The Prison Complex

Thursday, Apr 17, 2014, 5:00 pm  ·  By George Lavender

New Mexico Ending Conjugal Visits for Prisoners

New Mexico is the latest state to announce it is doing away with conjugal visits for prisoners. From May, the state will end a decades-old policy permitting some prisoners to receive private visits from their spouses. The number of states permitting conjugal visits has fallen dramatically in the past 20 years, from 17 in 1993 to 5 in 2013, and the number of inmates entitled to receive such visits in states that do allow them, is small. Chris Quintana of the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.


Thursday, Apr 17, 2014, 3:00 pm  ·  By George Lavender

North Carolina Supreme Court May Return Prisoners Spared by Racial Justice Act to Death Row

Hatty Lee/ Colorlines

North Carolina's Supreme Court is reviewing the cases of four defendants who had their death sentences reduced to life without the possibility of parole under the state's Racial Justice Act. Before it was repealed in 2013, the law allowed death-row prisoners to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias. The first prisoner to have his sentence reduced this way was Marcus Robinson. On Monday, the state's Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases that could see Robinson, and three others sent back to death row. Nancy Mullane, Executive Producer of “Life of the Law” spoke with Donald Beskind, Professor of the Practice of Law at Duke University, and one of Robinson's lawyers.


Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014, 10:25 pm  ·  By George Lavender

Prison Food Company Faces Fresh Criticism

Aramark's website claims the company serves over a million meals a day to prisoners  

Aramark, the multimillion dollar food service company responsible for feeding thousands of prisoners, is in trouble again. MLive reports that Michigan's Department of Corrections has issued numerous orders banning Aramark employees from its prisons for violating department policies. As Brian Smith reports, Michigan also issued tens of thousands of dollars in fines to the company in March for contract violations, the same month Aramark was included on an Ethicsphere list of the “World's Most Ethical Companies."


Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014, 11:00 am  ·  By George Lavender

Hunger Strikers Deported From Northwest Detention Center

April 14, 2014, outside of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.   Murphy Stack

Five detainees who took part in a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., have been deported, according to their supporters. Hundreds of people held at the privately-run detention center took part in the protest over conditions and low-pay. In response, several detainees were placed in solitary confinement. As FSRN's Shannon Young reports, advocates for the detainees say that Monday's deportation was further retaliation for the protest.


Saturday, Apr 12, 2014, 8:00 pm  ·  By George Lavender

California Moves to Curb Solitary Confinement

In 2011 and 2013 prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison, California, initiated hunger strikes to protest long-term solitary confinement. (Photo:  

Following a mass hunger strike by prisoners in California last year, some state legislators promised to reform the use of Security Housing Units (SHU). This week, Assembly Bill 1652 passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. If the bill becomes law, prisoners would only be sent to SHU for specific serious rules violations that come with determinate SHU sentences. The Prison Complex spoke with the bill's author Assembly Member Tom Ammiano.


Monday, Apr 7, 2014, 6:00 pm  ·  By George Lavender

Announcing a New Prison Complex Editor

This week, I'm going to start curating The Prison Complex here at In These Times. (Matt Stroud, who began this blog, is leaving but you can keep up with him on Twitter @ssttrroouudd). I'll be posting links to articles and reports about prison and jail issues from around the country. I'm also going to be sharing more videos, audio, photos, and infographics over the coming weeks. Look out for short interviews with prisoners, activists, academics, lawyers, and legislators, on issues effecting people in US prisons. With more than two million people behind bars, incarceration is a major public issue, so we want to hear from you too. Let us know what you think in the comments or email me


Thursday, Apr 3, 2014, 9:15 am  ·  By Rose Arrieta

Detainees Reportedly Thrown Into Solitary Confinement as Hunger Strike Continues

Detainees have been refusing food for weeks in an attempt to protest conditions at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. (Seattle Globalist / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

As a rolling hunger strike by detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., enters its fourth week, protesters claim that administrators have taken retaliatory measures in response to the efforts surrounding the strike.  

Hassall Moses, a U.S. army veteran and detained immigrant, says that on March 26, he was pulled from the general population and put in segregation after calling for a work stoppage among the detainees.

“I printed out a letter asking my fellow detainees to come together as one people, united,” said Moses in a recorded statement to a visiting attorney that has been made available to the media. Afterward, he says, he was placed in solitary confinement.

But Moses was just the first person targeted. One day later, more than 20 men were also allegedly placed in isolation. Several of them told attorneys that officials had asked the detainees if anyone wanted to speak to higher-ups about conditions there. According to a statement from attorneys at the center, the group volunteered, believing they were headed into negotiations over the hunger strike. Instead, the men say they were handcuffed, surrounded by officers in riot gear and taken into solitary confinement.  


Tuesday, Mar 18, 2014, 6:44 pm  ·  By Andrew Mortazavi

Immigrant Detainees in Texas Launch Hunger Strike

Wendy Castillo of Tacoma, Wash. protests in solidarity with striking detainees. (Alex Garland)  

Hundreds of immigrant detainees at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas launched a hunger strike early Monday morning to protest unjust treatment and demand an end to mass deportations around the country.

According to Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based organization opposed to for-profit incarceration, the Conroe detainees are striking in solidarity with the efforts at Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., where at least 750 immigrants began refusing food earlier this month. As of Tuesday, some detainees were still skipping some meals.

Both the Tacoma and Conroe facilities are operated by GEO Group, a private company that runs 98 detainment, incarceration and mental health facilities across the globe. In the past, GEO Group has been the target of numerous allegations that its practices have resulted in deplorable prisoner treatment and an environment of systemic violence at its facilities.


Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014, 4:48 pm  ·  By Sarah Berlin

Despite New ICE Policy, Immigrants Remain in Solitary Confinement

In cells across the country, immigrant detainees often spend weeks in solitary confinement. Will a new ICE directive change that reality?   (Aapo Haapanen / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Every day, as many as 300 immigrant detainees in the United States spend 22 to 24 hours a day in complete social and physical isolation.

A new report released this month by the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at the John Marshall Law School examines this use of segregation—the official term for solitary confinement—with immigrant detainees in light of a directive issued by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) last fall.

Immigrant detainees often spend weeks or months in conditions that cause severe and irreversible psychological effects. And according to trauma experts, these psychological effects can be more profound for immigrants, many of whom are survivors of  human trafficking, sexual assault, persecution, or torture.


Monday, Feb 24, 2014, 12:03 pm  ·  By Alex Wolff

New York’s Curbs on Solitary Confinement Could Signal National Sea Change

An agreement in New York and upcoming Senate hearings have put solitary confinement practices in the national spotlight.   (DieselDemon / Flickr / Creative Commons)

The controversial practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons was dealt a blow on February 19, when the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) agreed to halt litigation against the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) in exchange for sweeping reforms limiting extended isolation within New York prisons. Protecting the state’s most vulnerable prisoners, the deal will prohibit the solitary confinement of pregnant women and prisoners under 18 and ensure that people with disabilities spend no more than 30 days under such conditions. The agreement makes New York the largest prison system in the country to prohibit solitary confinement of minors.

The agreement is a major coup for human rights. Isolation in prison has been linked to severe mental illness and psychological trauma, and has been deemed counterproductive by studies connecting the practice to high recidivism rates. 

A Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing on the topic this Tuesday; New York’s reforms are sure to frame the discussion there. Advocates are hopeful that these two developments signal a growing movement toward more humane incarceration standards.  According to the ACLU, New York is the eighth state to take steps to reduce solitary confinement, and most of the other seven did so in the past few years.