Kamala Harris and Cory Booker Aim to Ban Solitary Confinement
Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA)andCory Booker (D-NJ) this month introduced legislation to reduce the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) use of solitary confinement and improve conditions for inmates separated from the general prison population. “As incarcerated people repay their debt to society and prepare to re-enter their communities, we must also ensure that prison facilities are respecting their basic human rights,” said Harris. The Solitary Confinement Reform Act would limit solitary confinement to the briefest terms and under the least restrictive conditions possible. The bill would also improve access to mental health services for BOP prisoners in solitary confinement and provide resources to state and local jurisdictions to assist them in reforming their own confinement practices. Additionally, the measure aims to protect inmates’ civil rights through the creation of a Civil Rights Ombudsman position and bans the practice of placing LGBTQ inmates in solitary confinement as a means of protection. Booker has previously taken up the issue with a 2015 bill banning juvenile solitary confinement. “If we truly want our criminal justice system to reflect our founding principles as a nation of liberty and justice for all, we must promote a more compassionate, common sense approach to rehabilitation that helps restore promise in our young people,” Booker said. The lawmakers were joined by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The group penned a letter Acting Bureau of Prisons Director Hugh Hurwitz to take measures to address the significant increase in the use of restricted housing in the federal prison system. As of February 27, 2019, 7.8% of the total federal prison population was housed in restricted housing. “This is a deeply troubling development. While we understand BOP is currently addressing significant challenges, including increased contraband, we are also concerned by the sharp rise in a practice that DOJ has acknowledged ‘can cause serious, long-lasting harm’ and should be ‘used only as necessary—and never as a default solution,” the members wrote. Read the full letter here.