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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Support Blumenthal Amendment #2 to Curtail Abuses in Immigration Solitary Confinement

Advocacy Letter - 05/20/13

Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley


The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Charles Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Grassley:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we write in support of Senator Blumenthal’s amendment #2 to S. 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Blumenthal amendment #2 would significantly reform the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.

As recently reported in The New York Times and other news sources, the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention is extensive and excessive. On any given day, more than 300 immigration detainees are held in solitary confinement, and almost half of them are kept there for 15 days or more. Keeping anyone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days can amount to torture because, as the UN Special Rapporteur has documented, the conditions of solitary confinement beyond 15 days create a significant risk of permanent psychological damage. As Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stated in an April 2013 report by Physicians for Human Rights, “It’s an awful thing, solitary. It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.”

Solitary confinement involves placing a person in physical and social isolation for 22 to 24 hours a day with little or no human contact – generally in a small cell with a solid steel door, a bunk, a toilet and a sink – day in, day out, including administrative segregation and protective custody. Studies published by the American Psychological Association and many others have shown that prolonged periods of solitary confinement can result in disastrous and sometimes permanent mental and physical health effects. Detainees have experienced a wide range of negative consequences after being held in isolation including perceptual distortions and hallucinations, lack of impulse control, severe and chronic depression, weight loss, self-mutilation, and lower levels of brain function.

Blumenthal amendment #2 would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for minors under the age of 18 and carefully limit the practice for immigrant detainees with serious mental illness. It would curb common abusive practices in detention facilities such as using solitary as a measure to punish detainees for minor offenses, as well as to “protect” especially vulnerable populations. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to develop effective oversight mechanisms. The amendment balances the operational needs of facilities that hold immigration detainees with basic respect for the health and human rights of detainees subject to solitary confinement.

Again, we urge you to support Blumenthal amendment #2. If you have any questions, please contact Rob Randhava, Senior Counsel, at (202) 466-6058 or randhava@civilrights.org.

Sincerely,

Wade Henderson, President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President

Our Members