The following two poems come from Ricky Silva, who is currently serving a life sentence at Florida State Prison. Silva, 34, has been held in close management, or solitary confinement, for over four years. Regarding the first poem below, entitled “Killed by the Dark,” Silva expresses his sadness and anger at the suicide of another prisoner, also held in isolation. He writes:
The poem to go along with this post is dedicated to Johnny Reed who was murdered by the department of corrections.
. . . Johnny was not perfect, but I liked him and neither he nor anyone else deserves to go through what we are going through with this long term solitary confinement.
The poem pretty much says how I feel. I just found this out yesterday so I don’t even know what to write. But it is a reality check for me. We are all mortal and I have been real close to ending my own life many times. But Johnny will not be forgotten, at least not by me.
In his second poem, Silva makes a plea for people on the outside to write someone held in isolation. Of this poem, he writes:
Imagine being so alone you feel you are surrounded by darkness. Having so much to say and no one to say it to. So much love to give yet no one to receive that love.
You want for a normal conversation the way a thirsty man wants for water in the desert.
You want for human contact, any kind of human contact to remind you you’re alive.
A letter would be wonderful but it seems all the people in your life who cared have drifted away like a leaf in an autumn breeze. You recognize the wrong you have done and often blame yourself for how bad things are though you know deep down no one deserves this treatment. Not even you.
You contemplate suicide but somehow find the strength everyday for just one more day. You hang on by a thread of hope because tomorrow might be different.
I can tell you when I feel like this, a letter alone make all the difference. So if you’re reading this blog, take time to write a letter. How can it hurt? Even if you don’t write to me. Choose anyone who is living in a concrete cage like mine. Write to them if for no other reason than to give them someone to talk to.
Open your heart and through you, you could bring the hope that keeps a man alive from day to day with only a caring letter.
The following poems originally appeared on Silva’s blog, Concrete Cage, which is maintained by a friend on the outside. Silva can be reached by writing Ricky Silva, L24722, Florida State Prison, 7819 N.W. 228th Street, Raiford, FL 32026-1000. –Lisa Dawson
KILLED BY THE DARK
dedicated to Johnny Reed (died December 2012)
He sat in the darkness, for almost 10 years
Striding forward each day, swallowing his tears
He was not perfect at all, but he didn’t deserve this
To rot in a cell, with no one to love or to miss
He was quick to laugh, when he was feeling well
Or to tell a joke, to get us away from this hell
He was a man of his word, this I know to be true
If you gave him respect, he would in turn respect you
But with each passing day, his world became black
The darkness covering a world, he would never get back
Life became heavy, a great struggle each day
depression set in, and would not go away
Than one day the wing became loud, with everybody banging
The guards went to check it out, and they found Johnny hanging
They broke his fucking ribs, trying to pump air into his chest
And then let him die, saying that they did their best
Johnny for what it’s worth, I’m sorry you had to go
You were one of the few in here, I was happy to know
I can’t lie and say, it has not crossed my mind
I’ve come very close myself, from time to time
You were a warrior Johnny, make no mistake
But even a warrior, has only so much they can take
Just want you to know, you will be missed
Not just another soul, claimed by the darkness
Beautiful colors dance,
across a velvet sky.
As a waterfall of souls,
waves it’s good bye.
With a deep breathe of tomorrow,
we live on today.
I was told to pay attention,
but never did pay.
The darkness of the past,
is now taking it’s toll.
As my pen unloads it’s ink,
my life slowly begins to roll.
I flush memories away,
though some I badly miss.
Even in a picture perfect moment,
I couldn’t picture this.
Stripped of all human rights,
though human we are.
Eating through a metal hole,
or between the likes of steel bars.
Locked away frozen in time,
sometimes even for years.
Laughed at when we cry,
for worthless are our tears.
The holidays come,
and slowly they go.
As we suffer a loneliness,
that makes us feel so small.
We send out letters,
often written in our tears.
And may not ever get a response,
and this is what we fear.
But with that one letter,
in which someone choose to respond.
We have the strength building,
that will allow us to go on.
So if you’re reading this reach out,
to someone in solitary.
