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Liman Program Submits Statement for Senate Hearing on Reassessing Solitary Confinement II

Faculty and students from the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School attended a bipartisan hearing on solitary confinement held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on Feb. 25, 2014. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Il.) the Subcommittee’s Chair, was joined by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex), and other members of the Committee, to hear testimony from those who run correctional systems, those who have been detained in prisons, and those working on prison reform. Concerns ranged from the effects of solitary on all individuals to the special harms imposed on juveniles, pregnant women, and seriously mentally ill individuals.

Witnesses at the hearing included Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; Craig DeRoche, President of the Justice Fellowship; Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black; Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation; Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections; and Damon Thibodeaux, who was held in solitary confinement for 15 years before his exoneration and release from prison.

Hope Metcalf, Director of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, and Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, submitted a statement for the hearing record titled “The Policies Governing Isolation in U.S. Prisons.” The statement, based on a review of the written policies of 46 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons, detailed the criteria for being placed in isolation, the processes for decision-making, and what forms of oversight are imposed under each jurisdiction’s rules on administrative segregation. While noting some variations across jurisdictions, the statement concluded that “isolation is used too often, for too long, and with too little oversight.” Metcalf, who also co-chairs the ABA Subcommittee on Solitary Confinement, testified on February 11, 2014, before California’s Public Safety Commission and addressed the harms of solitary confinement.

The Liman Statement was based on a longer report published last year, and both were written by Metcalf and Resnik with the assistance of Senior Liman Fellow-in-Residence Megan Quattlebaum ’10 and Yale Law students Katherine Culver ’15, Corey Guilmette ’16, Brian Holbrook ’12, Emma Kaufman ’16, Jamelia Morgan ’13, Samuel Oliker-Friedland ’14, Julia Spiegel ’13, Haran Tae ’14, Megan Wachspress ’15, and Alyssa Work ’13. The Association of State Corrections Administrators assisted the Liman Program in obtaining the many policies and in facilitating discussions among members and researchers. Metcalf noted appreciation for ASCA's cooperation and the active involvement of its members in ongoing discussions.

The Senate hearing comes at a time of increased attention across the country to the issue of long-term isolation. Many YLS alums and Liman Fellows are involved in those efforts. Burke Butler ’11, a Liman Fellow for 2013-14, is working to decrease isolation for prisoners on Texas’s death row, and Beth Compa ’11, a Liman Fellow in 2011-12, is bringing similar challenges in Louisiana. Elizabeth Simpson ’09 (Liman 2009-10) represents prisoners in North Carolina, including several in long-term isolation. Helen Vera ’13 is spending the year at the ACLU National Prison Project, where she is working on the national “Stop Solitary” Campaign. The New York Times reported significant changes to the use of isolation in New York arising in part due to a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and supported by the work of Scarlet Kim ’11, a recipient of a Yale Public Interest Fellowship.