A Chapter of SWAA/Social Welfare Action Alliance
Issue 1, August/September 2017


1.Introduction about Solitary Confinement and why Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC) exists. (This section will be available in future issues on SWASC's website.)

i) SWASC - who we are;
ii) What is Solitary Confinement?
iii)  "Solitary Confinement - a Virtual Reality Experience".
iv) The role of Helping and Health Care Professionals;
v) Juan E. Mendez, former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture

2. Members of SWASC in Action - Helping Prisoners in Solitary  

i) Johnny Perez, speaks out on dehumanizing conditions in solitary - and Video
ii) Social Worker and author Mary Buser says NO to social workers working where Solitary Confinement is used - and Video
iii) Erica Itzkowitz describes her family's struggle to help an innocent young man trapped in the penal system - "The Story of Ralph" 
Lifelines to Solitary - writing letters to incarcerated people in solitary
v) Survivors' Manual


1. Introduction

i) SWASC - Welcome and Purpose

SWASC members welcome you to the first issue of our e-newsletter - End Solitary! We  boldly stand up for Social Justice and Human Rights in our efforts to END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. We hope you will join us! 

We are a national organization of social workers and others dedicated to confronting the issue of solitary confinement, both on a macro level as a core mechanism of our racist and classist system of mass incarceration, and on a micro level as a practice that social workers in a correctional setting actively and passively participate in, while being simultaneously charged with upholding the human rights and dignity of people.
We are committed to collaborating with national social work institutions to take a unified professional stand against the use of solitary confinement. For our Objectives, click here.

Social work is built on the foundational principles of our Code of Ethics, so in each issue we will quote a relevant Ethical Principle. 

Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice. 
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers’ social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice.....

ii) Solitary Confinement
Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are detained in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons every day, up to 400,000 in a year - some for months, some for years and some even for decades. One in five adult inmates in state and federal prisons, and 18% of those in local jails spent time in restrictive housing
​in ​the course of a year in 2011-2012, including solitary confinement or other types of isolation.  They live inside cramped, concrete, windowless cells for 22-24 hours a day and are frequently deprived of telephone calls, educational programs, contact visits and exercise.  Often, they live their lives in handcuffs and shackles.  Those in solitary confinement are at risk of suicide and self-harm.  Solitary confinement is especially dangerous for those at vulnerable stages of development, such as juveniles, or for those with compromised mental and physical health such as the elderly, some juveniles and those with developmental disabilities or mental illness.
Solitary confinement is a torturous, cruel and inhumane practice that violates United Nations Conventions and Covenants. Still, it continues in the United States and in many other countries. Juan Méndez, the former U.N. Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, has called for its prohibition. Himself a survivor of torture,  Méndez stresses that prolonged us (over 15 days) is torture and is damaging to all who endure it. He recommended the following:
a) Limit the use of solitary confinement as a measure of last resort, for as short a time as possible, under strict supervision and with the possibility of judicial review;
b) Prohibit any use of solitary confinement against juveniles, persons with intellectual or psycho-social disabilities, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prisons;
c) Ban prison regimes of solitary confinement such as those in super-maximum security detention facilities;
d) Compile and regularly publish comprehensive disaggregated data on the use of solitary confinement, including related suicide attempts and self-harm.
In the United States social workers provide services in those very prisons and jails that keep people in solitary confinement units. Often these social workers and other mental health staff find themselves aware of - or even witness to - abusive practices that challenge their obligations to their profession's ethical code. For the complete article by social workers Mary Buser and Megan Berthold, click here.
The American Friends Service Committee has an excellent Factsheet - Solitary confinement.

iii) The Guardian's Solitary Confinement Virtual Reality Experience

"What’s it like to spend 23 hours a day in a cell measuring 6x9 feet for days, weeks, months or even years? 6x9 is the Guardian's first virtual reality experience, which places you inside a US solitary confinement prison cell and tells the story of the psychological damage that can ensue from isolation".