Write a letter, it can’t hurt,
even if it’s not to me.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) in association with Columbia Law School released a 214-page reported entitled Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions. While the report and accompanying video document a wide range of human and civil rights abuses faced by alleged and convicted terrorists, nearly all of whom are Muslims, a significant portion of the text focuses on the restrictive and arguably torturous conditions of confinement they endure both before and after trial.
Extensively detailed in the report are the conditions endured by those placed in Florence ADX federal supermax prison and in the federal Bureau of Prisons’ two Communication Management Units (CMUs), located at Marion, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. Describing life at ADX, one individual interviewed for the report commented, “There’s a lot of times the walls are caving in. It’s – you can’t talk to nobody… It’s like staying alone in a bathroom for three days.”
In the two CMUs – nicknamed “Little Guantanamos” — “inmates are constantly surveilled and their communication with the outside world is heavily restricted,” including with their families. The Center for Constitutional Rights has previously described the CMUs as an “experiment in social isolation.”
Also featured in the report is an analysis of the use and misuse of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), restrictions placed on inmates, attorneys and even their families purportedly to protect national security or prevent the disclosure of classified material. As authors note, “SAMs often require the imposition of extreme physical and social isolation. In the order we obtained through a FOIA regarding 20 to 22 prisoners, SAMs banned at least 20 prisoners from ‘making statements audible to other prisoners or sending notes’ and required them to be housed in single cells ‘separated as much as possible in cellblock area form other inmates.’”
SAMs also enhance isolation by preventing prisoners from communicating with the outside world – for example, letters to family are limited to “‘3 pieces of paper, once per week, single recipient’” and visits “require 14 days’ notice and can include only one adults at a time.” Severe restrictions are also placed on material coming to the inside; one prisoner was even initially denied access to both of President Obama’s books.
The report also specifically addresses how the imposition of SAMs and the use of solitary confinement pre-trial may affect the fairness and constitutionality of the courts:
Prolonged pretrial solitary confinement not only raises concerns of cruel and inhumane treatment of punishment, but it also has an impact on defendants’ ability to assist in their own defense, and may compel them to wave their trial rights and accept plea deals.
According to the report, 30 out of the 52 individuals currently facing federal terrorism charges are being held in Special Housing Units (SHUs). The conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) 10-South unit – where many terrorism defendants have been held pre-trial – are described at length in the text. In a letter to his sister, an individual who spent 33 months in solitary confinement at MCC described “a bright light on for twenty-four hours” and cells “extremely cold throughout the year.”
MCC is the prison where the No Separate Justice Campaign has been holding its monthly vigils, in hopes of shining a light on the exact kind of injustices detailed in HRW’s report. It is also where Mahdi Hashi, the Briton stripped of his citizenship and rendered to the United States last year, is being held in 24-hour isolation. In an April 2014 article published on Vice, Mohammad Hashi explained how being held under SAMs and in solitary confinement was impacting his son: “It’s like they want to demoralize him… If you’re left locked in a room, 23 hours a day, knowing nothing about what’s going on, obviously you will give up, life will have no meaning to you.”
• Writing in The New York Times, Deborah Jiang-Stein describes journeying to the West Virginia prison where she was born, and discovering she spent the fist year of life in “the hole” with her mother.
• The New York Times published an extensive investigation into the physical assaults endured by prisoners with mental illness at the hands of Rikers guards. According to the journalists, many of the prisoners who experience such assaults are in solitary confinement.
• At least forty men at the solitary confinement unit in Wisconsin’s state prison have alleged they were abused by correctional officers, according to an investigation by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. One of the men, Marvin Smith, 26, claims that guards “purposely injured his wrists and arms, put him in a choke hold, smashed his face into a cell door and twisted his ankle.”
• The Idaho American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a brief in support of a petition to return a 15-year-old boy – currently being held in solitary confinement in an adult county facility – to a juvenile detention center. The young man’s Public Defender commented, “I see him almost every single day and he is deteriorating mentally, emotionally and physically being held in isolation.”
• The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported on the case of a New Mexico prisoner who received 90 days in solitary confinement for having a Facebook page in his name that his family updated. Shortly after the EFF published the piece, the state’s Corrections Department threw out man’s SHU time and agreed to review the broader policy.
