Solitary confinement is torture

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Rev. Phillip Lawson, pastor emeritus of Easter Hill United Methodist Church, Richmond, will be among advocates for inmate rights who meet June 26 with officials at the Calif. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) to convey their concerns about solitary confinement as a form of torture.

Download toolkit from National Religious Campaign Against Torture

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and this month is Torture Awareness Month. The meetings here are part of advocacy efforts tied to observance of the month.

Representatives of California Families Against Solitary Confinement (CFASC) will bring stories of their own and other families whose loved ones have been locked under the torture of solitary confinement —some for decades. They will meet with Jeffrey Beard, CDCR secretary, at 11 a.m.

Faith leaders will pray for the families, the men and women in solitary, correctional staff and survivors of crime while the families are meeting with Beard. The faith delegation will have its meeting with other CDCR officials at noon. They will deliver hundreds of prayers cards submitted by people from diverse faith traditions nationwide, to be distributed to incarcerated people who remain in long-term isolation.

2013 hunger strike

During the hunger strike in California prisons last summer, in which 30,000 inmates participated, Beard initially promised the meeting “after the prisoners go off hunger strike.” The meeting was finally scheduled as advocates prepare to observe the one-year anniversary of the historic strike.

Clergy will echo the family members’ calls for an end to torture in correctional facilities.

Also on Thursday, a delegation of faith leaders will meet with Kathleen Allison, deputy director of the Div. of Adult Institutions, Facilities Support, at CDCR, whose jurisdiction includes religious affairs.

The delegation will include:

  • The Rev. Ron Stief, executive director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
  • Rabbi David Cooper on behalf of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
  • Basim Ekarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • The Rev. Cubie Finley III on behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Social Action Committee
  • Laura Magnani, program director, Healing Justice, American Friends Service Committee San Francisco Office, and
  • Lawson.

Clergy will echo the family members’ calls for an end to torture in correctional facilities and will discuss the retaliation prisoners have experienced since participating in the non-violent hunger strike protest.

Open up communication

“Our hope is to stop treating each other as enemies and to open up communication,” said Dolores Canales, a founding member of CFASC. “As we move toward abolishing this form of torture, we see these meetings as a first step toward finding positive solutions.”

Magnani, who works out of American Friends Service Committee’s San Francisco office, said, “There is no doubt that prolonged solitary isolation constitutes the torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment banned by the U.N. Convention Against Torture.”

“As faith leaders and representatives of many traditions, we have an ethical obligation to confront anything that degrades or causes suffering in all places and in any circumstances,” said NRCAT’s Stief. “Half of all completed suicides in prison occur in solitary confinement. Further, the use of isolation creates a toxic environment for correctional staff.” 

Editor's note: In June, human rights and faith organizations join together to mark Torture Awareness Month because on June 26, 1987, the nations of the world took a major step against the immoral and abhorrent practice of torture. On that day, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman & Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) entered into force and the United Nations later declared June 26 the “International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”

Letter to the Editor