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President Yet To End Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

“Biden believes no act can justify the inhumane treatment of an individual in the hands of the government.” This statement appeared in the sweeping criminal justice reform platform released during the 2020 presidential campaign as part of Joe Biden’s pledge to “ensure humane prison conditions” should he be elected. His first step towards fulfilling this promise would be “ending the practice of solitary confinement, with very limited exceptions such as protecting the life of an imprisoned person.” Advocates have been trying to hold Biden to his word, The Appeal reports. Last June, more than 150 organizations sent a letter urging his administration to move forward with plans to fulfill the campaign promise.

A “Blueprint for Ending Solitary Confinement by the Federal Government,” released the same month by the Federal Anti-Solitary Task Force (FAST), outlines a comprehensive legal and administrative framework to curtail the practice in federal prisons and beyond. “Ending the practice of solitary confinement would end the pain, torture, and trauma of tens of thousands of people languishing in harsh and harmful conditions,” the letter concluded. The only known Biden administration move on solitary confinement has been a single paragraph in a 17-page draft executive order on criminal justice, composed last fall and leaked in January by the right-wing website The Federalist. Focused largely on policing, the order contains one section titled “Improvement of Conditions of Confinement.” One subsection instructs Attorney General Merrick Garland to “submit a report to the President detailing the steps the DOJ has taken…to ensure that Restrictive Housing in federal institutions is used rarely, applied fairly, and subject to reasonable constraints” and “to help ensure that individuals in DOJ custody are housed in the least restrictive setting necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of staff, other prisoners and detainees, and the public.”


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