UN’s “Mandela Rules” to Set New International Standards for Treatment of Prisoners, Including Limits on Solitary Confinement

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) are being given several long-awaited revisions this year. Among them is a provision that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” The rules also prohibit […]

UN Torture Investigator Barred from Visiting American Supermax Prisons

More than two years ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, asked the U.S. State Department for permission to visit individuals in solitary confinement in supermax prisons and isolation units. He is still waiting for a response. Recently, our colleague Sarah Shourd interviewed Méndez for an article in the Daily Beast that describes his […]

Voices from Solitary: On Hunger Strike Against Brutal Treatment in Florida Prisons

Jacob Barrett is an Oregon state prisoner who was transferred to Florida and has been held for years in “Close Management,” or solitary confinement, most recently at Florida State Prison in Raiford. On February 1, Barrett began a hunger strike not only against the conditions he himself has endured, but also against the rampant abuses […]

Voices from Solitary: Cycle of Despair

The following essay was written by Anthony Lamar Davis, who has spent approximately six of his past eleven years in prison in solitary confinement in New York’s “Special Housing Units,” or SHUs. In 2008, New York passed a law restricting the use of solitary on people with serious mental illness. The “SHU Exclusion Law” has removed several hundred […]

Voices from Solitary: A Sentence Worse Than Death

William Blake has been in solitary confinement for 27 years. When he was 23 years old and in county court on a drug charge, Blake murdered one deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt. He was sentenced to 77 years to life.  This essay earned Blake an Honorable Mention in the Yale Law Journal’s Prison […]

Under Fire for Negligence, North Carolina Prisons Chief Seeks New Funding for Mental Health Treatment

North Carolina corrections chief David Guice wants more than $20 million to improve the treatment of people with mental illness in the state’s prisons. His request comes on the heels of two recent reports showing neglect and abuse of prisoners with psychiatric disabilities in North Carolina, and the death in custody of one such individual, […]

UN Committee on Torture Questions U.S. Record on Solitary Confinement

Last Wednesday and Thursday, United States government officials met with representatives at the United Nations to discuss the country’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Every country that is a signatory to the CAT is required to submit a “Periodic Report” to the […]

Voices from Solitary: Is “Torture” Too Strong of a Word?

The following comes Ryan Pettigrew, who spent most of his eight years at the supermax Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) in solitary confiinement. Diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, Pettigrew, like an estimated 57 percent of prisoners confined in isolation in Colorado, suffers from mental illness. Recalling his response when asked by his parole officer if his time in […]

U.S. Government Tells UN Committee on Torture: “There Is No Systematic Use of Solitary Confinement in the United States”

Today, dozens of advocates will travel from around the country to Washington, DC, to take part in what are called “Civil Society Consultations” with representatives of the U.S. government on the subject of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). As a signatory of CAT, the […]

In the Story of Jonah, an Urgent Lesson About the Dangers of Solitary Confinement

Guest Post by Margo Schlanger The following piece originally appeared in September 2013 in Tablet, and is republished here by permission of the author.  Margo Schlanger is a professor of law at the University of Michigan and the former Department of Homeland Security Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. She helped to draft the American […]