Brian Nelson’s years of solitary confinement in the now-shuttered maximum security prison Tamms Correctional Center (Tamms, Illinois) left him terrified of other people, hallucinations, increased anxiety, weight loss, heart palpitations, sleep problems, and severe and chronic depression. Nelson was confined at Tamms in solitary confinement for the final 12 years of a 26-year sentence for murder and armed robbery.
Legislation sponsored by Democratic Representative La Shawn Ford, of Chicago, would limit solitary confinement to no more than five consecutive days and five total days during a 150-day period. That would be a dramatic change from current rules that allow prisons to isolate inmates in solitary for weeks or years at a time. The legislation would also require prisons to allow inmates in solitary to spend four hours per day outside of their cells.
Jean Casella, the co-director of Solitary Watch, a Washington D.C.-based group that monitors the use of solitary confinement nationally said, “if this bill is passed, it would be a real milestone in solitary confinement reform.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures indicated that as many as 82,000 U.S. inmates are in solitary confinement on any given day. Illinois has 1,978 inmates in solitary confinement as of April, 2016 for disciplinary reasons. Another 148 are there for their own safety or other reasons.
State corrections officials oppose the measure telling lawmakers it would go too far and that they want the chance to change things on their own. Mike Atchinson, the chief of operations at the Illinois Department of Corrections, told lawmakers that he agrees the system needs to be improved, but he insisted that segregating some inmates is necessary.
Brian Nelson now works for the Uptown People’s Law Center (Chicago, IL) to help inmates find legal representation regarding inmate injustices and abuse in the prison system. Contact Uptown People’s Law Center for more information. (www.uplcchicago.org).
Reference: America Magazine, “We Are One Body”, by Katie Rose Quandt, July 15-22, 2013 (Brian Nelson’s story and Catholics raise voices against the use of solitary confinement)