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A chapter of the Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA)

End Solitary! Newsletter: June 2020


  • Incoming NASW President Mildred "Mit" Joyner on racism, social justice, and recommended educational resources for social workers and social work students
  • Council for Social Work Education publishes SWASC Bibliography
    • Description of project
    • Acknowledgements
    • Database highlights
  • "Compliance or Critical Thinking?" article by Terry Kupers
  • "Why they do what they do" article by Marilyn Montenegro
  • COVID-19's impact on prisons and solitary
    • NASW's statement on advocacy
    • Links to reports and resources
    • On the Ground: Social worker Ahmanise Sanati and NASW-CA Board report serious neglect due to COVID-19 pandemic at LA correctional facility
  • SWASC organizational announcements
    • Welcome to new staff
    • Updates on social media
  • Updates on select state campaigns
  • Links to additional things to read and watch

Racism is America's Human Stain;

Black Lives Matter

by Incoming NASW President Mildred "Mit" Joyner

Mit Joyner
Mildred “Mit” C. Joyner, MSW, LCSW (Pennsylvania Chapter), is professor emerita of social work at West Chester University (WCU) in Pennsylvania. She is a member of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, Council on Social Work Education, and NASW, where she recently ended her term as national vice president. In West Chester she serves on the board of directors of Chester County Food Bank and is a bank director at DNBFirst. On July 1st, she becomes President of the NASW.
Racism is America’s human stain. Many individuals around the globe are rightfully protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Avery, and Breonna Taylor. All were black and their lives were cut short due to unlawful actions by the police and vigilantes. Since 1619 we have witnessed continuous unjust murders of brown and black people, coupled with a disproportionate number who are sentenced to prison and spend endless months in solitary confinement. Racial injustice is why there are protests throughout our nation and around the globe. Black lives matter!

Social justice is a core social work value: it demands that as practitioners, social workers uphold their code of ethics and take deliberate actions, so justice and equity exist in all communities. Social workers who understand the history of why brown and black people are unsafe in their own country can work to dismantle institutional oppressive policies and practices. In order to advocate for vulnerable groups, you must understand the centuries of inequalities that exist in this country. Unfortunately, during this time in our nation’s history some individuals still question the actions of the protestors rather than focus on why the protest are occurring.

Hopefully, the resources in this article will heighten awareness about social inconsistency and social injustice and how they severely affect the day-to-day lives of brown and black people.


* The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones of the NYT Magazine

* Just Mercy film, streaming free for the month of June

* Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

* Equal Justice Initiative

* When They See Us miniseries by Ava Duvernay

* SWASC Bibliography


SWASC is delighted to announce that the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) published its bibliography "Shedding Light on Solitary Confinement,” as the Educator|Resource for May 2020. This resource was created by SWASC members in collaboration with educators, directly impacted individuals, social workers, health professionals, activists, researchers, and others.

The Bibliography offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social service providers who work in criminal justice facilities, and humane alternatives. The resource database provides an extensive set of more than 300 teaching resources, from personal essays and reports to interactive discussion guides and thought-provoking documentaries to webinars and easy-to-use PowerPoint presentations, all of which can be applied in a range of social work courses. This includes courses in criminal justice as well as practice courses in mental health, policy, community organizing and advocacy, and social justice and human rights.


We thank Darla Coffey, President and CEO and members of the CSWE for acknowledging the contributions of SWASC, as well as Yolanda Padilla for her creative support and guidance in launching this project.
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Special thanks to the bibliography Toolkit Team (clockwise from upper left corner):
Mary Buser, Ali Winters, Sandy Bernabei, and Gail Golden (not pictured: Rachel Frome)


Highlights of the extensive database include:

Compliance or Critical Thinking?

By Terry A. Kupers, MD, MSP

We thank Terry Kupers for writing the piece "Compliance or Critical Thinking?," pertaining to his personal experience with the Ashker v. Governor of California lawsuit, for SWASC! As SWASC steering committee member Willow Katz stated, "This is a brilliant and moving article."

Terry A. Kupers, M.D., M.S.P., is a psychiatrist and Professor at The Wright Institute, and the author of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It (Univ. of California Press, 2017).
Prisoners consigned to solitary confinement or Security Housing Unit (SHU) are derided as “the worst of the worst.” But when I enter SHUs around the country in preparation for expert testimony in class action litigation, I find very ordinary people, with some exceptions. There are very bright people, and there are not so bright people, just as in the community. There are mean and ornery people and there are peaceful and very caring people, just as in the community (and in prison the peaceful and caring are much more numerous). The exceptions include the fact that: 1. A disproportionate number of prisoners in solitary suffer from serious mental illness (S.M.I.) either they were diagnosed before entering solitary or they developed emotional problems on account of the harsh conditions—and that’s why, when I started touring supermax solitary confinement units in the 80s and 90s, I found that 50% of SHU-dwellers suffered from S.M.I.; 2. A disproportionate number are people of color— the racism that permeates the criminal “justice” system does not stop at the prison walls; and 3. A large proportion of individuals in solitary confinement are very bright and very political—I think officers are intimidated by willful and very intelligent prisoners, and selectively send them to solitary. Of course, the subgroups can overlap, so there are no sharp boundaries. In any case, the population in SHUs are very far from “the worst of the worst...”

