Issues and Actions


Sign our Move-On Petition

A Call to End Health Workers’ Participation in the Practice of Solitary Confinement! 

ALL CAN SIGN! Please support SWASC to reach our goal of 5,000 signatures by April 30, 2018!

To sign this petition, please visit:



MD Testimony on Solitary Confinement Bills, 2018, by Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement



Correctional Services – Restrictive Housing – Limitations

Date: February 9, 2018

From: Moya Atkinson, MSW, former Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers,

Maryland Chapter; Co-Founder, Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC)

To: Senator Bobby Zirkin, Chair, and Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee


Read the full testimony: SWASC support for SB539_2018_02_09

Outreach Efforts

We are in contact with many organizations and individuals. Among them are: NASW, CSWE, the Social Work Action Alliance (SWAA), the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA), the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Solitary Watch, the Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), the NYC’s Urban Justice Center, and the Vera Institute of Justice. We will continue to:

  • Advocate within the U.S. and internationally.
  • Raise public awareness within and beyond the social work community.
  • Organize and present workshops and other educational programs.
  • Provide up-to-date information on solitary confinement as it pertains to social work.
  • Organize petitions.
  • Testify before federal and state legislatures and local governments.
  • Urge policymakers to ensure accountability for use of torture, and degrading, cruel, inhumane and torturous treatment.
  • Promote legislation for professional accountability within the correctional system.
  • Write articles, letters to the editor and on social media.
  • Participate in coalitions with other human and civil rights organizations.

Canada’s solitary confinement law unconstitutional, B.C. Supreme Court rules

Canada’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in federal prisons is the equivalent of torture, doesn’t work and has been struck down as unconstitutional by the B.C. Supreme Court.

Find out more here.

Take a look at Solitary Watch’s Lifelines to Solitary Project!

Lifelines to Solitary is an incredible project that reaches out to people in solitary confinement with letters, cards, and newsletters, reminding them that they have not been forgotten by the world outside their cells.


Learn more and Participate!


The October 23 Oprah Winfrey 60 Minutes segment on Pelican Bay State Prison in California raises consciousness about both moral and practical reasons to end solitary confinement. Watch the segment here and learn the backstory here.

13th – a Documentary film by Ava DuVernay

“The title of Ava DuVernay’s documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”  With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis”

Find out more here.

CAIC Members Give Powerful Testimony About Solitary in New Video Series


“We Are Witnesses” is a new series of short videos produced by The Marshall Project and The New Yorker, offering incredibly powerful testimony from 20 people whose lives have become enmeshed in the U.S. criminal system.

Two of the videos feature CAIC members. One is about Alicia Barraza and Doug Van Zandt, whose son Ben committed suicide in solitary. One is about Tyrrell Muhammad, who was in prison for 26 years and 11 months, including 7 years in solitary.
Read more.

Terry Kupers new book SOLITARY The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It

“A scathing report on the harsh culture of punishment in American prisons that finds expression most keenly in solitary confinement.With 40 years of experience as a forensic psychiatrist, including serving as an expert witness in several large class-action suits concerning jail and prison conditions, Kupers (Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It, 1999) makes his position crystal clear: we must replace the culture of punishment with one of rehabilitation. He asserts that the estimated figure of 100,000 inmates in solitary is a gross underestimation, that solitary confinement facilities, or Supermax facilities, were overbuilt in the 1990s, and that their use is both counterrehabilitative and countertherapeutic.” “Kupers charges that our prisons are creating monsters, and after vividly demonstrating just how, he deftly outlines how to correct this situation. A must-read for those running our prisons and for policymakers in a position to reform them.”

You can buy the book Here or read the full Kirkus review Here

Terry will be doing readings or talks in the Bay Area as follows:

  • September 14 Pegasus, Berkeley, 7:30 PM Thursday, 2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley
  • September 24  Copperfield’s, San Rafael, Sunday, 2-4PM, 850 Fourth Street, San Rafael 94901
  • September 22, Friday, 12:30 – 2:30   Continuing Education Event (free for Wright students and faculty, entrance fee for others, but continuing education hours for psychologists), The Wright Institute, 2728 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, Rms. 109,110
  • October 17   The Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, 5:15. 110 The Embarcadero, San Francisco 94102  (admission fee)

