Reporting from Mother Jones:
“Tracie Bernardi Guzman’s recent experience with Connecticut’s governor sheds light on the challenges faced by advocates fighting to end solitary confinement. In 2018, she shared her personal story with Ned Lamont, expressing her hope for criminal justice reform. However, in 2021, when state lawmakers passed a bill to limit solitary confinement, Lamont shockingly vetoed it. Bernardi Guzman feels betrayed, accusing Lamont of pretending to care solely for votes. Her story serves as a warning about the obstacles posed by recalcitrant governors, but it also provides hope and guidance for overcoming these challenges.”
The article discusses how use of solitary confinement is a grave human rights concern, with the United Nations likening it to torture. Despite the UN’s guidelines against prolonged solitary confinement and its detrimental impact on prisoners with disabilities, the practice persists in almost every US state. Shockingly, even in the most progressive states, a governor’s veto can derail reform efforts, as seen in California when Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the Mandela Act in 2022, which aimed to restrict solitary confinement. However, activists are not giving up.
In California, the fight against solitary confinement continues with AB 280, the revived Mandela Act, which recently passed the state Assembly. If it becomes law, this bill will limit the duration of solitary confinement for all incarcerated individuals and prohibit its use for disabled individuals, pregnant individuals, and those aged 26 or younger or 59 or older. This fight is not just about disability rights but also intersects with racial justice. Research has shown that Black men in Pennsylvania face an alarming risk of spending a year or longer in solitary by the age of 32.
We must remember that solitary confinement’s detrimental effects are disabling in ways beyond mental health, also impacting physical well-being. A study conducted in Washington state revealed the musculoskeletal pain experienced by incarcerated individuals, especially among Black and Latino populations who are disproportionately subjected to solitary.
“‘What disability justice encourages us to do is to think…about how race can combine with disability to produce increased vulnerabilities to solitary confinement,’ says Jamelia Morgan, a law professor and director of Northwestern University’s Center for Racial and Disability Justice.“