Last week, the National Center for Transgender Equality submitted testimony to today’s first-ever U.S. Senate hearing on solitary confinement. The hearing, “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences,” examines its ramifications for human rights.
NCTE’s testimony reflects data collected in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and anecdotal testimony from current and former inmates about their experiences in prison and detention facilities. Transgender inmates are among the most vulnerable to violence and sexual assault, and for this reason, many prisons place trans inmates into involuntary solitary confinement. This is an unacceptable response to the problem of abuse because solitary confinement itself has devastating and often irreversible consequences for mental and physical health. The consequences of long-term isolation are so serious that it is widely recognized as a form of torture.
NCTE’s testimony says:
Restrictive, segregated, isolated custody is by its very nature punitive and damaging; placing transgender inmates in solitary protective custody amounts to punishing them for their transgender status. The use of solitary confinement as a means of protecting transgender inmates absolutely must be limited. It is not acceptable to trade the violence and cruelty of prison rape for the violence and cruelty of long-term solitary confinement.
Inmates in solitary confinement usually do not have access to programs or services like literacy classes, the prison library, or exercise. They are sometimes granted showers only once a week. and they may not have access to a certified rape counseling provider. Furthermore, inmates in solitary confinement are usually automatically denied parole or early release. Most seriously, prolonged deprivation of human contact causes psychological trauma, heart problems, aggravation of existing medical conditions, inability to eat or sleep, psychosis, self-harm, and suicide.
These are all horrifying consequences of a so-called “protective” measure. NCTE’s testimony recommends constant reevaluation of the validity of each inmate’s segregation and recommends the development of alternative means of serving survivors and protecting vulnerable inmates. Our testimony notes that limits placed on solitary confinement by new federal standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act are an important step forward but do not place strong enough time limits and other restrictions on this cruel and still all too usual form of punishment.
Read more about the Prison Rape Elimination Act here.
Read NCTE’s full testimony below: