These are the words of Shane Bauer, one of three hikers captured in Iran. Shane spent 4 months in solitary confinement and now advocates for reducing solitary confinement in US prisons.
According to a study (the Vera Report) commissioned by the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), Maryland's use of segregation is approximately twice the national average. In the 2013-2014, IAHR, along with our partners, worked to get legislation introduced which would require reporting on the use with the intention of reducing isolated confinement through alternative approaches. While the legislation did not pass, it garnered attention from legislators in Annapolis who requested data from DPSCS about its use of solitary - or segregation as it is called in Maryland. An early report indicates that the average length of stay in segregation is 130 days, 228 days for the mentally ill. Overuse is still high at 8% in general and, for the mentally ill, 15%.
Juvenile Detentions in Maryland
As a result of national media coverage which highlighted the isolation and confinement of Maryland juveniles in local jails, IAHR has joined with partners to seek out alternatives for these youth which will provide programming and alternative housing.
Virginia Isolated Confinement
Virginia corrections officials, through their Step Down Program, have implicitly recognized that long-term isolation is harmful and needs to be reduced. Prisoners, however – including some who have completed the Step Down Program – and their families have raised some disturbing issues that point to a need for a closer look. Their allegations include that even prisoners who complete the Step Down Program can find themselves repeatedly placed back in "administrative segregation" for indefinite periods ranging from 30 days to 6 months or more, following disciplinary charges that are sometimes fabricated or inflated.
IAHR is working with other advocates to explore how, together, we can address these charges effectively. We are also exploring ways to involve members of faith communities in Virginia in looking out for the well-being of prisoners who too rarely see evidence that anyone outside the prison walls cares. This excerpt from a letter we received from an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison shows how much it means to some prisoners simply to know that someone on the outside cares:
I am so very thankful for the concern you have shown for me and my well being. . . I am thankful for you being more than just a bunch of "talk”. . . I am thankful for everything that you and Interfaith Action for Human Rights are all about. . . It's not often that I've witnessed anything beyond rhetoric from those in society that are in positions to make change in the way that prisoners are often mistreated. I've heard about and read about such people and organizations, but never have I had real life experience with such people or organizations. I know that I'm just a drop in the bucket, life is filled with so many more problematic issues far, far, far greater than mine...Yet someone took time out of their day to say to me (through words and actions), "I hear you, and you matter." I'll be forever grateful.
Federal Prisons and Isolated Confinement
IAHR members are working with their Congressional legislators to advocate for reducing prolonged solitary confinement within the Federal Correctional system.
IAHR is part of the leadership team that convenes the Maryland Alliance for Dignity, a growing association of 21 organizations advocating for humane treatment of those who are incarcerated. Additionally, IAHR participates in the Greater Baltimore Grass Roots Criminal Justice Network and the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform.
Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives, a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, identifies 10 misconceptions about solitary confinement and spotlights alternatives that have been implemented throughout the U.S.
Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in U.S. Jails and Prisons, a new report from Human Rights Watch, details the systematic use of excessive and punitive staff force against incarcerated people with mental disabilities and the use of solitary confinement in U.S. jails and prisons. A powerful five minute video that includes footage from behind bars accompanies the report.
Vera Report on Maryland's use of Segregation