ISNA Representative Joins Faith Leaders to Discuss Opposition to Prolonged Solitary Confinement

9868963(June 22, 2012) On June 19, 2012, ISNA Program Coordinator Maggie Siddiqi joined religious leaders in ending a 23-hour nationwide fast prior to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights’ hearing on solitary confinement. The 23-hour fast symbolized the 23 hours prisoners typically spend in solitary confinement cells per day and interceded on behalf of the tens of thousands of American prisoners currently housed in solitary confinement across the country. Hundreds of people of different faiths across the country participated in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s “23-Hour Fast to End 23-Hour Solitary” in anticipation of Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

The hearing represented the first time lawmakers on Capitol Hill have taken up the issue of solitary confinement.  The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), of which ISNA is a founding member, also provided testimony at the hearing. NRCAT is a growing membership organization of religious organizations committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Click here to read NRCAT’s full testimony.

The hearing discussed both the psychological and physical effects that prolonged solitary confinement can entail. On any given day 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement. Studies show that these individuals are nearly twice as likely to develop psychopathologies in prison as the general prison population and they are also more likely to re-commit crimes after they are released.

“We stand here today as communities who are compelled by our faiths to speak out against injustice wherever we may find it,” said Maggie Siddiqi at a press conference to end the 23-hour fast.  “And we stand here as Americans, legally bound by our Constitution to put an end to cruel and unusual punishment, because solitary confinement is just that – a practice which goes beyond the punishment of incarceration, to inflicting psychological and physical damage on the individual, as well as serious moral damage on our nation.”  The full statement is below.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate:

We stand here today as communities who are compelled by our faiths to speak out against injustice wherever we may find it.  And we stand here as Americans, legally bound by our Constitution to put an end to cruel and unusual punishment, because solitary confinement is just that – a practice which goes beyond the punishment of incarceration, to inflicting psychological and physical damage on the individual, as well as serious moral damage on our nation.

We heard today about the many harms of this practice, and from the many ways in which our faith traditions call for its end, and I would like to add one more point to this.  In the Qur’an, God tells us in His infinite wisdom that He is “the One who causes the dawn to break; and He has made the night to be [a source of] stillness…. (6:96)” When we subject prisoners to at least 23 hours of blinding white artificial light in a solitary cell, we rob them of a precious gift from their Creator – the gift of daylight and of nighttime – a time of stillness, prayer, and reflection on a new way forward after a past of wrongdoing.  When we break our fasts after 23 hours of solidarity with those individuals subjected to this torture, we ask God to cause the dawn to break for a new way forward in our federal prison system.  We ask that He guide our nation to put an end to cruel practices that unnecessarily deprive His creation of His precious gifts.