• The New Republic published an article about the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) proposed changes to prison obscenity regulations. Both prisoners and advocates have claimed that under the new regulations, people could end up in solitary confinement simply for exercising their First Amendment rights; for example, the CDCR has called to censor any material deemed “oppositional to authority and society.”
• The warden at Louisiana’s Angola Prison is considering transferring Black Panther member Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore from solitary confinement into general population – where he has spent the last 28 consecutive years. He continued to express concern about Whitmore’s political beliefs, explaining, “The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism—I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism.”
• CBS San Francisco covered the growing efforts of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) to end the profession’s role in designing death chambers and supermax facilities. The ADPSR is currently lobbying the American Institute of Architects to such a ban in its professional code of ethics.
• The UK’s Telegraph visited a Maine solitary confinement cell and published an article that included video, photos, text and interviews with prisoners formerly locked up in isolation.
• Talha Ahsan, the British-born poet who was extradited to the US on terrorism charges a little less than two years ago, was sentenced to time served. As reported here by Solitary Watch’s Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, Ahsan and four others argued unsuccessfully in the European Court of Human Rights that they would endure torture if extradited to America’s supermax facilities. (The sentencing was also covered by The Guardian’s Sadhbh Walshe).
Many times, on this site and elsewhere, we have referred to supermax prisons and solitary confinement units as “America’s domestic black sites“–places where terrible suffering, even torture, take place on a daily basis, out of site of the public, the press, and in some cases the government’s own meager oversight. At the dark heart of these black sites is the federal Bureau of Prisons’ U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, or ADX, in the remote high desert town of Florence, Colorado. We’ve called it the worst prison in America. It’s worst not because it is dark and filthy–in fact, one former warden called it “a clean version of Hell“–but because of the sheer extremity of the isolation and sensory deprivation visited upon the men held there.
Today, Amnesty International released a report on ADX, entitled Entombed: Isolation in the Federal Prison System. “The US government’s callous and dehumanising practice of holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement in the country’s only federal super-maximum security prison amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is in violation of international law,” said Amnesty in a press release.
The report describes what is called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” as a place studiously designed to deprive men of all human contact, and nearly all sensory stimuli as well:
The ADX Florence federal facility has a capacity for 490 male inmates. Prisoners spend a minimum of 12 months in solitary confinement before they may become eligible for a reduction in the restrictions of their detention. In reality, many spend much longer in isolation. One study produced by lawyers found the average length of time an inmate would spend in isolation was 8.2 years.
Most inmates are held in cells with solid walls and a barred, air-lock style chamber in front of a solid metal door, to ensure they have no contact with other prisoners. One small slit of a window allows them a view of the sky or a brick wall.
Furniture in the cells is made of poured concrete and consists of a fixed bunk, desk and a stool, as well as a shower and a toilet. Meals and showers are taken inside the cells and medical consultations, including mental health checks, are often conducted remotely through teleconferencing.
The results of such treatment are not surprising: Put simply, it drives men mad. Individuals with mental illness are supposed to be banned from ADX, but many clearly have underlying psychiatric problems when they arrive, while others quickly acquire them. Drawing on information from the current lawsuit Cunningham v. BOP, the Amnesty report recounts the story of John Jay Powers (whose own writing has been featured on Solitary Watch):
JP, a prisoner with a history of mental illness, was transferred to ADX in 2001 and placed in the CU to serve a 60 month sentence imposed after he escaped from a medium security prison. The lawsuit describes how he was repeatedly transferred for brief periods to the federal medical facility at Springfield for psychiatric evaluation after a series of incidents of self-harm, only to be returned to the CU after being “stabilised” with medication. The self-harming incidents included lacerating his scrotum with a piece of plastic (2005); biting off his finger (2007); inserting staples into his forehead (2008); cutting his wrists and being found unconscious in his cell (2009). He finally completed his CU term in 2011, ten years and five months after his original term would have expired had he been able to comply with the behavioural requirements. According to the lawsuit, he continued to be deprived of mental health care after being placed in the ADX GP. In January 2012, he reportedly sliced off his earlobes and in March 2012 sawed through his Achilles tendon with a piece of metal; after he again mutilated his genitals in May 2012 he was placed on the anti-psychotic medication Haldol but had no access to other treatment such as mental health counselling. In August 2013, he left ADX on an emergency mental health transfer to Springfield, Missouri. In October 2013, he was sent to USP Tucson but was transferred back to Springfield in about March 2014 after he rammed his head into an exposed piece of metal in his cell, causing a skull fracture and brain injury, for which he refused most treatment. Since arriving at Springfield he has inserted metal into his brain cavity through the hole that remain in his skull, which BOP says cannot safely be removed.
