US Senate Holds Hearing on Reforming Usage of Solitary Confinement in Prison System

The United States Senate has considered the efforts of an interfaith coalition of groups looking to reduce the usage of solitary confinement in American prisons.

The hearing took place Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Those advocating for Congress to examine the usage of solitary confinement included several religious groups such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).

Laura Markle Downton, director of NRCAT's U.S. Prisons Policy and Program, told The Christian Post that the Tuesday hearing was "very significant."

"Tuesday was a very significant moment in the ongoing work to confront this reality," said Downton, adding that "it was only the second time that Congress has convened a hearing to look at this reality."

In addition to NRCAT, groups including the Interfaith Action for Human Rights, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the National Association of Evangelicals gave testimony against the abusive usage of solitary confinement.

In their written testimony, NRCAT President Linda Gustitus and NRCAT Executive Director Rev. Ron Stief stated that solitary confinement usage "violates basic religious values of community, restorative justice, compassion, and healing."

"The notion that solitary confinement is a necessary evil to maintain safety in our prisons, jails and detention centers is not rooted in evidence," reads their testimony in part.

"Your hearing today is a very important step in that effort, and we thank you for the opportunity to contribute to it."

On the day before the hearing, members of the various groups looking to stop the frequent usage of solitary confinement in American prisons held a gathering of religious and human rights leaders.

Jim Winkler, General Secretary and President of the National Council of Churches (NCC), gave a prayer at the Monday gathering.

"Ruler of the night, Guarantor of the Day, we gather before Thee to witness on behalf of sisters and brothers living tortured lives of solitary confinement, mostly without human contact," prayed Winkler.

"We beseech Thee to be with them during their sleeping and during their waking that they may know Thy peace and comfort, that they may somehow find Thy holiness in the hell-holes called solitary confinement."

Downton of NRCAT explained to The Christian Post that the NCC has been "an important partner" with her organization from its inception.

"It is important to note that in the past year the National Council of Churches has identified the issue of mass incarceration and working to confront mass incarceration as one of its core areas of focus," said Downton.

"The use of solitary confinement is itself part and parcel of the broader move of over-incarceration within the US prison system."

According to Downton, "on any given day over 80,000 incarcerated adults and youth are held in conditions of solitary confinement."