in Pennsylvania’s Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), Shoatz spent 23 hours each day confined to a 7-by-12-foot cell. He ate all his meals alone inside that cell. He slept under lights that were never turned off. He was not allowed any educational, vocational, or group programming. Five days a week, he was permitted to spend one hour in a fenced-in exercise cage. Each time he left his cell, he was strip-searched and placed in shackles. When his family came to visit, he was placed in a booth and made to communicate with them from behind plexiglass. He could not hug his children or hold his grandchildren. Shoatz remained in handcuffs and leg irons during visits.In 2013, Shoatz filed suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). He sought not only an end to his indefinite solitary confinement but also to receive monetary damages for decades of pain and suffering. He argued that prolonged placement in isolation deprived him of numerous basic human needs, including environmental stimulation, social interaction, psychological health, emotional well-being, physical health, sleep, exercise nutrition, and fundamental human dignity. He also argued that the prison had violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and his 14th Amendment right to due process. The DOC argued that Shoatz was subjected to the same conditions as any other prisoner in solitary.
ICAT is supporting efforts to end solitary confinement in Illinois prisons.
Sign our petition calling on the State of Illinois to immediately end solitary confinement.
Illinois state prisons have approximately 2,200 prisoners in solitary confinement whose average length of stay is 2.8 years. These prisoners are alone in a cell with no human contact for 23 hours a day with limited access to commissary, phone calls or exercise.
Eighty-five percent of Illinois prisoners placed in solitary confinement are there solely as a disciplinary action for minor behavioral infractions. Medical experts, Amnesty International, and the Chicago City Council have condemned solitary confinement.
We think this is an important article from The Chicago Tribune:
Young, black activists emerge amid repeated police controversies in Chicago
By Dawn Rhodes and Tony Briscoe
December 21, 2015
An iconic image has emerged from street protests since Chicago released video of a white police officer gunning down black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald: a teenager standing nose to nose with a police officer, staring him down without flinching.
For the past four weeks, activists — overwhelmingly black and mostly in their teens and early 20s — have marched down the middle of busy streets during rush-hour traffic and lain down in intersections. They have rushed the Magnificent Mile on the year’s busiest shopping day, locking arms and blocking store entrances. Thursday, on Christmas Eve, they vow to come back downtown to disrupt last-minute shopping.
Read this great profile of ICAT member Sister Benita Coffey, including her thoughts on solitary confinement:
Even though over two million adults are currently
incarcerated in our country, injustice within our correctional system can sometimes seem invisible and easy to ignore, especially if we do not have a personal connection to the issue. Fortunately, dedicated individuals like Sister Benita Coffey, OSB, are working to insure that we do not forget our brothers and sisters in prison, particularly those who face solitary confinement and/or the death penalty.
“Solitary confinement is torture, and has been declared that by the U.N. and anybody who has any sense at all,” says Sister Benita, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago who is working to end torture in our prisons. She serves as the Social Justice Promoter in her community and works with the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT).
Jul 24, 2015
By Tatiana Walk-Morris
President Obama isn’t the only one calling attention to troubling living conditions in America’s prisons.
Uptown People’s Law Center, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, United Voices for Prisoners and Black & Pink Chicago gathered with community members, former prisoners and their families to host a rally at the Thompson Center July 23 to protest the opening of the Thompson Correctional Center, which has 1,500 solitary cells.
The Uptown People’s Law Center and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a class action lawsuit last month against the Illinois Department of Corrections for its misuse and overuse of solitary confinement. The suit seeks the department’s compliance with the American Bar Association’s standards, according to a press release.
Black people are incarcerated five times more than white people are, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as whites, according to PrisonPolicy.org
“We wind up putting [people] in there for minor offenses. And once they’re there, they stay way too long,” said Allen Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. “We’ve used the criminal justice system to—instead of solving society’s problems—hide them behind brick walls.”
Please join us:
Thursday, July 23 at 5:00pm – 6:30pm
100 W Randolph St, Chicago, Illinois 60601
The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) estimates that 2,500 – 3,000 people are held in solitary confinement in Illinois on any given day. The Federal Bureau of Prisons plans to open Thomson Supermax Prison in Thomson, IL by the end of the year, bringing 1,500 new solitary cells to the state.
The United Nations considers solitary confinement beyond 15 days torture and has called for its absolute prohibition. Many people in Illinois and throughout the US have spent decades in solitary. We say NO MORE.
All those opposed to solitary confinement are invited to rally on July 23rd outside the Thompson Center, home of IDOC before marching to the Federal Building. We demand an end to the torturous practice in Illinois, by both the state and federal government. We demand that the Illinois legislature hold a hearing to investigate solitary confinement, or what they call “Segregation” or “Administrative Detention”. We demand Thomson close its doors, as Tamms did 2.5 years ago.
This action is in solidarity with anti-solitary activists in California who have been organizing actions, events, teach-ins, and more on the 23rd of every month as part of a statewide campaign to end solitary confinement. They’ve chosen the 23rd of the month because people held in solitary spend at least 23 hours/day in isolation.
RSVP via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/511219215692757/.
Fifteen years ago, Gerard G. Schultz, Jr., now 38, was convicted of murder in Phoenix, Arizona. He is serving a life sentence and has been in solitary since 2008, when he was transferred from Arizona to Illinois under the Interstate Corrections Compact. In Illinois, he was placed in Tamms Supermax Prison until it was closed by the governor in January 2013. Since that time, he has been held in the Pontiac Correctional Center, where he reports that he is still in isolation.
Read his essay at Solitary Watch.