Illinois House Committee to Vote on Landmark Bill Regarding Solitary Confinement

HB 5417 would require that almost all prisoners be allowed out of their cells four hours per day

SPRINGFIELD, IL –(ENEWSPF)–April 19, 2016 — On Wednesday, April 20 at 8:30 AM, the Illinois House Restorative Justice Committee will hold a hearing regarding HB 5417, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which would bring sweeping and much-needed changes to the way that prisoners are treated in Illinois. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives La Shawn K. Ford and Mary E. Flowers.

Extensive research shows that the practice of subjecting individuals to extreme isolation causes pain, suffering, psychological and emotional trauma, physical injury, and, in extreme cases, death. Many prisoners have spent months, years, and in some cases decades in solitary confinement. Currently, prisoners can be put in solitary confinement for even slight infractions, such as rolling one’s eyes at a guard.

Thirty thousand prisoners are released from Illinois’ prisons every year. Those who have been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement are often too traumatized to work and must collect Social Security income.

A United Nations expert on torture has called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners, stating that solitary confinement for longer than 15 days amounts to torture.

In January, President Obama banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, saying it could lead to “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.”

Other states, notably New York and California, have recently reached agreements regarding important reforms to the use of solitary confinement, but this landmark legislation would lead the way in curbing the use of solitary by making Illinois the state with the tightest restrictions.

Among other things, HB 5417 would limit the use of solitary confinement to:

  • 5 days in a 150 day period
  • those without disabilities, serious medical conditions, or pregnancy
  • people over 21 and under 55 years old

The bill would also require that the prisoner held in emergency solitary confinement receive an initial medical and mental health evaluation within 24 hours.

This legislation would affect the approximately 2,500 prisoners in disciplinary segregation in Illinois at any given time, but also the approximately 6,000 prisoners currently locked in their cells 22 hours a day for prison administrations’ convenience. Except in extreme circumstances, when there is reasonable cause to believe that the prisoner has a substantial risk of serious harm to themselves or another and a less-restrictive intervention would be insufficient, all prisoners would be allowed out of their cells at least four hours a day to see visitors, work, use the gym or yard, play cards with other prisoners, pursue educational opportunities, etc.

“By letting people out of their cells to interact with others for four hours a day, you will dramatically reduce the harm done to people, without jeopardizing safety and security,” said Alan Mills, Executive Director of Uptown People’s Law Center. “Solitary confinement as it is now is unconstitutional and unconscionable.”

UPLC’s pending class action lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections, Coleman v. Taylor, seeks to limit the abuse of solitary confinement in Illinois prisons.

Organizations supporting HB 5417 include: A Just Harvest, Amnesty International Chicago, Black and Pink Chicago, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, Communities & Relatives of Illinois Incarcerated Children, 8th Day Center for Justice, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago, Sage Community Health Collective, Torture Survivors Against Solitary, United Voices for Prisoners, Uptown People’s Law Center.

The full text of HB 5417 is here.

About Uptown People’s Law Center:
Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners’ rights, Social Security disability, and tenants’ rights and eviction defense. UPLC has nine pending class action lawsuits against the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Source: http://uplcchicago.org/