Try the VR Experience
Or Experience 6x9 in 360 video
6x9: a virtual experience of solitary confinement – 360 video
iv) The Role of Helping and Health Care Professionals
Thousands of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other helping and health professionals work in this cruel, torturous system. Many of them struggle with the dual loyalty conflict of treating their patients/clients in a punitive torturous  environment, and their commitment to their patients/human rights. They are at serious risk of recrimination for their attempts to protest or improve conditions.
v) Juan E. Méndez, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Juan E.  Méndez left his position with a rich legacy resulting from his six years of leadership against solitary confinement. His Preface  to "a Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement" by Sharon Shalev provides an excellent overview of the United Nation's position. A video on Solitary Confinement is available here.
In his 2013 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, in addition to absolute prohibition to inflict torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,  a State's obligation to prevent torture applies not only to public officials, such as law enforcement agents, but also to doctors, health care professionals and social workers, including those in private hospitals, other institutions and detention centers.
2. Members of SWASC in Action - Helping Prisoners in Solitary

i) Johnny Perez

Safe Reentry Advocate, 2017 JLUSA "Leading With Conviction" Leader, 2016 Citizens Against Recidivism Advocate of the Year

Johnny Perez is a member of SWASC. He was incarcerated for 13 years, three of which he spent in solitary confinement.  The link below describes in painful detail the inhumanity and destructiveness of solitary confinement. “American Prisons Are Designed to Dehumanize" is a dramatic reading in which Johnny reflects on his thirteen years in prison.
Johnny completed two  years towards his bachelors degree while in prison and has since  then completed his Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice.  He was appointed to the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. ­

Johnny Perez Interview
ii) Mary Buser

SWASC would not exist if it weren't for clinical social worker, Mary Buser, LCSW. She wrote about her horrific  experiences on Rikers  as the Assistant Chief for Mental Health for its 500-cell punitive segregation unit in an OpEd of the Washington Post in April 2014. Her article  galvanized several of us to meet in October. 2014 and form a task force..  Since then, Mary's book “Lockdown on Rikers” was published, for which Mary  received the 2016 Eagles Literary Prize for Non-fiction. ….”both a work of literature and an appeal to the nation’s conscience in the tradition of Silent Spring and the Jungle”.  Mary spends most of her spare time giving talks on TV and radio and to audiences around the country.

 From:  "The Misery of Solitary Confinement"
.....The practice of solitary confinement is deeply entrenched across the nation.....The growing consensus that solitary confinement is inhumane and torturous is apparently, and unfortunately, not shared by the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association. Yet their members are on the front lines of this issue.

It is social workers and psychologists who enter these cells on a daily basis to assess the mental deterioration that solitary will induce, and to determine when the risk o
f​ suicide is high enough to warrant a "timeout". They are a key component in this punishment; without their participation, solitary confinement as we know it, would come to a halt.
With the United Nations opposing this punishment, and world leaders condemning it, there can be no further ambiguity as to the human rights violations posed by solitary confinement, and no excuses for the "helping professions" to remain silent.
It is time for the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association to take a meaningful stand, and offer guidance to the thousands in their ranks who, in the course of their duties, are often called upon to be monitors of human suffering.

To do anything less represents a betrayal of the ethics that are at the core of these helping professions.
Mary Buser

Mary Buser Interview
Black Liberation Revolutionary and Solitary victim Ojore Lutalo's Collage as tribute to Mary
iii) "The Story of Ralph" by Erica Itzkowitz 

Erica Itzkowitz and her family are doing everything possible to help a young man whom she and her husband had mentored - Ralph.

​He was found guilty of a crime he did not commit.


Read Ralph's Story

iv) The Solitary Watch "Lifelines to Solitary Program"

As part of Solitary Watch’s work, we have reached out to people in solitary with letters, cards, and newsletters, reminding them that they have not been forgotten by the world outside their cells. We call this project Lifelines to Solitary.

...Using our list of more than 4,500 people living in long-term isolation. We engage with student groups, community organizations, and faith communities who want to work together to bring a spark of human contact into the darkness of solitary confinement. In 2016, we added a program for individuals, allowing everyone to correspond with someone living in otherwise total isolation.
Learn more and participate!
v) The AFSC Prison Watch Project Survivors Manual
Download the Manual Here
Copyright © 2017 SWASC, All rights reserved.
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