Readers of Unsilent Generation will know that I’ve written before on prison reform issues, aging behind bars, and the case of the Angola 3, which involves men who have spent decades in solitary confinement. I’ve now launched a new web site, in collaboration with writer and editor Jean Casella, called Solitary Watch News.
Solitary Watch News site is part of an emerging project called Solitary Watch, which will serve as the first centralized source of information on solitary confinement in the United States. The full Solitary Watch web site–which will be hosted by the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse (VC3), a clinical program of the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Virginia directed by veteran death penalty attorney David Bruck–will be launched in the spring of 2010.
Why Solitary Watch?
Many Americans have recoiled from the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and polls show that a clear majority oppose the use of torture under any circumstances, even on foreign terrorism suspects. Yet conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons and jails that transgress the boundaries of humane treatment have produced little outcry.
The use of solitary confinement in the United States provides the clearest example of this situtation. Solitary confinement has grown dramatically in the past two decades. Today, at least 25,000 prisoners are being held in long-term lockdown in the nation’s ”supermax” facilities; some 50,000 to 80,000 more are held in isolation in “administrative segregation” or “special housing” units at other facilities. In other words, on any given day, as many as 100,000 people are living in solitary confinement in America’s prisons. This widespread practice has received scant media attention, and has yet to find a place in the public discourse or on political platforms.
Solitary Watch is conceived as an innovative public web site aimed at bringing this issue out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. The mission of Solitary Watch is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, and prisoners–with the first comprehensive source of information on solitary confinement in the United States. Combining a database compiled through state-by-state research with background, analysis, and breaking news, the site will serve as an information clearinghouse, educational resource, and online community.
This project is being launched at a pivotal moment, coinciding with several important developments in U.S. criminal justice. As Americans’ support for executions wanes in the wake of numerous exonerations and excessive costs, the alternative punishment of choice seems to be long-term solitary confinement, whether on prison death rows or in supermax lockdown units. Solitary confinement also awaits accused and convicted terrorists as they are transferred onto American soil from Guantanamo and elsewhere. Finally, in the absence of appropriate medical care, solitary confinement has increasingly been used as a way to control and warehouse mentally ill prisoners. As these trends continue, there will be an increasing need for a comprehensive, reliable source of information on this practice, and on the many practical, legal, and ethical questions it raises.
I hope you will visit the site and subscribe to Solitary Watch News at http://solitarywatch.wordpress.com/.