Former prisoners spoke about the effects of solitary confinement yesterday in a U.S. Senate hearing aimed at banning the treatment for some inmates, NPR. The federal push to reduce solitary confinement is being led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who calls it “a human rights issue we can’t ignore.” Inmates who are held in solitary confinement spend 23 hours a day in small windowless cells, receiving their food on trays that are pushed through a slot in the cell’s door. Durbin’s calls for change, which is aimed at the rules governing juveniles, pregnant women and the mentally ill, come as some states have already begun to cut the use of solitary confinement.
It costs about $78,000 a year to house someone in the federal prison system in solitary, three times as much as it costs to put somebody in a regular prison unit. New York has announced a revamping of poliicies on solitary. Mississippi, Maine, and Texas have also taken up the issue. Yesterday, a Senate committee heard from former inmate Damon Thibodeaux, who was exonerated after serving nearly 15 years in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison. “Humans cannot survive without food and water,” Thibodeaux said. “They can’t survive without sleep. But they also can’t survive without hope.”