The Illinois Department of Corrections is being sued for supposedly put too many inmates in solitary confinement for too long. The federal civil rights lawsuit claims some Illinois inmates have been kept in near total isolation for decades, some for infractions as minor as rolling their eyes at a guard, and with no real review process available.
Allan Mills, executive director of Chicago’s Uptown People’s Law Center, says they’ve filed the suit because Illinois’ use of solitary would qualify as torture under United Nations standards.
“15 days or more is considered to be torture, if you’re kept in isolation that long,” Mills said. “Illinois does not keep people in segregation for 15 days, it doesn’t even keep them for 15 months. Often, we will see people who have been in segregation for 15 years in Illinois.”
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Mills says he doesn’t know of anyone who has come out of a long stay in solitary confinement without being “severely mentally injured.”
Brian Nelson may be proof. Convicted of murder at age 17, Nelson spent 12 years in solitary confinement at the now-shuttered Tamms Correctional Center. Nelson says that time in isolation has left him with severe psychiatric problems.
“I’ve got a place in the basement where I go hide. It’s pitch black, and I can just sit there and I cry,” Nelson said. “As I talk about it and think about it, I can taste the cell again.”
While the suit demands Illinois asks for changes in the use of isolation in the state’s prisons, it doesn’t ask for the end of practice.
“I don’t think we can make a legal claim for it to be abolished entirely,” Mills said.
The Illinois Department of Corrections declined to comment on the lawsuit.