DC Council introduces bill to end solitary confinement

A new bill introduced by the D.C. Council would end the use of solitary confinement in the city’s jails and youth detention facilities.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the bill after two previous unsuccessful attempts to end the practice, according to a recent news release.

This time, the bill would also end the D.C. jail’s use of so-called “safe cells,” which are designed to prevent self-harm.

It is known as the ERASE Solitary Confinement Act of 2022. ERASE stands for Eliminating Restrictive and Segregated Enclosures.

The bill includes a proposal to ban any segregation of transgender inmates.

The council will reconvene in September, and would have to pass it before the bill expires at the start of next year.

If the bill passes, Cheh said it will “prohibit this dangerous practice in all but the rare instances where it is necessary for an incarcerated person’s well-being.”

Cheh said the bill would put D.C. at the top tier of prison reform and hopes the change, if it passes, will set an example for other cities.

The ERASE Act was informed by research done by the D.C. Justice Lab and national movement known as Unlock the Box. The D.C. Justice Lab is a team of researchers looking into ways to reform criminal justice in the District. The two organizations sent the news release about the council’s proposal.

According to the United Nations, prolonged solitary confinement is considered torture. The definition of the status includes 23 hours of confinement for 15 days.

In the years leading up to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Bureau of Prisons noted that D.C. used solitary confinement three times more often than the national average.

At a recent hearing, prison leaders noted the practice continues at the same rate. During the height of the pandemic, according to the advocacy groups, D.C. prison lockdowns were among the longest in the U.S.

WTOP’s Carrie Shokraei contributed to this report.

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Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a digital writer for WTOP. He came to the D.C. area in 2007 to work as digital editor for USATODAY.com, and since then has worked for a number of local and national news organizations.

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