Senate Subcommittee Hearing Considers Ending Solitary Confinement

An estimated 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in the United States at any given time. Today, the US Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. This is a follow-up to a hearing held in 2012, and since that time there have been further actions by state and federal officials to reassess, limit, and in some cases eliminate the use of solitary confinement. The head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons will testify today about his agency’s promise to review the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Senators will also hear from the head of Colorado’s prisons, who—charged by that state’s governor with limiting the use of solitary—penned an unsettling New York Times op-ed about spending a day in solitary himself.

Read our testimony here:

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While none of the witnesses are expected to address the practice of isolating LGBT prisoners, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) joined several allies in submitting testimony on this topic. Testimony submitted jointly by NCTE, the Transgender Law Center, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health highlighted how LGBT prisoners and immigrant detainees—and especially transgender people—are often subjected to prolonged solitary confinement simply because of who they are. Recognizing the undeniable likelihood that transgender people will be targeted for abuse, facilities fail to take meaningful steps to protect them and instead punish them with solitary confinement.

Our testimony calls for an end to this practice, and for facilities instead to fully implement policies to protect LGBT people from abuse—including housing transgender people in accordance with their gender identity in many cases. While this is required under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), federal and state agencies have been slow to put appropriate procedures in place.

U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Jared Polis (D-CO) also released a statement today, stating in part, “Instead of punishing the victims of abuse, we need to implement protections that will truly address the needs of LGBT inmates and ensure safe alternatives to solitary confinement.” We thank the Congressmen for their statement.

Today’s hearing will be webcast live and archived on the Senate’s website, where written statements from the witnesses will also be available.

Ending solitary confinement is just one of the many topics covered in NCTE’s forthcoming publication “Standing with LGBT Prisoners: An Activist’s Guide to Ending Abuse and Combating Incarceration.”​

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