Voices from Solitary: Life in a Pennsylvania Prison's "Restricted Housing Unit"

The following account is one of the many prisoner testimonies that appear in Institutionalized Torture, a recent report issued by the Human Rights Coalition-Fed Up!, a prisoners’ rights group based in Pittsburgh. The report documents abuses at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution at Dallas, particularly conditions of confinement within the Restricted Housing Unit. The RHU is SCI-Dallas’s lockdown unit, where […]

Voices from Solitary: Oscar Wilde's Cry from the Depths

 In 1895, Oscar Wilde, who was arguably Britain’s most famous literary and cultural figure, was sentenced to two years’ hard labor in solitary confinement for the crime of “acts of gross indecency with other males.” He served most of that time in Reading Gaol, subject of his famous ballad.  In petitioning the government for his release, Wilde wrote that “while […]

Two Clinton Era Laws That Allow Cruel and Unusual Punishment (Redux)

Since late last night, when we published our post about Albert Woodfox’s appeal, several readers have written to us about the grim legacy of the AEDPA–the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. That’s because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals cited the AEDPA extensively in ruling that Woodfox’s conviction should not be overturned, and he should not receive a […]

What the War on Terror Owes to the War on Crime (Redux)

As we explain in our next post, we are revisiting two posts published back in February–which seem all the more relevant today. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… One of the reasons we started the Solitary Watch project was what we observed as a disconnect between the public’s awareness of (and reaction to) the abuses brought about by the so-called […]

Court Rules Against Angola 3's Albert Woodfox: No End in Sight to 38 Years in Solitary Confinement

 Albert Woodfox has spent nearly all of the last 38 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. His case has brought protests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who argue that Woodfox’s decades in lockdown constitute torture, and from a growing band of supporters, who believe that he was denied a fair trial. For more than ten years, he has […]

Our Father Who Art in Prison

You sometimes have to wonder why the state of Louisiana doesn’t just transform Angola prison into a year-round Christian camp meeting. As I’ve written before, under the tutelage of Warden Burl Cain, Angola has become a place where the only kind of rehabilitation on offer is Christian redemption. I respect any kind of spiritual life prisoners might turn to […]

Prisoner Sent to Solitary Based on Reading Materials

Prisoners are often assigned to solitary confinement cells–sometimes indefinitely or permanently–because corrections officials have identified them as gang members. Some prisoners complain that the criteria for being “validated” as a gang member are arbitrary and inaccurate, and also subject to abuse by prison staff. Recently, a California prisoner charged that he was put in solitary confinement based largely on his […]

No Evidence of National Reduction in Solitary Confinement

An article in yesterday’s USA Today suggests that there’s been a widespread reduction in the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. Its author, Kevin Johnson, has done excellent reporting on solitary confinement in the past. And everything in this article is factually correct. But some of its generalizations and especially its headline (for which the author cannot be […]

The End of Mississippi's Notorious Supermax Unit

Even in a nation known for its draconian prison conditions and brutal lockdown units, the supermax portion of Mississippi’s state penitentiary stood out.  Critics and residents described it as a “horrific” and “wretched” place of “hopelessness and despair.” Or, as Chris Joyner described it last week in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Unit 32 was a nightmare, if sworn […]