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


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 22, 2013

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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 http://leg.mt.gov/css/Video-and-Audio/live.asp?strView_id=84.  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 nrcat.org, 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.

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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.

Attached:
Letter 1
Letter 2 (reply by AG)