Blog: Katie McCarthy

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February 25, 2013

View from the Inside: Solitary Confinement as a Human Rights Issue

Posted by Katie McCarthy, JD '15

The dramatic expansion of solitary confinement over the past two decades is a human rights issue we can no longer afford to ignore; the United States now holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world. Often used as a punishment for minor, nonviolent offenses or as a solution to overcrowding, solitary confinement is a draconian, expensive, and inhumane practice that too often goes unmonitored and unopposed.

For this reason, the Prison Legal Assistance Project has organized a panel discussion tonight between experts and activists who have experienced solitary confinement and can speak personally about its effects. The event runs from 5-7 p.m. in Austin West and includes dinner.

Panelists include: Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who has extensively researched the psychological impact of solitary confinement; Bobby Dellelo, an activist who has experienced the effects of solitary confinement; Professor Jules Lobel, the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Mika’il DeVeaux, Executive Director of Citizens Against Recidivism. The event will be moderated by Matthew Segal, Legal Director of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts.

Two of the panelists will discuss their own experiences in solitary, highlighting the inhumanity of this practice and the coping mechanisms they’ve developed, as well as the activism they are currently involved with. Dr. Grassian will speak to the long-term psychological effects of solitary and how it can heighten anti-social behaviors.  The panel will also discuss the role of impact litigation in challenging solitary confinement as a deprivation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and as cruel and unusual punishment.

In addition to your questions, we will have questions from prisoners, thanks to Between the Bars, an MIT organization that runs online blogs for prisoners. We put out a call for those who had experienced solitary to come up with questions for the panelists or just to write about their own experiences, which you can read about through their various blogs. Outside the panel, photographs from Richard Ross’s “Juvenile In-Justice” collection will be displayed.

We hope to see you tomorrow at this important event.

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