Entombed is the most comprehensive report to date on ADX. But Amnesty International acknowledges the limitations on its own ability to observe and assess conditions at the supermax, due to the “restrictions on access to ADX” and more generally a “lack of transparency regarding BOP use of isolation.” Amnesty’s requests to visit the prison have been turned down, as have requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, and numerous media outlets including Solitary Watch. Even the federal government’s ongoing “internal audit” of its use of solitary confinement will not look at the most extreme and secretive isolation unit at ADX, where prisoners have reportedly gone on hunger strike and been force-fed.
Amnesty makes a series of recommendations which, considering the content of the report, seem relatively modest, designed to alleviate some of the suffering at ADX without compromising safety. But perhaps the strongest question raised by this and all previous investigations of the nation’s only federal supermax is why we are building another one. Over $50 million in this year’s BOP budget will go to retrofitting, staffing, and opening USP/ADX Thomson in rural Illinois, which will substantially increase the federal government’s capacity to hold people in torturous isolation.
Teens in Isolation: State Advisers to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission Hold Briefing on Juvenile Solitary Confinement in New York
Johnny Perez was sixteen when he was arrested for weapons possession. New York State automatically charges people ages 16 and over as adults, so the teenager was charged as an adult. Unable to afford the $100,000 bail, he was sent to Rikers Island to await trial. There, he was placed in C-74, the unit for 16 to 18 year olds. “A lot of the adolescents can be real territorial,” he recalled. At C-74, they tried to control the phones, the bathrooms and all other aspects of life in the jail. Perez got into a fight over using the phone. “It was a gang-only phone, but I didn’t care,” he said. For that fight, the 16-year-old was sent to solitary confinement (known on Rikers as “the Bing”) for sixty days.
When Perez entered solitary, jail staff took his clothes and issued him a jumpsuit. He was placed in a cell which he described as a “concrete slab with a mattress. There was a toilet-sink combo, but nowhere to sit.” He sometimes spent days without eating or being able to use the phone. “The phone is supposed to be passed cell to cell by another inmate [a suicide prevention aide],” he recalled. But on his first day in the Bing, the suicide prevention aide was a member of the gang with whom Perez had fought. Whenever he worked, I didn’t get access to the phone or to food,” Perez said. He recalled that the first three weeks were the most difficult. “I felt isolated, sad, helpless,” he recalled. “I remember crying a lot.”
On Thursday, July 10th, the now-adult Perez testified before the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The advisory committee investigates civil rights concerns in the state and reports to the Commission, which can then choose to issue recommendations to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action. Each advisory committee is appointed for two years and chooses which issues to focus on during that two-year tenure. Appointed in July 2013, committee members in New York chose to focus on juvenile justice within the state, looking specifically at education, solitary confinement, and the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
The Advisory Committee’s all-day briefing at NYU Law School on July 10 concerned juvenile solitary confinement in New York State. Panelists included New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci, New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, former judges, mental health professionals, advocates, attorneys, and two men who experienced solitary confinement personally—Perez and Five Mualimm-ak, who spent five years in isolation in New York State prisons.
Ian Kysel, author of a 2012 report on youth in solitary confinement, was one of several witnesses to make note of the lack of national data about the solitary confinement of children in the United States. The lack of data extends to information about race and mental health diagnoses among youth placed in solitary—a particular concern of the Advisory Committee, which investigates discriminatory treatment.
Bryanne Hamill, a retired family court judge and current member of the New York City Board of Correction, which monitors conditions in city’s jails, noted that adolescents in general are overrepresented in solitary confinement in Rikers Island. Approximately 60 percent have mental health diagnoses, in contrast to 40 percent of the adults in solitary. Last September, the Board of Correction unanimously approved recommendations to commence rulemaking around solitary confinement. However, warned Hamill, the process will be slow.
Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who has introduced two bills regulating the use of solitary in New York City jails, talked about his visit to Rikers Island. “What I saw was cruel and inhumane,” he testified. Although people in solitary are allowed one hour out of their cells for recreation time, that one hour falls between four and six in the morning and then consists only of being brought to another cell. Dromm recounts that guards boasted that they woke people at four, rather than at five, to offer them rec. “Very few people are willing to get up at 4 am for rec,” Dromm recounted. During his visit, Dromm asked how many rules could land a person in solitary confinement if broken. Jail staff told him that there are over 100 such rules that. Those arriving at Rikers Island are not given copies of these rules. Dromm reported that he also saw youth awaiting therapy sessions chained to pipes.
In February 2014, the New York State DOCCS entered a settlement agreement with the New York Civil Liberties Union in Peoples v. Fisher, with DOCCS agreeing to prohibit the use of Special Housing Units for minors, pregnant women, and people with developmental disabilities. Instead, it will utilize in-cell confinement for youth that does not exceed 19 hours per day on weekdays. Four hours will be spent on out-of-cell programming and one hour on recreation. DOCCS has 18 months in which to implement changes. In the meantime, Commissioner Annucci acknowledged that DOCCS is not yet keeping statistics on the number of 16 and 17 year olds placed in disciplinary segregation, and that he did not know if there were disparities in the use of solitary based on race or mental health.
At any given time, Annucci testified, DOCCS has approximately 120 15 and 17 year olds in its prison system. Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, those under age 18 must be separated from adults by both sight and sound. DOCCS currently houses teenage boys in one of three prisons—Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Woodbourne Correctional Facility, and Greene Correctional Facility. While Coxsackie and Woodbourne will employ in-cell confinement for 19 hours each day to replace SHU treatment for youth, Greene includes a special eight-bed unit for youth sent to disciplinary segregation. “We are crafting a prison within a prison and programs that meet their needs,” Annuci stated before the Committee. Only one to three teenage girls are in adult prisons at any given time. “It’s been a challenge to keep them separate,” he told Solitary Watch. “If you’re [a] 17-year-old [girl], you’re going to be kept by yourself.”
Although details of the Peoples v Fisher settlement agreement remain undisclosed because of a confidentiality clause, Karen Murtagh of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York points out that the new conditions will not only have to wait eighteen months for implementation, but are also contingent upon DOCCS’ ability to secure funding. She also noted that the 19-hour limit on in-cell confinement is only limited to weekdays. On weekends, youth can still spend up to 23 hours per day in their cells. “Let’s not use isolation as the norm and pat ourselves on the back that we’re now only confining them for 19 rather than 23 hours,” she argued. Moreover, the agreement will apply only to New York State prisons, not local jails such as Rikers Island.
Several advocates point to other racial demographics around policing, imprisonment, and even school discipline to extrapolate similar patterns. Alexander A. Reinhart, professor at the Cardozo School of Law, noted that the use of discipline in schools disproportionately impacts students of color two to five times more than it does white students. “We can expect to see similar outcomes in jails and prisons,” he stated. Scott Paltrowitz, of the Correctional Association of New York, pointed to the racial disparities in policing, prosecution, and imprisonment in New York State and across the country. “Even if we don’t have numbers about race in the SHU,” he said in his testimony, “look at the proportion [of people of color] behind bars.” He noted that, while eighteen percent of the state’s population is Black, Black people make up two-thirds of the New York State prison population. Of those 21 and under in New York’s SHUs, he added, Black children make up 66 percent.
Advocates also noted the necessity of not limiting the investigation only to the effects of solitary confinement on minors. Murtagh strongly recommended that the Committee extend its focus to people who were sentenced to solitary confinement between the ages of 16 and 18 but who are now age 23, 34, and 25. She points to one client, Raymond, who is currently facing more than three years in solitary because he received 23 rules violations tickets in 29 days. If Raymond wanted to appeal, he would have to file 23 separate appeals, one for each ticket. In the meantime, his solitary sentences will be run consecutively. Raymond turned eighteen on May 27th and currently falls out of the Committee’s scope of examination.