And will be doing two events in New York with the editors of the book, Hell is a Very Small Place:

  • October 23  Brooklyn Public Library, 7:30
  • October 24   Manhattan, NYU Bookstore, in the evening

Prison Treatment Staff in Maryland Added to 20 Year Retirement System

In the Maryland state prison system correctional officers have had 20 year retirement for for many years due to the stresses of the job while all other prison employees had the same 30 year retirement as all other state employess.   About 6 years ago, dietary, maintenence and supply staff were added to the 20 year system because they work so closely with inmates.  Then last year, correctional administrators and case managers were added.  This meant that the only staff in the prisons who worked directly with inmates who did not have 20 year retirement was treatment staff.  I asked my local legislators to submit bills to add correctional social workers, psychology staff, and addictions counselors to the 20 year retirement system.  Amazingly enough we were successful in getting these bills passed the first year and the state is now working to switch us over to the 20 year retirement system.  This will be a great help to us in recruitment and retention of quality treatment staff.

Find out more about your local area

Check your local area for a Taskforce Member contact to find out about local issues and actions or to get involved.

Ethics and Dual Loyalty Issues/Actions

Torture: Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of war with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. http;//

Dual Loyalty Conflicts: Dual loyalty may be defined as clinical role conflicts between professional duties to a patient and obligations, expressed or implied, real or perceived, to the interests of a third party such as an employer, an insurer or the state. It poses particular challenges for health professionals when the subordination of the patient’s interests to state or other purpose risk violating the patient’s
human rights.

“In recent years, prison officials have increasingly turned to solitary confinement as a way to manage difficult or dangerous prisoners. Many of the prisoners subjected to isolation, which can extend for years, have serious mental illness, and the conditions of solitary confinement can exacerbate their symptoms or provoke recurrence. Prison rules for isolated prisoners, however, greatly restrict the nature and quantity of mental health services that they can receive. In this article, we describe the use of isolation (called segregation by prison officials) to confine prisoners with serious mental illness, the psychological consequences of such confinement, and the response of U.S. courts and human rights experts. We then address the challenges and human rights responsibilities of physicians confronting this prison practice. We conclude by urging professional organizations to adopt formal positions against the prolonged isolation of prisoners with serious mental illness”. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 38:104–8, 2010

Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics a paper by Jeffrey L. Metzner, MD, and Jamie Fellner, esq.

  The importance of the dual loyalty ethics dilemma for social workers and other health professionals working in solitary confinement settings is explained in the following Abstract of “Data-Driven Human Rights: Using Dual Loyalty Trainings to Promote the Care of Vulnerable Patients in Jail” – by Sarah Glowa-Kollisch, Jasmine Graves, Nathaniel Dickey, Ross MacDonald, Zachary Rosner, Anthony Waters, Homer Venters. Health and Human Rights 17/1, Published June 11, 2015. “The tension between protecting patients from harm and participating in punishment is a clear ethical dilemma for medical and mental health service providers. An additional difficulty for mental health staff is that their clinical training in assessing suicide risk is based on suicidality as a feature of mental illness,whereas self-harm in the NYC jail system is seen largely as a product of patients seeking to avoid solitary confinement, a seemingly adaptive behavior. Finally, patients interpret the health service to have lost independence from the security staff in some settings…”

Watch Expert Witness: Health Professionals On the Frontline Against Torture by Martha Davis

“Expert Witness tells the story of some remarkable health professionals who have fought state-sponsored torture despite the personal risk. In honoring their professional obligation to report abuse and protect torture victims, they are a special group of expert witnesses.” – Director Martha Davis

Professionals Speak Out About Torture and Dual Loyalty Conflicts

“Prison health professionals are often faced with dual loyalty conflicts between their health care duties and harmful prison procedures such as prolonged solitary confinement. This symposium brought together professionals uniquely qualified to discuss abusive conditions and what it takes to protect prisoner health care and the role of health personnel in preventing torture. The conference began with a screening of Expert Witness, followed by two panel discussions. The video recording of the proceedings is divided here into brief presentations by each panelist and the audience/panel discussion at the end.” – Expert Witnesses Against Torture

The speakers were as follows:

Mary Buser, LMSW;  Johnny Perez, Leonard Rubenstein, JD, Jack Beck, JD;  Shreya Mandel, JD, LMSW; Ross McDonald, MD;  Allen Keller, MD; and co-chairs Tina Maschi,  PhD, LMSW;  and Martha Davis, PhD)

Statement by the Consensus Workgroup (CW) on Policy Recommendations to the 115th Congress and Trump Administration on Behavioral Health Issues on the Federal Government.

