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Afsc Statement to Judiciary Re Solitary Confinement 2012

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1501 Cherry St, Philadelphia, PA 19102 · (215) 241-7000 ·

HEARING: “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public
Safety Consequences”
SENATE COMMITTEE on the Judiciary
SUBCOMMITTEE on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
JUNE 19, 2012
Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Graham and members of the Subcommittee: I am
honored to submit this testimony for the record on behalf of the American Friends Service
Committee (AFSC) regarding today’s hearing on solitary confinement, which has been a
focus of our work for more than 25 years. We thank you for holding this critical and timely
Solitary confinement is characterized by long periods of isolation, with little or no human
contact, often including lights on, or off, for 24 hours per day, deliberately loud sounds,
extreme hot or cold, menacing dogs and other egregious violations of human rights.
We find the use of solitary confinement to be:
Pervasive – far overused and racially disparate
Illegal – a form of torture recognized and prohibited under international law
Harmful – to the mental health of those with and without pre-existing mental conditions
Solitary confinement is Pervasive. Solitary confinement is widely used in almost every state and
within the federal system, in both dedicated long term supermax prisons and other forms of
control units, and as shorter-term punishment units. The numbers are difficult to determine,
due to lack of consolidated recording and reporting and other problems such as inconsistent
definitions, changing policies and court decisions. Many experts are finding solitary
confinement widely overused.
Quaker values in action

In addition the practice suffers from the same racial disparities evidenced in other aspects of
the criminal justice system, with people of color significantly over-represented.
Solitary confinement is Illegal. The use of long term solitary confinement is in violation of
international covenants:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 7, 10, 16
U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment, Articles 1, 4
U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5
American Convention on Human Rights (ratified by 24 OAS (Organization of
American States) nations, but not the U.S.)
Although officials often claim that there is no clear definition of torture, torture is defined by
the UN Convention Against Torture as, “any state-sanctioned action by which severe pain or
suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for obtaining
information, punishment, intimidation, or for any reason based on discrimination.”
By this definition, security housing units fail on several counts: they cause
severe pain both physical and mental; they do primarily for the purpose of
punishment, intimidation, or with the hope of extracting information; and they
are the most racially segregated part of the prison system.
Solitary confinement also violates the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment ban on cruel and
unusual punishment. Its use in the United States has been rejected by the European Union,
which will not extradite people to the U.S. if they will be placed isolation. The U.S. has come
under frequent condemnation from the United Nations Committee on Torture and the UN
Special Rapporteur on Torture for the cruelty of this practice.
Solitary confinement is harmful. AFSC has documented the harms of solitary confinement in
Supermax units are damaging to prisoners’ mental health
There is no evidence that supermax units reduce prison violence
Long-term isolation is linked to increased recidivism.

In 1944, the Quakers formed the Prison Service Committee to provide support to and
monitor the incarceration conditions people who had been imprisoned for of conscientious
objection to war. Since that time, the American Friends Service Committee has sought to

provide individual and collective advocacy over conditions of incarceration, policy advocacy
against mass incarceration, the death penalty, “life without parole,” and immigration
detention. In the course of our work we have documented scores of prison abuses including
the use of stun guns and restraint devices, rape, prison chain gangs, and inadequate medical
care. Letters we have received from prisoners across the U.S. document significant, systemic
problems in the area of solitary confinement.
Please allow us to share a few examples of testimony that we have gathered directly from
people who have experienced solitary confinement. Some of these conditions have been
witnessed directly by our staff in the course of their work inside prisons.
If you do something wrong, they lock you down. They make you go to bed early and feed you when
they want to feed you. They lock you in this little cell (she describes something about 3 x 5). I cried
every night there. It's painful. I felt like I couldn't get air. I cried every night there.
A.H. age 17, New Jersey
I went in when I was 14 to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center. They have what they call an
"MCU" there, and it's like the "hole" in a regular prison. [MCU - "management control unit" a form of solitary confinement which may be an administrative, rather than punitive
sanction] Kids that fight go in there. If you refuse, they come and get you. You don't see anybody in
there. The lights go off early and there are no visits there. They bring the food to you. They even
turnoff the toilets at 9 p.m. so if you have to go, you can't flush. It's freezing at night. There is no
heat at all in lockdown.
D.D. age 15, New Jersey
I was placed in solitary confinement for trying to escape from prison. The actual sanction for the
attempted escape was only 30 days, but once that sanction ended the prison administrators
continued to hold me in solitary for the next 120 months. I was not allowed to participate in any
sort of group therapy, religious services, vocational training, educational courses, or rehabilitative
programs. I was allowed to shower three times a week; each shower was seven minutes. I was
allowed to go outside into a small cage for one hour, five times a week. For any of this movement
outside of my cell, my hands were cuffed behind my back before the officers would open my cell
door, then I was searched.
It is difficult to describe what such a long time in solitary confinement feels like, as it is difficult to
gauge how it has affected me. For ten years though I was powerless… There was no way to block
out the sounds of a neighbor who was kicking with all of his might on his steel cell door because an
officer refused to let him shower. There was constant stress because of my inability to earn a
release, which in turn extended my incarceration for six years. My weight dropped from 170 lbs to
145 lbs, and I developed high blood pressure that required a number of medications.
In response to my pleas for release, the warden would merely tell me to keep on “doing good
time…” I would appeal to him about my many years of exemplary behavior…He never