Why they do what they do

By Marilyn Montenegro, MSW, PhD

They say it is for public safety, they say they are doing the best they can, they say there is no alternative, they say we don’t know enough to do better.

This is how they (those with the power to make change) respond to questions about why the solution to “bad behavior” by people who are being punished by losing their freedom is to remove even more freedom by placing them in solitary confinement. We persist and provide information—solitary confinement causes or exacerbates mental illness, it is costly much more costly than leaving prisoners in general population, it renders people ill prepared for eventual release (over 90% of prisoners will eventually be released). The answer is the same—it is for public safety, what else can they do? The declared value is public safety but the operational value is something much different. Solitary confinement is used as a threat to maintain control and discourage rebellion; an added benefit is the need for additional correctional officers to oversee those placed in solitary confinement.

Many claim that solitary confinement is designed to ensure social control and that it does exactly what it is intended to do.

An alternative strategy, designed to actually address the problem, might involve a short period of “mitigation”, placing the badly behaving person in isolation for several hours while investigating exactly what happened to elicit bad behavior and then, after the person was less emotional, asking
what had happened and how the badly
behaving person thought that the problem might be resolved. Intervention could be based on the incident and its precursors. A “solution” could be both micro (the individual situation) and possibly macro (consideration about the ways in which facility practices might be modified to reduce the likelihood of repetition).

Such an approach would be designed to make declared and operational values consistent with each other.
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Marilyn Montenegro MSW, PhD was inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction in 2014, and was the recipient of NASW’s 2002 Social Worker of the Year Award for her outstanding work, including working to protect prisoners from abuse and inhumane conditions.

As founder and coordinator of the Prison Project, Women’s Council of NASW-CA, she provides consultation and supervises students in programs serving women leaving prison.This Council works for full inclusion of those with conviction histories into the social work profession.The Council is part of the Occupational Licensing Coalition which works legislatively to remove barriers to obtaining field placements, licensing and employment. Council members provide assistance in navigating barriers to social workers (and social work students) with legal histories and in April of 2020 conducted a virtual workshop titled “Eliminating Obstacles to Internships, Licensure and Employment for those with Conviction Histories."

COVID-19 in Correctional Facilities

By Moya Atkinson

The COVID-19 pandemic that has been ravaging the world and the U.S. in the last few months, has been especially devastating to correctional facilities as well as nursing homes and other overcrowded housing. Initially, NASW focused on children, adults and elderly living in typical communities outside the walled or fenced carceral compounds, although social workers, other health professionals and staff work within the compounds, with attendant risks. After expressing concern about this apparent neglect, I was glad to note NASW’s special concern for the fate of prisoners, who are doubly impacted—by being punished and additionally possibly condemned to death by the virus.

Thanks to NASW CEO Angelo McClain for commenting on the NASW's advocacy for people in solitary confinement, and all of those incarcerated, during this time.

"NASW has a longstanding presence on the Vera Institute’s Solitary Confinement Advisory Committee and are actively engaged with the Justice Roundtable and Leadership Conference on Civil and human Right's (LCCR) Justice Reform Taskforce. Recently, NASW was one of several organizations that sent a letter to the CDC asking for healthcare support for people who are incarcerated and urging the release of some prisoners, including those who are elderly.

Additionally, here is a link to the NASW Social Justice Brief, Implications of COVID 19 for Vulnerable and Marginalized Populations, that was released in April. We will continue to advocate vigorously for supports and protection through congressional relief packages and other mechanisms."
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Get a State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons from The Marshall Project

Read the latest from the Prison Policy Initiative on how criminal justice systems across the US are responding to COVID-19


Read Amend at UCSF's Brief

The Ethical Use of Medical Isolation—Not Solitary Confinement—to Reduce COVID-19 Transmission

in Correctional Settings


Social Worker Ahmanise Sanati and NASW-CA Board Report Serious Neglect Due to COVID-19 Pandemic at

LA Correctional Facility

by Moya Atkinson

Ahmanise Sanati, a Mental Health Clinical Supervisor at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, reported the deplorable conditions that she and a colleague, Felicia Hall were experiencing to NASW-CA Board members on April 7. After she, NASW-CA’s Executive Director, Janlee Wong and several others met by Zoom, Sanati's letter requesting support was sent to the Governor’s office and to others in Sacramento from related organizations. Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of Health and Human Services serving Governor Gavin Newsom responded promptly to NASW in a supportive manner. Sanati was told that many were looking into the matter. She also contacted her local legislators.

When asked what support she and her colleagues would have liked, she replied “the problem is [that] not many people follow through with advocacy efforts, thus we don’t see the changes we would like to see.” She was very appreciative of NASW-CA’s response: “I really went to them for advice and found that they rallied behind my efforts and catapulted my concerns where they needed to go.”

