National interfaith anti-torture group supports Montana State House bill to limit solitary confinement of juveniles and the mentally ill

February 22, 2013

CONTACT: Samantha Friedman, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications
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National interfaith anti-torture group supports Montana State House bill to limit solitary confinement of juveniles and the mentally ill
Interfaith group’s feedback comes in advance of today’s hearing on the bill

WASHINGTON – A national interfaith anti-torture group today sent a letter to Montana House Judiciary Committee Chairman Krayton Kerns and other members of the committee, in support of a bill that would restrict the use of long-term solitary confinement in Montana state prison facilities.  On behalf of its more than 300 diverse faith-based organizational members across the United States, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture issued its support for the bill’s passage.

“The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, whose members represent all faith traditions, care deeply about eliminating prolonged solitary confinement. Research consistently demonstrates that the psychological effects, particularly among children and people with mental illness, are devastating.  We strongly support the passage of House Bill 536, particularly its provisions to end the use of solitary confinement of youth under 18, inmates with serious mental illness, and other prisoners needing special consideration, as well as its support for limiting long-term solitary confinement for all inmates,” said Laura Markle Downton, director of U.S. prisons policy and program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

“The bill also includes a critical public safety measure by limiting the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who are within one year of their release.  As people of faith, we recognize that rehabilitation must include preparation for successful re-entry following incarceration.  Because of the devastating psychological and social impacts of prolonged solitary confinement, re-entry is significantly undermined by an inmate’s immediate release from solitary confinement into the community.”

NRCAT’s support of the bill comes in advance of a hearing scheduled for today, Friday, February 22, convened by the House Judiciary Committee, which will include discussion of House Bill 536, known as the “Montana Solitary Confinement Act.”  The hearing will be live-streamed online at  A vote on the bill is expected as early as Monday, February 25.

“Prolonged solitary confinement desecrates a person’s inherent dignity, denies the essential human need for community, and impedes genuine rehabilitation,” said Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.  “The damage of solitary confinement upon the most vulnerable including juveniles and the mentally ill is a violation of human dignity and is of grave concern to the faith community.  House Bill 536 presents Montana with a critical opportunity to lead the way nationally in increasing access to rehabilitation and reducing harm.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture advocates for limiting the use of solitary confinement in U.S. federal and state prisons.  More information on NRCAT’s work in the field of solitary confinement is available at, as is the organization’s short documentary film on solitary confinement.  In 2010, NRCAT partnered with a diverse coalition of organizations in Maine to push for the successful passage of a resolve by the state legislature requiring the Department of Corrections to review its solitary confinement policies and procedures.  As a result of the review and its recommendations, the solitary confinement population in Maine has been reduced by more than 70 percent.  Momentum to halt the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons continues to build nationally, with the first-ever Congressional hearing on the use of prolonged solitary confinement convened last June by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.  Following the hearing, in February of this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to the first-ever independent and comprehensive assessment of its use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. federal prisons.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 320 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.


Attorney general declines to investigate death of Indian basketball star

By JOHN S. ADAMS Tribune Capitol Bureau • June 8, 2010

HELENA — Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has declined a request by the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council that he open an investigation
into the Nov. 23, 2009, death of Allen “A.J.” Long Soldier.

Long Soldier, the high school basketball phenom who led Hays-Lodgepole to the State Class C basketball championship in 2007, died at Northern Montana Hospital in Havre after falling seriously ill while in custody at the Hill County Detention Center.

Authorities said he died of acute alcohol withdrawal.

Last month James Steele Jr., chairman of the Tribal Leaders Council, wrote a letter to the attorney general asking him to look into whether Hill County detention officers provided adequate care to the 18-year-old, who died after spending four days in jail.

Long Soldier died in the hospital after twice being sent there from the detention center, where he was jailed on May 19 on a misdemeanor warrant from Blaine County.

In a May 6 letter to Bullock, Steele stated that the way Long Soldier died “is of ongoing concern” to the tribal community.

Tribal leaders were critical of how the results of a coroner’s inquest into the death were presented to a seven-member jury last March and called on Bullock to investigate.

Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl, who presented evidence to the jurors in the May coroner’s inquest, is married to the Hill County jail administrator, according to Tribune files.

“Clearly this appears to present a conflict of interest and, if true, undermines the findings of the Coroner’s jury,” Steele wrote in his letter to Bullock.

Steele also suggested Long Soldier received inadequate medical care because of his race.

“Because A.J. was obviously Indian, incarcerated in county-run facilities, overseen by non-Indian jailers and supervisors, strong concern exists that his lack of adequate care was because of his race,” Steele wrote.

In March a jury cleared Hill County detention officers of any wrongdoing after 30 minutes of deliberation.

In his May 28 response to Steele, Bullock called Long Soldier’s death a “tragedy,” but he stated the findings of the coroner’s inquest were fairly presented and that nothing in the findings provided sufficient evidence to “support the conclusion that Mr. Long Soldier died as a result of criminal means.”

“If additional evidence comes to light showing criminal conduct resulting in Mr. Long Soldier’s death, the possibility of criminal prosecution
remains,” Bullock wrote.

As for whether Long Soldier was given adequate care while in jail, Bullock wrote that the state does not establish standards for the treatment of ill
inmates in county detention facilities.