commended me, however, and never released me from solitary. I ended up serving ten years in
solitary confinement.
Peter Martel, Program Associate, AFSC Criminal Justice Program-Michigan; law degree

Families are also affected:
My son was able to escape the frightening conditions of 4-A, one of two SHU [Special
Housing] units, (guards setting up rooster fights and shooting from the tower) by reading—
although he did experience one of the set up fights—not by choice. We all sent books, as many as
we could each month, and newspapers and magazines which he passed along to others. But, in
this, reading and family, he was more fortunate than most. Because Corcoran was off in the
middle of nowhere and the guard’s union was so powerful, murder and mayhem on the part of a
few guards prevailed in 4-A of the Corcoran SHU. Despite photos of yard fights and the Preston
case, no guard was punished. It was almost as frightening to be a parent at that time as to be a
Parent of a SHU prisoner, California, 2008

Our advocacy work has yielded results
Through the efforts of AFSC, its regional programs, and allies, we have achieved the
following changes in the use of solitary confinement:
Maine – 60% reduction in prison population held in isolation, and the ending of
solitary confinement in the mental health unit
Michigan – 30% reduction in people held in administrative segregation since 2008;
closure of a maximum security prison;
New Jersey - secured litigation leading to release of 80 people from a control unit and
closing of security threat group (“gang”) unit;
California – AFSC regional director chosen mediator by hunger strikers at Pelican
Bay facility over conditions; minor concessions won; larger issues currently in
The American Friends Service Committee is heartened by the Subcommittee’s leadership in
holding this hearing, and we are grateful for the opportunity to present stories drawn from
our organizational experience with individuals and communities impacted by solitary
confinement. We urge the Committee to move swiftly and take concrete actions to prohibit
solitary confinement at the federal, state and local level:
AFSC supports congressional efforts that seek an immediate end to the use of solitary
confinement for extended periods, as recommended by the U.N. Special Rapporteur;

AFSC calls for congressional action to establish independent prison oversight boards,
with prisoner access without fear of reprisals;
AFSC requests congressional action to require full collection and comparative
reporting, by the Department of Justice, of data on all solitary confinement in U.S.
federal, state and local prisons and jails.
Thank you again for this opportunity to express the views of the American Friends Service
Committee. We welcome the opportunity for further dialogue and discussion about these
important issues.

These and other AFSC materials on solitary confinement may be found on our resource page:
The Lessons of Marion: The Failure of Maximum Security Prison, A History and Analysis, 1985
The Use of Control Unit Prisons in the United States, 1997
Survivor’s Manual, 1997;
Torture in US Prisons – Evidence of Human Rights Violations, 2001
Our Children’s House, 2002
The Prison Inside the Prison: Control Units, Supermax Prisons, and Devices of Torture, 2003;
Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails, 2007;
Tolerating Failure: The State of Health Care and Mental Health Care Delivery in the Michigan
Department of Corrections, 2007;
Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons, 2008;
Inalienable Rights, 2009.
Private Prisons: The Public’s Problem, 2012;

Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System, by Laura Magnani
and Harmon Wray, 2006;
When the Prisoners ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolition, by Jamie
Bissonette with Robert Dellelo, et al, 2008;
Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther, by Marshall “Eddie” Conway
and Dominique Stevenson, 2011;
Stop Torture in U.S. Prisons! by Claire Schoen with Tony Heriza
Concrete, Steel & Paint, by Tony Heriza and Cindy Burstein;