Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle on Tuesday brought attention to solitary confinement in jails — but for starkly different reasons.
On the Democratic side, a group of 11 New York lawmakers called for an end to the practice, which they called “torture,” in New York City jails. On the Republican side, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Louie Gohmert of Texas brought up solitary confinement for Jan. 6 pretrial defendants being held in a Washington, D.C., jail.
Greene held a press conference on Tuesday upon the release of a report detailing a tour of the Washington jail where pretrial inmates arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot are being held. The tour was also attended by Gohmert and their staff members and occurred on Nov. 4.
“They've been held in solitary confinement 22, 23 hours a day — being held in a prison cell where their bathroom, their toilet doesn't work, and they have to hold it for more than 20 hours,” Greene said. “We can clearly see that there is serious abuse happening here.”
MEADOWS WITHDRAWS COOPERATION WITH JAN. 6 COMMITTEE
Gohmert said the jail puts people into solitary confinement for 14 days if they meet with an attorney, presumably due to possible contact with the coronavirus.
“The condition of solitary confinement has been so often dropped down is inappropriate, and yet the D.C. jail has gotten away with it for such things as, ‘How dare you demand to talk to your lawyer in person because now we will have to put you in solitary confinement — we’ll call it quarantine — for two weeks,’” Gohmert said during a press conference.
Greene’s report, “Unusually cruel: An eyewitness report from inside the D.C. jail,” said one inmate claimed he had gone through more than 200 days of solitary confinement. While the inmates in the Jan. 6 wing are now let out of their cells for five hours a day, they were previously only let out for one or two hours a day, according to the report.
Meanwhile, a group of 11 New York Democrats led by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, and including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called to end solitary confinement in New York City jails after the Department of Correction said it will continue to use the practice.
“Solitary confinement is torture, and it is long past time for us to fix the institutional problems that have plagued our criminal legal system since its inception in our nation,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “In New York City’s jails, as in jurisdictions across the nation, solitary confinement is known to impose severe suffering and deterioration on an individual’s mental and physical well-being and the results can lead to grave outcomes, including death.”
Don’t expect the far-left wing of the Democratic Party and the far-right wing of the Republican Party to join forces on the issue, though.
Greene was asked in the press conference whether this issue has made her view Black Lives Matter activists, which have long called for criminal justice reform, in a different light.
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“Here's what I can say about criminal justice reform: I do not think it's good for anyone in prison to have to read Nation of Islam newspapers and that be one of the only publications they have or information or curriculum that informs them because of the color of their skin,” Greene said.
She argued that there is a “two-tier justice system” that treats the Jan. 6 inmates worse, alleging that they are “mocked because of their political beliefs and because of Jan. 6 and because of the color of their skin.”
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was also at the press conference, signaled that Republicans should not play nice with Democrats if they win back the majority in 2022.
"We're going to send subpoenas. We're going to conduct real oversight. We're going to show up in person and get answers. The notion that Republicans are going to take control the House and we're going to hold hands in the warm spring rain with the Democrats and legislators is ludicrous," Gaetz said.