The Consensus Workgroup includes organizations representing individuals with behavioral health needs and their families, providers, correctional systems and administrators, criminal justice reformers, state and local governments, state and local program directors, and researchers. Together, we call on the Trump Administration and lawmakers in the 115th Congress to take a comprehensive approach to addressing issues at the intersection  of behavioral health and criminal justice 

The percentages of incarcerated individuals with mental illness (read definitions) show 44.8, 56.2 and 64.2 % of federal, state and local inmates reported impairment due to a mental health problem over the previous year. 45.5, 53.4 and 68 % of federal, state and local incarcerated individuals met the criteria for drug dependence, abuse or both.

The Statement is co-authored by Micah Haskell-Hoehl, APA, and Melvin Wilson, NASW.
The Supporting Organizations include the APA and NASW.
It has the following statements about “restrictive housing”.
“Effective practices during incarceration give jails and prisons guidance, standards, and other tools to reduce the use of restrictive housing. Correctional systems are placing a premium on reducing their their restrictive housing populations, especially those with behavioral health needs, who may be of increased risk for worsening symptoms in these settings. DOJ should build on its restrictive housing report and Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reforms, provide support to state prisons and local jails, and disseminate lessons learned from these efforts.

Under “Federal courts and prisons reduce the use and harmful effects of restrictive housing. BOP has requested additional funding dedicated to removing mentally ill offenders from restrictive housing through expansion of the Secure Mental  Health Step-Down Program and placing a mental health professional in each of the agency’s Secure Housing Units. We strongly support these goals. In addition, BOP can further improve their efforts by adopting successful strategies from local and state corrections. ”

For more information or to sign on or join the Consensus Workgroup, contact: Micah Haskell-Hoehl, American Psychological Association,, 202.336.5935, Melvin Wilson, MBA, LCSW, National Association of Social Workers, , 202.663.8219.” 

Please let SWASC co-convener Moya Atkinson know of your interest in working with SWASC to support the Consensus Workgroup –

We Urge you support this bill that limits the number of consecutive days prisoners can spend in solitary

NASW-MD’s testimony supports a bill to prevent prison inmates from being placed in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days or a total of 20 days in a 60 day period.  Social workers protest its use as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, which amounts to torture. Read More


Incarceration Nations – by Baz Dreisinger

Baz Dreisinger travels behind bars in nine countries to rethink the state of justice in a global context. Beginning in Africa and ending in Europe, “Incarceration Nations” is a first-person odyssey through the prison systems of the world. Professor, journalist, and founder of the Prison-to-College-Pipeline, Dreisinger looks into the human stories of incarcerated men and women and those who imprison them, creating a jarring, poignant view of a world to which most are denied access, and a rethinking of one of America s most far-reaching global exports: the modern prison complex….

She journeys to Jamaica to visit a prison music program, to Singapore to learn about approaches to prisoner reentry, to Australia to grapple with the bottom line of private prisons, to a federal supermax in Brazil to confront the horrors of solitary confinement, and finally to the so-called model prisons of Norway. “Incarceration Nations” concludes with climactic lessons about the past, present, and future of justice.” .
Find the book Here

FROM THE INSIDE OUT Reports by the Prison Watch Community Oversight Initiative

“This first issue of Inside Out: The Prison Watch Community Oversight Initiative, was suggested by the people confined in the NJ penal system a number of years ago to provide people in the community with specific examples of conditions in our state’s prisons. Their feeling – and ours – has been that this kind of initiative will enable more people to better understand the prison system, which is expensive, dysfunctional and largely concealed sector of our society. We believe that such understanding will enable and motivate communication and collaboration in order to more effectively address the problems emerging from these inside reports. We also hope that the connections we create will enable us to eventually serve as an Emergency Response Network, with the capacity to counter individual as well as systemic instances of harm, when the need arises. We think that the information that we distribute should prompt formal legislation that decrees independent prison oversight…” Read More