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How Prison Solitary Confinement Harms People with Physical Disabilities

  • Published: 2017-01-13 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-15) : *Press Release by American Civil Liberties Union : Contact: aclu.org
  • Synopsis: First-ever national report on how solitary confinement harms people with physical disabilities - Wheelchairs, braille materials, hearing aids, and other vital devices are often denied in solitary.

Quote: "In many jails and prisons, people with physical disabilities are placed in solitary because they have a disability and need protection from other prisoners, not because they have broken a rule."

Main Document

The American Civil Liberties Union published the first-ever nationwide report documenting the special dangers of solitary confinement for people who are blind or deaf, can't walk without assistance, or have other physical disabilities.

Drawn from interviews and research on jail and prison practices, "Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on People with Physical Disabilities" shows how correctional facilities can require prisoners in solitary to go without the devices, services, and treatment they need to perform basic human functions and remain healthy. These deprivations violate the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

"For people with physical disabilities, solitary's punishing conditions come with extra pain and suffering," said Jamelia Morgan, Arthur Liman fellow with the ACLU's National Prison Project. "Prisoners who are deaf might not have an interpreter for weeks, if ever. Prisoners who use wheelchairs can be left on the floor, unable to use the toilet. These conditions are dangerous and unconscionable."

In many jails and prisons, people with physical disabilities are placed in solitary because they have a disability and need protection from other prisoners, not because they have broken a rule.

Dean Westwood, who has quadriplegia and uses a wheelchair, was put in solitary in an Oregon jail. "When I asked why I was being isolated and held in seclusion, I was told that they would put me wherever they want whenever they want... Simply because I had a physical disability, I was made to endure isolation and abuse at an indescribable level."

Morgan continued;

"Whether people with physical disabilities are in solitary for protection or for punishment, the horrific conditions are the same, with the same risk of permanent psychological and physical damage. Our jails and prisons must end the cruel and inhumane practice of solitary for people with physical disabilities. Instead, they should focus resources on providing equal and meaningful access to critical services, such as medical and mental health treatment, as well as greater opportunities for education and job training."

"Caged In" recommends reforms in jail and prison practices to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, change solitary conditions, and ensure that these prisoners receive equal access to programs and services.

For the full report: aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/010916-aclu-solitarydisabilityreport-single.pdf

For information about the ACLU’s Stop Solitary campaign: aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement

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