Summary List Placement
As the Biden administration approaches more than four and half months in office, a collection of social justice and civil rights groups are calling on President Joe Biden to fulfill one of his criminal justice campaign pledges.
Months before he was elected president, Biden said he would call for an “overhaul of inhumane prison practices” if he won the White House. His first step, he said, would be to end the practice of solitary confinement with “very limited exceptions.”
Now, in a letter sent earlier this month and made public on Monday, more than 130 organizations and signatories are calling on the president to follow through on that promise.
In the letter, The American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, The Bail Project, and several other groups offer multiple recommendations for ending the practice on the federal level while urging the president and Vice President Kamala Harris to begin implementing plans immediately.
“Ending the practice of solitary confinement would end the pain, torture, and trauma of tens of thousands of people languishing in harsh and harmful conditions,” the letter states.
Prison reform activists have long been working toward abolishing solitary confinement, also known as punitive segregation. Multiple studies suggest a link between long term isolation and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. Research also shows solitary confinement often leads to mental illness and higher rates of death after release, according to The New York Times.
Activists have also been critical of the racial inequalities rampant in the use of solitary confinement. According to The Times, in New York, Black and Latino people make up nearly 70% of the state’s prison population, but represent more than 80% of those in solitary confinement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated immediate action toward ending the practice, advocates say, as the number of inmates in solitary confinement grew five-fold during the pandemic, according to a June 2020 report.
Experts say the practice was increased during the pandemic, in part because of concerns over the spread of the virus in prisons. In the letter, organizers called on Biden to develop a plan to contain and treat COVID-19 in prisons and jails without the use of solitary confinement or lockdowns.
Activists recommended that the federal government take several other measures:
- Provide meaningful financial incentives to states to reduce solitary confinement.
- Call on Congressional leaders to hold hearings on solitary confinement and pass federal legislation banning the practice.
- Select a director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a commitment to humane practices.
- Create a new senior-level position within the Department of Justice to investigate and oversee the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The White House did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Johnny Perez, director of the US prisons program at the nonprofit National Religious Campaign Against Torture and a former inmate who experienced solitary confinement, told NBC News ending solitary confinement federally would be watershed win for the fight.
“If we’re able to end solitary on the federal level, it would send a strong message that we are a country that does not torture its own citizens and that states also need to follow the president’s lead,” he said.