June 19, 2012, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted written testimony to the first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences.” CCR’s testimony describes the deplorable conditions of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, its destructive effects and its disproportionate use against prisoners of color and vulnerable and unpopular prisoners. CCR argues that prolonged solitary confinement violates Eighth Amendment prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment, and that it constitutes torture in violation of international human rights law.
CCR’s testimony reads, in part:
“Today, tens of thousands of prisoners across the country are warehoused in cramped, concrete, windowless cells in a state of near-total solitude for between 22 and 24 hours a day. …The devastating psychological and physical effects of these harsh conditions have been well-documented by psychological experts. Prisoners [in long-term solitary confinement] report that they experience unrelenting and crushing mental anguish [and] have described their confinement as ‘a living nightmare that does not end and will not end.’ ...[R]ace, political affiliation, religion, association, vulnerability to sexual abuse, and challenging violations of one’s rights all too frequently play a role in which prisoners are sent to solitary confinement. …Solitary confinement strips human beings of their basic dignity and humanity…”
CCR has a long history of challenging the use of isolation in U.S. prisons. Most recently, in May 2012, CCR raised a constitutional challenge to prolonged solitary confinement in a federal class action case on behalf of prisoners at California’s notorious Pelican Bay State Prison. At Pelican Bay, hundreds of prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over 10 years; 78 have been held under these conditions for over 20 years.
Today’s hearing was chaired by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), and was held before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The hearing comes amidst increased human rights concerns about, and a growing movement against, solitary confinement, including hunger strikes last year by thousands of California prisoners to protest isolation units in the state’s prisons.
Click here to read CCR Statement to Congress on Solitary Confinement.