Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church reaffirm the statement of the 76th General Convention, in resolution 2009-C020, condemning the use of torture “by the United States and any government, individual, or organization in any location in the world;” and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recognize prolonged solitary confinement (defined by the United Nations in its Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, as revised in 2015, also known as “The Nelson Mandela Rules,” as the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact, in excess of 15 days) as a form of torture; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church condemn the use of prolonged solitary confinement by the United States and any government in the world, including national, state, local, and military jurisdictions, immigration detention centers, and private prisons; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention call upon all Episcopalians, recalling the words of Jesus that when we visit those in prison, we are visiting him (Matthew 25:36), and the call of the Apostle Paul to “Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3), to demand that their governments end any use of prolonged solitary confinement in their prisons, jails, and detention centers, whether publicly run or contracted with private companies.
The Episcopal Church has condemned the use of torture, but the General Convention has never passed a resolution addressing the use of prolonged solitary confinement as a form of torture, even as it is commonly used in prison programs throughout the United States, as well as around the world.
The use of prolonged solitary confinement, once used sparingly, has become a widespread and integral part of prison administration in the United States in the last thirty-five years; as many as 80,000 people, both adults and youth, are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails, and detention centers, many under prolonged and even indefinite terms. United States has become a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement, even as other countries have reduced the use of isolation as a prison administration tool. (See: The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-prisons/learn-more-/faqs and Committee on International Human Rights of the New York Bar Association, https://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/20072165-TheBrutalityofSupermaxConfinement.pdf).
Prolonged solitary confinement destroys lives. Prisoners held in solitary confinement experience hallucinations and delusions, deliberately injure themselves, and lose the ability to relate to other human beings. Prolonged solitary confinement creates mental illness and can be especially harmful to those who are already mentally ill. Prisoners held in prolonged solitary confinement have difficulties in reintegrating into the general prison population and into society. The medical doctor and writer Atul Gawande describes many of these effects in his article “Hellhole” in the New Yorker, published in 2009: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/30/hellhole. Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez called for an “absolute prohibition” on the use of prolonged solitary confinement in 2011, saying that some studies have shown “lasting mental damage” after just a few days of social isolation (https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/10/392012-solitary-confinement-should-be-banned-most-cases-un-expert-says). He noted that solitary confinement is used in many countries around the world, including Argentina, China, and Kazakhstan, and that its use is widespread in the United States.
Studies show racial disparities in the use of prolonged solitary confinement in the United States; it is used more for Black and Latinx prisoners than for white prisoners, relative to their proportion in the general prison population (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/race-solitary-confinement/509456/).
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture is active in mobilizing faith communities against the use of solitary confinement. More information about their campaign may be found here: http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-prisons/together-campaign. Their 40-minute film, Breaking Down the Box, is an informative video on this issue: http://www.nrcat.org/torture-in-us-prisons/breaking-down-the-box
i] The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (The Nelson Mandela Rules), Rule 44. https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf.
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