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U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Limit ICE Solitary Confinement Following PHR Report

At Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Today, PHR Medical Expert Testifies on the Health and Human Rights Harms of Solitary Confinement

The U.S. Congress should immediately abolish the use of solitary confinement in U.S. immigration detention facilities, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) urged during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. 

“Solitary confinement unquestionably leads to severely detrimental health effects. What’s more, sensible alternatives exist. I urge you to pass legislation eliminating solitary confinement completely, and until then, limiting the total use and duration of solitary confinement in all carceral and detention settings in the United States,” said Katherine Peeler MD, MA, FAAP, PHR medical expert and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in her full testimony. 

Dr. Peeler was one of the coauthors of “Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention – a report by PHR and Harvard University researchers that documented how ICE used solitary confinement at least 14,264 times from 2018 to 2023. The report exposed how people placed in ICE solitary confinement spent a staggering 27 days in isolation on average, exceeding the 15-day period that constitutes torture as currently defined by United Nations experts. 

Following up on the report, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and U.S. Senator Brian Schatz have introduced legislation to “combat the rampant and unnecessary overuse of solitary confinement in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-operated and ICE contract facilities.” 

The proposed bill was introduced ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (Legacy of Harm: Eliminating the Abuse of Solitary Confinement) today. 

The full video of the hearing is available here and Dr. Peeler’s full testimony is available here.  

Several Senate Judiciary Committee members, including Senators Cory Booker, Dick Durbin, and Mazie Hirono cited research by PHR during the hearing. Booker, who called the abuse of solitary confinement in the United States “sick, unacceptable, and unamerican,” read directly from PHR’s recent report, citing interviews provided by survivors of solitary confinement who still suffer physical and psychological trauma from their ICE detention experiences.  

Survivors of ICE solitary detention told PHR and Harvard researchers: 

• “I ended up losing my mind for two weeks, even talking to myself. I thought about suicide. I still have those thoughts in Senegal.”  

• “Anytime I heard the door, my heart would start beating faster, like I was having a panic attack.”  

• “I still don’t like to be in confined spaces like a room or bathroom.”  

• “Sometimes I’ll wake up and think that I’m in solitary confinement. I’ll have to look out of the window to remind myself I’m not there.”  

The “Endless Nightmare” report was one of the most expansive investigations into the use of solitary confinement in U.S. immigration detention to date, informed by internal ICE documents obtained after six years of Freedom of Information Act requests and subsequent litigation pursued by the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. 

PHR has since mobilized hundreds of organizations to call on the U.S. government to end solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.  

Today’s Senate hearing follows a letter sent by 12 U.S. Senators to the Biden administration last month requesting more information about Department of Homeland Security practices and an end to the “misuse 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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