ACLU Calls on International Human Rights Body to Investigate Solitary Confinement in U.S.

March 12, 2013 4:54 pm

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March 12, 2013

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WASHINGTON – In a first-ever hearing on solitary confinement in the Americas, the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the practice of solitary confinement in the United States.

“An investigation by the Commission will shed an international spotlight on the human and monetary costs of solitary confinement in the U.S. and other countries in the Americas. We hope this will lead our country to adopt more effective, more humane and less costly alternatives,” said Steven Watt, senior staff attorney of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “The United States should be a human rights leader, not an outlier.”

In testimony submitted to the Commission at its hearing here today, the ACLU also asked the Commission, an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, to investigate the practice in other OAS member states, and to recommend that all governments in the Americas impose strict limitations on the practice, and in some instances, prohibit it.

“Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment that should be reserved for only the most extreme circumstances,” said Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, who submitted testimony. In the U.S. there are over 80,000 people held in solitary confinement settings in prisons and jails.

The Commission also heard the testimony of Juan E. Méndez, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, whose global study on the issue calls for the prohibition of solitary confinement on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and the absolute prohibition of any solitary confinement exceeding 15 days.

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch recently completed a year-long investigation into the solitary confinement of youth in adult prisons and jails in the United States. This first in-depth look at this national practice revealed that the use of solitary confinement on youth is widely practiced across the country. Ian Kysel, Aryeh Neier Fellow with the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, who also submitted testimony, said, “Rather than being banished to grow up locked down in isolation, incarcerated young people must be treated with humanity and dignity and guaranteed the ability to grow, to be rehabilitated, and to reenter society.”

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons recently announced its intention to conduct the first-ever review of the agency’s use of solitary confinement. During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last June, the Director of the Bureau said that, on any given day, more than 15,000 federal prisoners are in some form of isolation.

Text of the ACLU’s testimony is available here:

Today’s blog post on the subject can be found here:

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