An End to the Solitary Silence: Unveiling Cori Bush’s Fight Against Solitary Confinement

The fight against solitary confinement is heating up, led by a band of bold House Democrats with Missouri’s Rep. Cori Bush at the helm. On Thursday, they unveiled a revolutionary bill seeking to eradicate this brutal and outdated practice in federal prisons, jails, and detention centers.

Renowned for her tireless advocacy, Bush is leading the crusade against a system she calls a “moral catastrophe.” True to form, she pulls no punches, condemning solitary confinement as “psychological torture.” The fight is personal, it’s emotional, and it’s about time.

Bush’s proposed End Solitary Confinement Act has received the seal of approval from nearly 150 civil rights and criminal justice organizations. It stands on the shoulders of a similar bill introduced by Senate Democrats last fall, but it takes the fight a significant step further.

The new legislation is revolutionary in its scope. If passed, it would ensure that federal prisoners could not be isolated for more than four hours. This doesn’t mean more idle time. It guarantees at least 14 hours outside of their cells each day, including seven hours dedicated to educational, vocational, financial, and mental health programs. In a nutshell, it’s about restoring dignity and respect to the incarcerated.

Today, the grim reality for those in solitary confinement is harsh. They spend two days a week completely isolated and are confined to their cells for 23 hours each day for the rest of the week. Imagine spending that much time in a 6×9 to 8×10 feet cell with a solid metal door. The harshness of this reality is amplified by a lack of basic amenities like radios, art supplies, or even reading materials.

In the words of William Blake, who spent a staggering 34 years in solitary confinement in New York, “Nothing much and nothing new ever happens to tell you if it’s a Monday or a Friday, March or September 1987 or 2012…” His chilling testimony paints a haunting picture of life in solitary confinement.

The physical and psychological impacts of such dehumanizing conditions are brutal. According to Nils Melzer, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture, solitary confinement often inflicts “severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences.”

Research shows that solitary confinement has a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. Around 60% of Black men and 85% of LGBTQ+ people who are incarcerated have been placed in solitary confinement.

In Bush’s words, solitary confinement is not just “traumatic for people subjected to it,” but it is “harmful to communities and isolating for loved ones.” It’s a practice that disproportionately targets Black and brown folks, young people, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities.”

And the winds of change are blowing. Since 2018, 44 states have introduced bills seeking to limit or eliminate solitary confinement for vulnerable groups like pregnant people, the elderly, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with mental or physical disabilities. At least 33 states have given these bills the green light.

The stage is set for federal policymakers to lead the charge. Jessica Sandoval, director of the Unlock the Box Campaign, urges Congress to act promptly to pass the End Solitary Confinement Act.

President Biden, during his 2020 campaign, promised to enact criminal justice reforms, including ending solitary confinement. But advocates believe his efforts thus far don’t measure up to his promises. It’s high time to close the gap between rhetoric and action.

Johnny Perez, director of the U.S. Prisons Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and a survivor of solitary confinement himself, summed up the urgency, “I implore Congress to swiftly pass this critical legislation, for it is not only a matter of justice, but a matter of preserving human dignity and restoring hope.”

Cori Bush’s fight is our fight, a battle for justice and a stand against psychological torture. As engaged citizens, let’s stand behind her in dismantling this cruel and antiquated practice, one that robs our fellow humans of their dignity, hope, and sanity.