End Solitary Confinement in Michigan

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In 2019, Jonathan Lancaster, a 38-year-old father, son and brother, died of dehydration while strapped to a restraint chair in a solitary cell in Alger Correctional Facility in Michigan. While in solitary, his mental health deteriorated, causing visual and auditory delusions, insomnia, and paranoia that he was being poisoned. Rather than receiving treatment, he was restrained, pepper-sprayed, and had his water shut off. Despite repeated calls from his family begging for him to receive help, Jon lost 50 pounds in the two weeks leading up to his death, ultimately dying of dehydration. 

Unfortunately, his tragic and preventable death is reminiscent of so many others - Sabrie Alexander, Janika Edmond, Richard Ramnarine, Darlene Martin, Timothy Souders, Anthony McManus, Jeffrey Clark, and Ozy Vaughn - who have suffered in solitary confinement and died of starvation, dehydration, medical neglect and suicide.

Yet, the state of Michigan continues to house over 3,200 people in these torturous conditions.

In solitary, people can expect to experience isolation for more than 20 hours per day without meaningful human contact, which often includes:

  • Confinement behind a solid steel door for 20 to 24 hours a day
  • Water shut-offs and restrictions on food
  • Inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • Physical torture such as top of bed restraints, hog-tying and restraint chairs 
  • “No-touch torture,” such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, extreme noise and forced insomnia
  • Chemical torture, pepper spray, tasers and forced cell extraction 
  • Sexual intimidation and other forms of brutality and humiliation
  • Infrequent phone calls and non-contact family visits
  • Extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • Restrictions on reading material, paper and mail

These egregious conditions cause extreme and often permanent harm to people’s well-being and erodes their state of mind, often resulting in severe anxiety, depression, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions, cognitive difficulties (such as confusion and memory loss), uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear, psychosis and increased risk of suicide and self-mutilation.

People of color are particularly impacted by harsh solitary policies. In Michigan, 70% of those in solitary are Black, and Black prisoners are 6 times more likely to be held in long-term solitary confinement and held there repeatedly than White prisoners. 

Vulnerable and marginalized populations are also exceptionally at risk in solitary confinement, including people with intellectual or physical disabilities, cognitive or sensory impairment, youth and people over age 55, pregnant women and new mothers, and people who identify as LGBTQI.

Solitary doesn’t just impact those behind bars. Families, especially children, are harmed by severely limiting their ability to maintain connections with a loved one in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement also increases the risk of prison violence, placing corrections officers directly in harm’s way and negatively impacting officers’ mental health.

Humane, effective, and safe alternatives do exist! Numerous other states have already implemented policy changes to reduce or end their use of solitary confinement in order to reduce prison violence and drive down recidivism. 

It is time for Michigan leaders to end the routine practice of state-sanctioned torture and prioritize the safety and security of Michigan prisons and communities by prohibiting solitary confinement in all its forms and creating safer, more therapeutic alternatives to isolation.

Watch The Case Against Solitary Confinement: The Story of Sabrie Alexander



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