That Time When Solitary Confinement Was Not Considered “Solitary Confinement”

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It has been more than three years now, but I can still remember the awestruck feeling I had in January 2013 while observing Chelsea Manning’s court-martial proceedings for the unauthorized disclosure of classified military documents to Wikileaks. This thought kept pouring through my mind as I sat intently listening to Col. Lind as she read her decision: “How is solitary confinement not ‘solitary confinement’?”

On 18 May, Amnesty International, with the help of attorneys from Keker & Van Nest, LLP, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in support of Chelsea Manning’s appeal of her sentence. While Manning’s attorneys are raising several points on appeal, Amnesty International’s brief focused on the conditions of her pre-trial detention, arguing that Judge Lind erred when finding that Manning was not subject to prolonged solitary confinement that amounted to pre-trial punishment in violation of Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Albert Woodfox Is Finally Free

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On February 19, 2016, Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox walked free, 44 years after he was first put into solitary confinement.

He was the United States’ longest serving prisoner held in isolation. Nearly every day for more than half of his life, Albert Woodfox woke up in a cell the size of a parking space, surrounded by concrete and steel.

Today, for the first time in more than four decades, he will be able to walk outside and look up into the sky. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

How has Albert Woodfox Survived 40 Years in Solitary Confinement?

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By Kristin Hulaas Sunde, Global Content Producer at Amnesty International

Albert Woodfox has spent the last 40 years alone in a tiny US prison cell. His old friend Robert King – who was also imprisoned for decades in the notorious Angola prison – tells us how Albert’s political courage and global support are keeping him going, despite the pain and isolation.

“Angola was considered the bloodiest prison in America. There was slave-like labour – people worked 17 hours a day for two and a half cents an hour. There was a lot of raping going on – the prison guards sold the younger inmates [into sexual slavery].” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

From Albert Woodfox to Kalief Browder: The Devastation of Solitary Confinement

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A cell in the Closed Cell Restricted (isolation) unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

A cell in the isolation unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has specifically condemned Woodfox’s treatment as torture and called on the United States to eliminate the use of prolonged isolation. Albert’s case has returned to the spotlight in the past month because he is no longer a convicted man – a federal judge ordered his unconditional release in early June, two years after his conviction had been overturned for a third time (a last-minute appeal kept him behind bars).

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North Korea Sentences U.S. Citizen to 15 Years Hard Labor

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Passersby watch a television broadcast in Seoul showing a picture of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea, and sentenced to 15 years' hard labor for "hostile acts" (Photo Credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images).

Passersby watch a television broadcast in Seoul showing a picture of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator detained in North Korea, and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for “hostile acts” (Photo Credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images).

North Korea’s Supreme Court in Pyongyang has reportedly sentenced a U.S. national of Korean origin to 15 years of hard labor in the country’s infamous prison camps today after finding him guilty of various unspecified crimes against the nation.

Pae Jun-Ho (also known as Kenneth Bae), 44, was arrested in November 2012 in the north-eastern port city of Rason, a special economic zone near North Korea’s border with China. He had been operating as a tour guide for a group of five European nationals, who were immediately deported. Since his arrest, he had been held in solitary confinement and had limited consular support.

“The North Korean justice system makes a mockery of international fair trial standards – this case appears to be no exception,” said Rajiv Narayan, Amnesty International’s North Korea Researcher.

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‘Anyone Who Says We Live Comfortably on Death Row Has Obviously Never Been There’

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Damon Thibodeaux

Damon Thibodeaux was released after 15 years on death row.

Damon Thibodeaux lived under the threat of execution for more than a decade.

Now 38, Damon was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Chrystal Champagne, his step-cousin, and sentenced to death in 1997. But he always insisted on his innocence and after spending 15 years in prison, he finally walked out of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – one of the harshest prisons in the country – a free man. This is his story.

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Jailed Without Justice: Immigrants in Solitary Confinement

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A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security's Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security’s Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

On March 25, 2013, the New York Times published an article about the use, and overuse, of solitary confinement in immigration detention. It reported that 300 individuals are held in solitary confinement while awaiting resolution of their immigration cases, including one individual who was held for four months because of his sexual orientation.

Much like the issue raised by Congressman Spencer Bachus of Alabama at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration detention on March 19th, the real question is why are these individuals even detained in the first place?

As Amnesty International documented in its report in 2009, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA, individuals, including lawful permanent residents with long-standing ties to the U.S. and asylum seekers, are needlessly locked up in state and local jails and prisons for the sole purpose of appearing at immigration hearings, often without a hearing to determine whether they are a danger to the community or a flight risk.

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The Facts About Solitary Confinement in California Prisons [INFOGRAPHIC]

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Our new report on solitary confinement shows how the United States has shamefully become a world leader in the practice of holding people in isolation for prolonged periods — as much as 20 years or more.  More than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as “Security Housing Units.” Help us stop this practice by taking action.
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The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

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Bunk in Secure Housing Unit cell, Pelican Bay, California © Rina Palta/KALW

Today, Amnesty International issued a new report calling for an end to the use of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons.  The report contains shocking details about the scope and impact of abusive use of solitary confinement on prisoners, ex-prisoners, families and communities.

There is no policing of the system, they do whatever they want and they get away with it.

Sister of a man held in solitary confinement for a total of 21 years

What’s Solitary Like?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be held in solitary confinement for a couple days, let alone a couple decades. Medical doctors have described how, even after short periods of time, solitary can lead to insanity. I can see how after reading this Kafkaesque story about a prisoner who participated in a hunger strike to protest  the use of solitary:
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The U.S. Finally Rethinking Solitary Confinement

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solitary confinementAnthony Graves spent 18 years on death row in Texas, all in solitary confinement. He was the fifth and last witness to speak at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement Tuesday morning.

Mr. Graves spoke eloquently and powerfully to a packed room and an overflow audience about his experience, the deplorable conditions, and the lasting psychological effects he cannot escape. He was exonerated and released from prison around two years ago, but still carries the scars. He spoke of watching completely sane individuals come to death row, and within three years lose their grip on reality. He described what it was like to live in a very, very small box 23 hours a day, forced to sit like a trained dog when guards delivered food.

One argument against the death penalty is the danger of executing the innocent. It’s a strong argument – Mr. Grave’s case highlights this – but no one should have to live in the conditions he described.

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