Solitary survivors and former UN Special Rapporteur share testimonies about what they've seen and experienced
A coalition seeking to end the practice of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons and jails is hosting a free event at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Trenton on Sunday, June 3 entitled “End Torture: End Solitary Confinement.” (Register online.)
The program will feature a variety of experiences, including art collages, a virtual reality solitary confinement cell, stories by survivors, legislative support activities, and an address from the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.
The purpose of the event is to raise public awareness, as well as to build support for an important piece of prison reform legislation. The program runs from 2 to 6 pm.
The New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NJ-CAIC) is a coalition of torture survivors, advocacy groups, faith leaders, and concerned New Jerseyans, organized for the purposes of outreach and advocacy in support of legislation restricting the use of prolonged isolation in correctional settings. In 2016, the campaign successfully supported the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act as it passed through both houses of the New Jersey legislature before being vetoed by then-Governor Chris Christie. NJ-CAIC advocates are optimistic about the prospects for the bill (A314) in 2018.
Joining the voices of over a dozen survivors of solitary confinement in New Jersey, Juan Mendez will offer remarks at Sunday’s event. Mr. Mendez was the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2010 through 2016. He is currently Professor of Human Rights in Residence, Washington College of Law of American University in DC, as well as Faculty Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative, a project of the law school’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
As Special Rapporteur, Mr. Mendez submitted a report in 2011, which found prolonged solitary confinement, especially on vulnerable populations, to be tantamount to torture. Mendez insists that reform must be motivated by moral conviction, even though international and national efforts are underway based on public health and cost savings. According to Mendez, “Citizens should not allow our authorities to inflict on any person the kind of mental pain and suffering that comes with periods of isolation of 22 to 24 hours a day.”
Bonnie Kerness, Director of the Prison Watch Program of the American Friends Service Committee, a member of NJ-CAIC, said she is hopeful that a new administration under Governor Phil Murphy will adopt more reasonable policies for correctional housing, beginning with signing A. 314 into law. “The previous administration not only failed to meaningfully account for the hundreds of testimonies of torture we receive each year, but they also denied the very existence of solitary confinement,” Kerness said. “This legislation is an opportunity for the current administration to show its commitment to reform.”
“The powerful voices of survivors are leading our movement to end the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey,” said Tess Borden, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey. “The stories they tell must be heard by anyone who cares about justice.”
“End Torture: End Solitary Confinement” will address the use of isolation in New Jersey, from personal and political perspectives. Registration, food, activities including a virtual reality experience, and the opportunity to speak with Juan Mendez, survivors, and NJCAIC members will be open from 2 to 3 pm. The program runs from 3 to 6 pm. Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 1140 Greenwood Avenue, Trenton, NJ.