An estimated 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons every day, with high costs and damaging effects. Photo: Robert D. Young
On June 19, interfaith leaders in the U.S. joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to mark the end of a 23-hour nationwide fast. Held to protest the widespread use of solitary confinement in American state and federal prisons, the 23-hour fast followed "Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences,” a congressional hearing exploring the economic, psychological and ethical aspects of a practice that typically holds inmates in isolation for 23 hours a day.
Participants, including lay people and leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, fasted from June 18 at 1:00 p.m. to 12 noon the following day.
According to a statement on NRCAT’s website, the U.S. is a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement. There are 44 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison, each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement, it said. At least 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement on any given day and the practice is on the rise. From 1995 to 2000, the growth rate of segregation units significantly surpassed the prison growth rate overall: 40 per cent compared with 28 per cent.
The Rev. Richard Killmer, a Presbyterian minister and NRCAT’s executive director, said that the end of the fast did not mean the end of NRCAT’s efforts to end solitary confinement, with its high economic and human costs.