Bullock, Davis take a stand against solitary confinement for vulnerable populations

HARRISBURG, June 3 — State Reps. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., and Tina Davis, D-Bucks, were joined by state Sen. John Kane, D-Delaware/Chester, at a news conference Wednesday at Eastern State Penitentiary supporting legislation that would prohibit solitary confinement for vulnerable populations.

There are over 47,000 inmates in Pennsylvania’s corrections system. One method of discipline is solitary confinement in which inmates are deprived of normal human interaction and any form of intellectual stimulation, such as reading materials. Solitary confinement has been found to induce hallucinations, depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and its impact can be devastating on inmates’ long-term psychological and emotional well-being.

House Bill 1037 would prohibit using solitary confinement on:

  • pregnant or postpartum women.
  • women who have recently suffered a miscarriage or terminated a pregnancy.
  • LGBTQ individuals.
  • inmates with certain mental, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.
  • inmates 21 and younger or 55 and older.

The bill would also prohibit the use of restraint chairs, chemical agents, and shackles, as well as put an absolute cap on the use of solitary confinement for all inmates at 15 days.

“Solitary confinement started at Eastern State Penitentiary in 1829 as an experiment in rehabilitation and prison reform thought to bring out the best in people,” Bullock said. “Instead, the isolation caused extreme mental distress and the cruel practice ended nearly a century later. In the 1960s and 70s, solitary confinement re-emerged as a means to control overcrowded prisons. The psychological effects are still the same. Placing already incarcerated individuals in solitary confinement is unethical and inhumane. If we are truly looking to rehabilitate people, and we should be, creating more psychological damage is not the answer. We must end solitary confinement in Pennsylvania today."

“Solitary confinement is a cruel and unjust form of discipline which can perpetrate untold violence on an inmate’s psychological and emotional health,” Davis said. “Let’s get this straight: our inmates are in our correctional system to be rehabilitated, not be subjected to torture.

“This bill would protect our most vulnerable prison populations from being mentally and emotionally devastated by solitary confinement while serving time in prison, and so ensure that these inmates’ families, communities and society at large will greet rehabilitated citizens ready to re-enter and contribute to life in our commonwealth after their prison terms end, not mentally ill souls in need of decades of care and supervision.”

In the previous session, Davis introduced H.B. 1632, which would have prohibited restrictive housing for pregnant women.  

Last week, Davis and her colleagues announced they will soon be introducing H.B. 1419, Dignity for Incarcerated Women, which would set boundaries on the treatment of women in the correctional system in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 1037 awaits consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.