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Illinois Department Of Corrections Sued Over Solitary Confinement

By aaroncynic in News on Jun 24, 2015 5:35PM

A lawsuit was filed today against the Illinois Department of Corrections on behalf of thousands of prisoners they say have suffered from the overuse and misuse of solitary confinement.

The class action suit, which names three individuals currently incarcerated by IDOC, alleges that the state has violated the 8th and 14th Amendment rights of some 2,500 people currently serving time in Illinois prisons.

“Illinois puts too many people in segregation, they hold them there for far too long, they keep them there for far too little, and the conditions are horrible,” said Alan Mills, Executive Director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, who filed the suit in conjunction with the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP. “There was a study done a couple of years ago that we thought would be the beginning of a process of change for the department, which found that segregation does not make the prisons safer, does not make staff safer, [does not] make the public safer and just inflicts unnecessary suffering on prisoners who were sent there for doing very little.”

According to the suit, only 15 percent of solitary sentences in 2008 involved violent behavior or the possession of “dangerous contraband.” The rest of solitary sentences were due to relatively minor infractions. The complaint says that more than 1,500 inmates were sentenced to solitary for “unauthorized movement.” Another 1,300 were segregated for “insolence,” and others have been put in solitary confinement for things like “unauthorized movement” and “disobeying a direct order.”

“You can roll your eyes at a correction officer and they consider that ‘insolence’ and you get up to a year in segregation,” said Mills.

While cell sizes can vary, the typical solitary cell is 4.5 by 10 feet. That’s just enough room for a bed and a toilet. Solitary cells are often windowless, dark and filthy. Inmates are typically held for 23 hours a day, and in many cases, end up going days without ever leaving their cells. According to the lawsuit, some 2,500 IDOC residents are serving “extreme isolation sentences.” Of those, 680 were serving sentences of more than a year and 218 were serving sentences of ten years. Half of segregation sentences imposed as of June 30, 2013 “were for more than three months, some five to ten times longer than the maximum allowable time recommended by mental health, legal and human rights experts.”

Studies show that significant mental health damage occurs to people after more than fifteen days in solitary confinement. The United Nations, along with numerous other organizations, has condemned the practice and called on all countries to ban it. Last week, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy commented on solitary confinement while ruling on the capital punishment case Davis v. Ayala. The case revealed the accused had spent more than 25 years in total isolation.

“The penal system has a solitary confinement regime that will bring you to the edge of madness, perhaps to madness itself,” Kennedy said.