Paltrowitz echoed that recommendation. “Someone who is 17 will turn 18, 20, 21, etc., so don’t draw the line at 17,” he urged. He recalled a recent visit to Greene Correctional Facility. There, he met a man who was sent to the SHU at age 17. While in the SHU, the young man received more and more tickets for rules violations. He is now 34 years old. Paltrowitz emphasized that this man’s experience is not an anomaly. “We repeatedly hear that people get ticket after ticket while in the SHU, which extends their SHU sentence,” he stated.
Those who testified, including Commissioner Annucci, repeatedly pointed to studies showing that the teenage brain is still developing and that impulse control has not yet fully formed. Dr. Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine who co-wrote a report condemning solitary confinement practices at Rikers Island, agreed, testifying that the brain is not fully developed until age twenty-five.
Alexandra Korry, the attorney who chairs the New York Advisory Committee, can’t say whether the federal government will intervene in the issue. But after hearing nearly seven hours of testimony, she said, “We’ve heard an overwhelming amount of evidence that something needs to change. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of recommendations.” Those recommendations will go to the national Commission on Civil Rights, which can in turn urge the Justice Department to act. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a circumscribed statement on juvenile solitary confinement, saying that “unnecessary or excessive seclusion of youth with disabilities” should be ended.
Johnny Perez, who has been home for nine months and now works as a Safe Reentry Advocate at the Urban Justice Center, is hoping for complete systemic change. “Prison itself, not just solitary confinement, is an attack on your soul,” he told Solitary Watch on the day after the hearing. Both his time in solitary and behind bars affected his self-esteem and his emotions. “When I was 16, I couldn’t identify these emotions a lot of times. My default emotion was anger, which led to aggressive behavior like lashing out, overcompensating, and violence.” He also stresses that laws and rules have been constructed by people who have no direct experience with the prison system. “The voice of those people is critical to any type of reform or change. Those most directly affected by these rules and laws need to be heard—and involved—in making these changes.”
• California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) has filed a lawsuit against the state’s corrections officials, demanding disclosure of information regarding solitary confinement policies under the California Public Records Act. In San Bernardino and elsewhere across the state, protesters came out to honor the one-year anniversary of the California prison hunger strikes and call for change.
• Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) have introduced a bill into Congress that would prohibit juvenile facilities from using solitary confinement unless the youngster posed a “serious and immediate risk of physical harm” to themselves or others. The REDEEM Act, or Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, would also require courts to expunge or seal criminal records for a broad scope of juvenile offenses and provide financial incentives to states that set 18 as the age of adult jurisdiction.
• A Tennessee man has filed a lawsuit against Sierra County in New Mexico after he was denied psychiatric medication and left to decompensate in a filthy solitary confinement cell for 18 days. Michael Faziana, who had been arrested on misdemeanor charges, is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.
• New York City’s Board of Corrections asserted that the newly appointed Commissioner violated the law by placing as many as 47 inmates with mental illness into solitary confinement without first getting clearance from qualified clinicians. The board, which provides independent oversight of the city’s jails, disputes Commissioner Ponte’s assertion that the transfer was necessary to control rising violence on the inside.
• A Wisconsin coalition of churches has launched a campaign to reform practices within the state’s Department of Corrections, including ending solitary confinement.
• The family of an Army veteran who died in solitary confinement in a Florida jail in July 2012 is suing the Broward County Sheriff’s Office as well as the jail’s private health care provider. Raleigh Priester, 52, who had long struggled with schizophrenia, was found unresponsive in his cell in May 2012 after spending several months in isolation. Priester was released back to jail staff with “specific instructions” for his ongoing care, and died just a few weeks later – weighing just 120 pounds despite being over six feet tall.
• A lawsuit filed this week against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) alleges that guards at Franklin Correctional Institution gassed to death an individual in solitary confinement, then covered up the incident with the help of high-level staff and medical providers. The whistle-blower complaint alleges that 27-year-old Randall Jordan-Aparo was begging jail staff for medical attention when he was transferred into isolation. The Miami Herald published an editorial calling for a full investigation into the DOC’s practices.
• Two years after Brandon Palakovic hung himself in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison, his parents have filed a lawsuit against state’s Corrections Secretary and several facility staff. Palakovic, who was 23 when he died at Cresson, had an extensive history of mental illness. In May 2013, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin wrote that the facility “often permitted its prisoners with serious mental illness… to simply languish… in solitary confinement for months or years on end under harsh conditions in violation of the Constitution.”