Biden's Push to End Solitary Confinement Not Going Well

Number of federal prisoners subjected to the punishment has actually gone up
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2022 4:00 PM CDT
Biden's Push to End Solitary Confinement Not Going Well
Demonstrators hold signs outside Manhattan criminal court during a march and rally to demand the end of solitary confinement in New York, Monday, June 7, 2021.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

On May 25, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, President Biden issued an executive order “advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices.” Included in that order, per NBC News, was the promise that conditions in federal prisons would be “safe and humane” and “free from prolonged segregation,” i.e., solitary confinement. Moreover, the order stipulated that the DOJ submit a report within 180 days detailing steps it has taken “to ensure that restrictive housing in Federal detention facilities is used rarely, applied fairly, and subject to reasonable constraints.” That report is due next month, but regardless of what the DOJ has done since May, the number of prisoners in solitary confinement has climbed substantially.

According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Prisons data, the number of federal inmates in solitary climbed 7%, from 10,607 to 11,368 between May 28 and early October. The stats came to light this month as federal Bureau of Prisons director Colette Peters had her first Senate hearing. Sen. Dick Durbin pressed Peters about how the BOP will reduce the “abuse” of solitary confinement, which the UN defines as isolation “without meaningful human contact” for 22 or more hours; it is considered torture if implemented for more than 15 consecutive days. “This is a complex issue,” Peters told Durbin, one of 11 Democrats who signed a letter to her urging reform. Many lawmakers appear willing to give Peters time to settle into her job. As Rep. David Trone told NBC, Peters "inherited a broken ship.”

Some states are grappling with the issue, as well. In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the “Mandela Act" to limit the punishment, which "would have been the most wide-ranging change to solitary confinement of any state,” per Cal Matters. Newsom said he’s all for reforming the use of “segregated confinement,” but the bill was “overly broad.” It’s also been a hot topic at New York City Council meetings this month, where Department of Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina raised tensions by proposing an increase in the use of “punitive segregation” at Rikers Island, despite restrictions imposed by the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2021. (Read more solitary confinement stories.)

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