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DHS Should End Solitary Confinement, Says Nearly 200 Organizations

The U.S. government should immediately and publicly commit to ending the use of solitary confinement in U.S. immigration detention, demanded a coalition of 194 medical, academic, faith, human rights, civil rights, and immigration groups in a letter to U.S. President Biden, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  

The coalition mobilized following a landmark report from researchers at Physicians for Human Rights, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard Law School, Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention. Analyzing internal government documents obtained from ICE, the investigation exposed how ICE has used solitary confinement more than 14,000 times from 2018 to 2023. It also shed new light on the excessive, cruel, and arbitrary ways that solitary confinement is imposed on people in U.S. immigration detention facilities.  

The nearly 200 organizational signers write:  

“ICE has failed to respond effectively to the mountain of evidence that it is keeping people in solitary confinement in both unnecessarily and dangerous, and at times life-threatening, conditions … Efforts at modest reforms, such as improving data collection, reporting and oversight, and tweaking internal written guidance, have done little to stop egregious human rights violations in ICE detention. It is time to end ICE’s use of solitary confinement, full stop.” 

Read the full letter here.  

Signers include organizations such as the ACLU, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Human Rights Campaign, Yale Center for Asylum Medicine, National Center for Transgender Equality, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, American Immigration Lawyers Association , Vera Institute of Justice, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights.  

“Endless Nightmare” details FOIA data revealing that from 2018 to 2023, the average duration of solitary confinement in U.S. immigration detention was 27 days–nearly double the 15-day threshold that United Nations human rights experts find constitutes torture. 

The letter notes that in 2020, the Biden/Harris campaign pledged to largely end the use of solitary confinement. Members of Congress have also introduced federal legislation to end solitary confinement. At the state and local levels, more and more elected officials are taking action: since 2009, the vast majority of states has passed bills to restrict or end the use of solitary confinement.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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