“By statute the operation of county detention facilities is the responsibility of the county commissioners and the sheriff,” Bullock wrote.

Letter 1
Letter 2 (reply by AG)

ACLU Calls on U.N. Human Rights Official to Stop Teen’s Torture in Montana Prison

Posted On Solitary Watch
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

A teenager in solitary confinement at Montana State Prison has been subject to such brutal treatment that the American Civil Liberties Union today called upon a U.N. expert on torture to intervene on his behalf. “The conditions of Robert’s confinement are so appalling that they flout universally recognized human rights standards, including his absolute right to be free from torture and other inhumane forms of treatment,” said Steven Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program.
The prisoner known as “Robert Doe,” who recently turned 18, has a history of childhood abuse, and has been diagnosed with PTSD and other mental illnesses. He was first jailed for assault at the age 15, and sent to Montana’s adult maximum security prison when he was 16. Since then, according to the ACLU, he has been “tasered, pepper-sprayed, stripped naked in view of other inmates, deprived of human contact and disciplined through tortuous ‘behavior modification plans’ that deny him proper bedding, clothing and recreation.” For nearly a year, he has been in 23-hour-a-day lockdown in the prison’s segregation unit.
In December, the ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit against the state of Montana and the Montana Department of Corrections over Robert’s treatment. Today, the state and national ACLU sent a letter to Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. The letter asked that Nowak immediately review Robert’s case and “advise Montana state prison officials to refrain from subjecting him to inhumane conditions of confinement and treat him in a manner consistent with applicable international human rights laws.”
The ACLU doesn’t often appeal to U.N. special rapporteurs, experts who work under mandates from the the U.N. Council on Human Rights to investigate and monitor human rights abuses. The fact that it took such action today suggests not only the seriousness of this particular case, but also its urgency: Robert has already tried to kill himself twice in solitary by biting into the veins on his arms. He may not survive long enough to see his lawsuit resolved.
The section of the ACLU’s letter describing Robert’s “Conditions of Confinement” is reproduced in full here because it depicts an extreme, but not unique version of what happens in lockdown units across the United States.

While in the SHU [Secure Housing Unit], Robert has been subjected to prolonged periods of isolated confinement and sensory deprivation. He is unable to receive phone calls or visits from family or friends. In accordance with policies implemented by the Montana Department of Corrections, only after he maintains one year of clear conduct will Robert be permitted contact with the outside world; one visit per month and one 15-minute phone call per month to immediate family members.
To date, Robert has spent almost ten months in isolation, deprived of normal, social interactions with his family and even other inmates. Apart from the times when he showers or spends in recreation, Robert is confined to his cell. His recreation time consists of walking alone in a small,
concrete–enclosed caged pen, with only a small area open to the outside for fresh air and sunlight. His interaction with prison staff is minimal, and interaction with other inmates is virtually nonexistent.

In SHU, Robert is deprived of personal property and provided with only the minimum of canteen items. Every meal is delivered to his cell and he eats on his own. He is not permitted to apply for prison jobs or to engage in hobbies. He is also denied access to educational and recreational opportunities that other inmates enjoy.
While detained in MSP, Robert has been subjected to conditions of imprisonment that have caused him to relive his childhood trauma. Robert has twice attempted suicide by biting through the skin on his wrist, puncturing a vein with his teeth and then spraying his blood on the window and walls of his cell. Despite his history, these recent suicide attempts and the overall fragile state of his mental health, Robert is not provided with adequate mental health treatment; it is rudimentary at best. It consists of a mental health staff member walking through the unit once a week. During these rounds, the staff member knocks on each cell door and asks if the inmate has any mental health concerns. If he believes he does, he is forced to relay his mental health concerns by shouting from behind the cell door, within hearing range of other inmates and no allowance for confidentiality.
Moreover, while in the SHU, if Robert exhibits conduct that prison staff deems unacceptable, he may be subjected to a BMP [Behavior Modification Plan]. Since arriving at Montana State Prison, Robert has been placed on a BMP at least six times.
In accordance with DoC practice, the first step of a BMP lasts at least 48 hours. During this phase, Robert is virtually stripped naked, except for a short gown which provides minimal coverage and warmth. He is then placed in a bare, padded cell that is constantly illuminated. There is no running water in the cell and a hole in the floor serves as a toilet. Robert is provided
with a security mattress and blanket for sleeping, which is almost impossible given the brightness of the cell. Robert receives minimal water and is only allowed to eat NutraLoaf, a food substitute comprised of different ingredients mixed together.

If Robert maintains what prison staff consider good behavior over this initial 48-hour period he progresses to the second phase of the program. Although housed in isolation in the same illuminated cell, during this phase, Robert is given regular prison clothing and a pillow. If he maintains good conduct for a further 24 hour period, Robert then progresses to phase three; water is turned on in his cell and he is given regular meals and regular bedding materials. While the BMP is in effect, if Robert breaks any of the prescribed rules during these three phases or even after returning to solitary confinement, the BMP is implemented commencing at phase 1 until he maintains the requisite period of good conduct. BMPs can be in place for 6 months at any one time….
The United States is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the U.N. Convention on Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The United States is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). All four prohibit the treatment to which our client has been and continuesto be subjected….

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