Organizational Announcements

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For the summer of 2020, Nicole Capozziello, MSW, will be assisting SWASC with media and education efforts, including the quarterly newsletter and promoting the Bibliography. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Welfare at the University at Buffalo. Since 2019, she has worked as a local organizer with the WNY chapter of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and a community gardener with Grassroots Gardens of WNY. She is also a freelance writer on food, the arts, and social justice, and recently wrote study guides for Solitary Watch and SWASC. You can contact her at

Updates on Social Media

by SWASC Steering Committee Member Mary Pelton-Cooper

We are posting more often on the SWASC Facebook page to generate and maintain awareness of solitary confinement. The page now has 620 followers. This means more people are clicking "follow" so they, along with their other friends, will see more of our posted articles and announcements.

ACTION: Invite your Facebook friends to like or follow the SWASC page. Also, with questions or to join SWASC, contact
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Among other criminal justice reform measures, Louisiana passed HB 344, which bans solitary confinement in most cases for inmates who are pregnant, who recently gave birth or who are caring for children while in custody.


The #HALTsolitary Campaign continues to fight for the immediate passage of the Humane Alternatives to Solitary Confinement bill, which has a majority of supporters in both the New York assembly and senate.

In May of 2020, the Campaign released the report THE WALLS ARE CLOSING IN ON ME, on self-harm and suicide in the NY state prison system. The report found that "on average, someone attempts suicide in one of New York State’s prisons every other day. And 43 percent of those suicide attempts occur in the state’s notorious solitary confinement units—the Special Housing Unit, or SHUs. Solitary confinement is also linked to higher rates of death by suicide, and to widespread incidents of self-harm.

These striking findings were...based on an original analysis of data from 2015 to 2019, obtained through public record requests. According to the report, 18 people died by suicide in the state prison system in 2019, its highest rate in two decades and nearly double the national average. The report also found that suicide attempts by individuals in solitary confinement occurred at a rate 12 times that of their peers in general population..."

Kalief Browder (1993-2015) spent three years on Rikers Island, without having been convicted of crime. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement, where he attempted suicide multiple times. He was released in 2013 and died by suicide two years later, following serious mental health struggles.

ACTION: Amplify the report on your personal and organizational accounts with this social media guide.


Read NASW-CA's latest news here.

See Terry Kuper's article "Compliance or Critical Thinking?" on a California prisoner class action lawsuit and the movement to end solitary confinement.

The massive California Prisoner Hunger Strikes of 2011 and 2013 (the third hunger strike by over 30,000 people in CA prisons! 100 men were on hunger strike for 60 days) gained nationwide and international media attention and pushed forward exponentially the movement to end the torture. The Ninth District Court of Appeals just held two hearings on their class action lawsuit Ashker vs. Governor of California.

Things to Read and Watch


What prisoners in solitary confinement can

teach us about social isolation

by Craig Haney, MA, PhD, JD

Tens of millions of Californians are sheltering in place—a passive form of social isolation that radically limits the amount of social contact they are supposed to have with others. There are a number of unanticipated, unintended, but potentially very serious consequences of this form of social distancing, no matter how absolutely necessary it is.

I’ve spent the past several decades studying the harmful effects of solitary confinement, and we can learn several things from prisoners who have been able to survive the worst possible variation of this kind of confinement.

In basic and profound ways, human beings are essentially social animals who, neurological research tells us, are literally wired to connect. Social connectedness is a fundamental human need. Its deprivation can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, disorientation and even worse psychological maladies.

Of course, the nation is not about to become one massive solitary confinement unit. Most of us retain personal and civil liberties and access to material comforts and possessions that prisoners can only dream of. Moreover, the sacrifice is clearly for our own good, as well as the good of the nation, rather than a stigmatized form of prison punishment.

#HALTsolitary Campaign's report THE WALLS ARE CLOSING IN ON ME

Per the New York Daily News, a just-released report on suicide and self-harm in solitary confinement found that 18 people died by suicide in New York state prisons in 2019 (the most since 2000). Of these tragic suicides, at least one third took place in solitary confinement.

More people are dying in American prisonshere's how they face the end of their lives

by Martha Hurley, Professor &

‘The power of redemption’: Oakland man goes free after 44 years in prison, more than 30 in solitary

by Megan Cassidy

SWASC members Mary Buser and Victor Pate take part in the National Action Network’s May 23rd panel discussion on the effects of COVID-19 in jails and prisons

Access Password: 6N%?884!

Three Ways to Reach Out to People in

Actual Solitary Confinement

During This Time of Self-Quarantine, Consider the Thousands in U.S. Prisons Who Live in Far More Extreme Isolation and Deprivation

By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway of Solitary Watch

Editors: Moya Atkinson, Nicole Capozziello

This newsletter is published quarterly or as the need arises. Submissions are welcome. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement. This newsletter is free to all interested parties.

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