Recent Events and Policy Updates

By Cary Holley

Unfortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is among the many states that use solitary confinement in their prison system. Moreover, Pennsylvania puts inmates who have been sentenced to death in mandatory, permanent solitary confinement. In January of this year the ACLU of Pennsylvania along with other law firms have filed a class action suit against Pennsylvania over this practice that they claim violates the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments. [1] The ACLU reports that “Of the 156-people sentenced to death in Pennsylvania, nearly 80% have spent more than a decade in solitary confinement. Each cell is about the size of a parking space.”[1]

Luckily some positive steps have been taken by legislators to lessen the usage and to mitigate the effects of solitary confinement. Last April in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Representative Tina Davis of Bucks County introduced legislation to prohibit the use of solitary confinement on pregnant women, inmates aged 70 and older and aged 21 and younger, and LGBTQ individuals.[2] The “Prohibiting Solitary Confinement for Vulnerable Populations” bill, H.B. 1581, was referred to the judiciary subcommittee this past June. On the national scale, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois introduced the “Solitary Confinement Reform Act” in September of 2016. This legislation would establish standards for the use of solitary confinement including prohibitions on certain populations (disabled, pregnant, minors) and the requirement that inmates in solitary confinement receive “comprehensive mental health evaluations” and that prison employees receive “training on mental illness and the psychological

[1] “ACLU and Abolitionist Law Center Sue Pennsylvania to End Mandatory an Permanent Solitary Confinement for Prisoners Sentenced to Death.” https://www.aclupa.org/news/2018/01/25/aclu-and-abolitionist-law-center-sue-pennsylvania-end-mandat

[2] “House Bill 1581” http://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=23502

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