Washington, D.C. — Jessica Sandoval, Senior Campaign Strategist for the Unlock the Box Campaign released the following statement in response to a ruling from Judge Berle M. Schiller in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ordering the Philadelphia Department of Prisons to ensure that all incarcerated people must get at least 45 minutes a day out of their cells while the Department of Prison’s shelter-in-place order remains in effect. The Court found that the current policy, which keeps incarcerated people in their cells for nearly 24 hours a day, is harmful to the mental and physical health of incarcerated individuals.
“There has been an explosion in the use of prolonged solitary confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and today’s ruling underscores just how dangerous and inhumane this expansion has been. Prolonged solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture, and its continued use represents a violation of the basic human rights of incarcerated people. Nevertheless, corrections officials at the federal, state, and local level have used language like ‘administrative lockdowns’ to obscure and obfuscate their extreme over-reliance on the use of prolonged solitary confinement as a form of pandemic response — not just in Philadelphia– but across the United States.”
“In June, Unlock the Box released a report finding that the use of prolonged solitary confinement has increased by an estimated 500 percent, nationally since March 2019. Punitive solitary confinement is a dangerous response to the pandemic, however. Solitary confinement does nothing to stop the spread of the disease within correctional facilities, it exacerbates the spread, putting incarcerated people, corrections officers, and communities at risk. Furthermore, isolating prisoners with pre-existing mental health conditions has led to complaints of depression, anxiety, claustrophobia, and even a documented case of suicide. There have been 32 suicide attempts in the prisons between March and August 2020, for instance. That is more than twice as many attempted suicides as were recorded for the same period over the five previous years.’”