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Harris, Durbin, Booker Introduce New Legislation to Combat Rampant Use of Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention | U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California

November 15, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following reports from the Project on Government Oversight, NBC News, and others that illustrated that solitary confinement is significantly overused in federal immigration detention, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Thursday introduced legislation to combat the rampant and unnecessary use of solitary confinement in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operated and ICE contract facilities.

“Solitary confinement has numerous documented negative effects on a person’s well-being,” said Harris. “That is why I strongly support efforts to end the practice. I have also long fought against the inhumane conditions at ICE detention facilities—which includes ICE’s inappropriate use of solitary confinement—because of the trauma such conditions cause to detained individuals.  This legislation requires ICE to comply with specific safeguards to ensure individuals are treated more humanely and ICE is not adding to the trauma many of these people have already been subjected to.”

The bill is also cosponsored by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).

At least seven detainees have reportedly committed suicide in solitary confinement due to ICE missteps.  While the problem has existed for several years, The Atlantic found that under the Trump Administration, “one out of every 200 detainees has spent at least two weeks in isolation.” The DHS Office of Inspector General inspected four ICE detention facilities and found that at three facilities, “segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights.”

Specifically, the Restricting Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention Act would: 

  • Set strict standards for the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention (including abolishing the use of disciplinary segregation) and limit the amount of time a detainee can spend in solitary, with a narrow exception for detainees who pose a substantial and immediate threat. 
  • Ensure that alternatives to solitary confinement are used for detainees who require protection.
  • Prohibit the use of solitary confinement for detainees who are minors; have a serious mental illness; have a physical or intellectual disability; are pregnant or have recently given birth; or are likely to be significantly adversely affected by solitary, with narrow and temporary exceptions for detainees who pose a substantial and immediate threat.
  • Protect the rights of detainees to access counsel and challenge their placement in solitary confinement.
  • Improve access to mental health care for detainees in solitary confinement.
  • Require mental health and de-escalation training for detention center staff.
  • Establish a weekly tracking system to monitor the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention.
  • Impose new transparency and accountability measures for the Department of Homeland Security to ensure compliance with the law.

The Restricting Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention Act is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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