President’s Note: CCDBR-Supported Bill Would Curtail Solitary Confinement

Posted on May 11, 2017

UPDATE: 20 May 2017: Representative Ford’s bill is off the House agenda until next year, but the increasing number and quality of co-sponsors are encouraging signs. His bill is a path breaking one that will require much future mobilization to adopt. This time objections from county sheriffs to coverage of local jails in restrictions on use of solitary weighed heavily in slowing down the bill. Possibly it will be amended to focus on state prisons, where the vast majority of abuses exist. There is a further issue regarding use of solitary for protection of mentally ill inmates. CCDBR will track developments in conjunction with Rep. Ford and other organizations working to end all such forms of official torture.
 
At any given time some 80,000 inmates in the US are caged in isolation cells. In most cases, they get access to some very confined area outside the cell for only one hour per day. Many have been so confined for years (in one case over 40 years!) on end. In Illinois the count is about 8,000. These numbers are probably the highest for any incarceration system in the world–within the wider framework of a US prison system holding over two million inmates.
 
Because such isolated caging is more and more widely recognized as a form of mental and physical torture, many organizations have pursued various methods to reduce or eliminate its use. Litigation is one path, administrative reforms by prison authorities another. In some states, e.g. California, these approaches have led to drastic reductions in numbers so confined. Of course behind such court orders and bureaucratic changes lie vigorous political efforts, sometimes led by prisoners themselves.
 
For an overview and running account of developments throughout the country in this area, consult the excellent Solitary Watch website
 
The remaining path to curtailment of solitary is legislation. CCDBR is an active participant in the Illinois Coalition Against Torture (ICAT), one of a handful of organizations working on this issue in Illinois. ICAT was the main impetus behind the unique 2012 Chicago City Council resolution which declared Chicago a torture-free zone and specifically declared prolonged solitary confinement to be a form of torture. No other major U.S. city has so expressed itself. The story of this resolution is recounted here.
 
Going beyond a resolution would be an actual state law to limit solitary drastically; just such a bill (HB0259) was submitted last year and re-submitted this year by state Representative LaShawn Ford. The bill, including a 10-day limit on isolation, currently has over twenty co-sponsors but has not yet gained enough support to be adopted. Full text and status of bill can be found at ilga.gov.
 
CCDBR encourages all who abhor this widespread torture to communicate their support of House Bill 259 to state legislators. Below is the list of current co-sponsors: if one of them represents you, that person deserves commendation. Otherwise, please seek out your representatives and ask them to become co-sponsors.
 
La Shawn K. Ford, Mary E. Flowers, Will Guzzardi, Robyn Gabel, Kelly M. CassidyLou LangSonya M. HarperGregory HarrisDavid HarrisEmanuel Chris WelchJustin Slaughter,Juliana StrattonSilvana TabaresRita MayfieldCamille Y. LillyAndrĂ© ThapediArthur Turner,Barbara Flynn CurrieTheresa MahRobert RitaCarol AmmonsChristian L. MitchellElizabeth Hernandez and Melissa Conyears-Ervin
 
Bob Clarke
President, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights