On June 6, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act (A314/S3261) will be heard before the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, at 1 p.m. in Committee Room 10 on the third floor of the Trenton State House Annex. The bill, which has already passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee, would ban solitary confinement - also called “isolation” or “isolated confinement” - for more than 15 consecutive days, and allow no more than 20 days per 60-day period.
The bill would also prohibit any member of vulnerable populations, as classified by clinical staff, from being placed in isolation. Vulnerable populations include people aged 21 and younger, people aged 65 and older, people with developmental disability, people with a disability based on mental illness, people with serious medical conditions, and people who are pregnant.
Survivors of solitary confinement in New Jersey prisons will deliver testimony about what they experienced while held in isolation, sometimes for years at a time.
“I survived solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons,” said Justice Rountree, an organizer with the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. “Solitary confinement is torture. In that cell, I was driven to consider suicide.”
A wide coalition of advocates who aim to end the torture of solitary confinement have come together to form the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, a coalition that includes the ACLU of New Jersey, several faith-based organizations, and Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), the labor union that represents nurses in New Jersey prisons.
"Our Local 5135, comprised of registered nurses and applied practical nurses in New Jersey state correctional facilities, is standing up against isolated confinement because it creates barriers to necessary medical and mental health care,” Sabrina Brown-Oliver, President, HPAE Local 5135. “Now is the time for the Legislature to stand up for human rights and stand with the union nurses who believe that every inmate deserves quality care and treatment. As a healthcare union, HPAE supports this legislation to end extended isolated confinement and calls upon New Jersey elected officials to do the same."
Former Governor Chris Christie vetoed the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act in 2016 after it passed the state Senate and Assembly. A memorandum attached to the veto falsely claimed, “This Administration does not utilize isolated confinement,” a statement that has been repeatedly debunked. In fact, New Jersey subjects incarcerated people to longer durations in isolated confinement than most states, according to reports published by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and the Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School. New Jersey ranks fourth in the country in the number of people in its prisons who are held in isolation for more than six years.
The following survivors of solitary confinement will provide testimony at the hearing:
Nafeesah Goldsmith was 26 years old when she was placed in solitary confinement for 60 days at New Jersey State Prison. Nafeesah Goldsmith is pursuing a Master’s degree at Monmouth University and works as a community organizer with New Jersey Together.
Mark Hopkins spent more than 180 days in solitary confinement in New Jersey. He was first tortured by solitary confinement when he was 16 years old. He is now a graduate student at Rutgers-New Brunswick and an organizer with AAUP-AFT.
Ron Pierce is the Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. During his more than 30 years of incarceration in New Jersey prisons, he spent a total of about four years in solitary confinement.
Justice Rountree is an educator, organizer, and an artist. He is the curator of 360 Poetry Nights with Justice, in Newark, NJ. He spent a total of five years in isolation while incarcerated in New Jersey.
Lydia Thornton is an advocate working to end the continuing abuses against people who are incarcerated, the homeless, and most importantly those coming home. In 2013, Lydia Thornton, then 52, spent nine and a half months in solitary confinement in New Jersey.