Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities
99 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2017
Date Written: January 12, 2017
Every day, in prisons and jails across America, prisoners with physical disabilities are held in conditions of near total isolation—also known as solitary confinement. Locked in cages roughly the size of a regular parking space, prisoners held in solitary confinement are kept alone in their cells for approximately 22 hours a day or more. While in solitary, they have little or no human interaction, access to light, rehabilitative programming, or constructive activity. For the past year, the ACLU has sought to expose the harms of solitary confinement by investigating the challenges facing prisoners with physical disabilities subjected to this devastating practice. The current and formerly incarcerated people with disabilities who we spoke with described their experiences of enduring extreme isolation for days, months, and even years. They shared the pain and humiliation of being left to fend for themselves in solitary confinement without wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, or other necessary accommodations to carry out life’s basic daily tasks. Without these vital accommodations, many of them were left without the means to walk, shower, clothe themselves, or even use the toilet. Deaf and blind prisoners reported that prison officials failed to provide them with access to hearing aids, Braille materials, certified sign language interpreters, or other auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to facilitate meaningful communication. As a result, many prisoners reported being left completely isolated without any ability to communicate with other prisoners, staff, their families, and other visitors.
This report draws from interviews with currently and formerly incarcerated people with disabilities, disability rights advocates, prisoner rights’ advocates, medical experts, legal scholars, and correctional officials and examines the conditions of confinement, harms, and challenges facing prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement. In addition, this report fills some of the gaps in data and, where possible, builds on existing data to provide a snapshot into (1) the number of people with physical disabilities; (2) the number of prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement; and (3) the volume of grievances filed by prisoners with disabilities in ten state prison systems: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Finally, the report closes by discussing the available legal protections and by offering a set of recommendations to federal, state, and local officials and policymakers to guide reforms for prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement.
Keywords: disability, prisons, criminal justice, prisoner, jails
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