“Solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is cruel and psychologically damaging,” Warren said in an interview. “And we’re talking about people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet.”
The Massachusetts Democrat, member of the leadership team of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said some limited uses of solitary confinement are warranted but she is concerned that law enforcement officers are using it to “punish” or “break” the Jan 6 defendants to make them work together.
Their views are shared by Durbin, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and expressed surprise that all of the defendants detained on January 6 were held in so-called “restrictive apartments”. While their defense of the rights of accused rioters as criminal defendants is unlikely to change the Justice Department’s handling of these cases, it is a notable case that prominent progressives use their political clout to reinforce their calls for criminal justice reform themselves the entire legislature in January on behalf of the beleaguered supporters of Donald Trump.
Durbin, who has long tried to get rid of solitary confinement, told POLITICO that such conditions should be a “rare exception” for accused insurgents or other prisoners.
“There needs to be a clear justification for this in very limited circumstances,” he said.
Government officials say the pandemic has already severely restricted freedom of movement in the prison where most of the accused are held on Jan. 6. In fact, the entire prison has been under tight lockdown procedures since the pandemic broke out, a finding that has led to it wider controversy on the rights of prisoners. Restrictive housing, however, is a term for maximum security, and the blanket term for the Capitol’s defendants – which is unlikely to let up even with pandemic season restrictions – is a notable choice for a large group of inmates who have not yet been tried for their alleged ones Crime.
Addressed to the concerns of the Democratic senators, a spokesman for the DC Department of Corrections pointed out the growing number of educational programs and limited access to amenities that are now being offered to inmates.
“We appreciate the concern, patience and support of our neighbors as we work to protect everyone within DOC and support the public safety of everyone in the district,” said spokeswoman Keena Blackmon.
Warren and Durbin’s interest in the conditions under which defendants are detained on Jan. 6 comes amid a massive push by the Justice Department to arrest and prosecute the hundreds of people who breached the Capitol and the peaceful transfer of power to the Biden -Government have threatened.
Dozens of men who were detained in D.C. detained were viewed by prosecutors and judges as the most egregious participants in the January 6 violence, a status that seems barely sympathetic to them. In increasing numbers, the plight of these defendants has drawn the attention of federal judges and defense lawyers.
Warren and Durbin were of course also targets of the rioters they are now campaigning for. In fact, an imprisoned defendant – Ronald Sandlin – is accused of being among the first to attempt to break through the Senate Chamber and tangled up with Capitol police officers outside the gallery doors as the Senators escaped to safety.
Sandlin recently read a statement in court describing the conditions under which he is being held as “mental torture.”
When another defendant, Lisa Eisenhart, challenged these terms as unconstitutional last month and called for a transfer to another prison, the DC government defended her decision in court.
“A policy that is reasonably related to a legitimate government goal in running a correctional facility does not constitute punishment, even if the policy is applied to a pre-trial inmate,” said Stephanie Litos, a city lawyer, in a recent file recognized the city’s policy that applies to all detainees on January 6th.
Following the city’s legal filing, Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed Eisenhart’s challenge. (She was later released after an appeals court ruling undermined the government’s case for her incarceration.) But the longer the Capitol defendants languish – prosecutors say it could be months before they received the evidence they found of the riot have to search completely – the more loudly they sound the alarm about the toll their isolation has taken.
“This is not normal. It is not normal to isolate people and let them eat on their floor,” said Marty Tankleff, a defense attorney who represents two incarcerated defendants, Edward Lang and Dominic Pezzola.
Tankleff, who himself was incarcerated for murder for nearly two decades prior to his 2008 discharge, urged other lawmakers who consider the January 6 defendants’ terms unjust to contact him.
Lawyers for a number of other accused rioters say their clients’ conditions have made it nearly impossible to hold real lawyer-client meetings. Two defendants have contracted Covid in DC Prison, and one, Ryan Samsel, claims he was beaten by a prison guard and had permanent eye damage. This incident is being investigated, according to judges and federal agencies.
At a hearing last month, jailed defendant Richard Barnett, charged in part with breaking into Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office and posing for a now infamous picture with his feet on her desk, lamented the conditions he faces while he’s waiting for the trial.
“I’ve been here a long time … It’s not fair,” said Barnett. “You’re letting everyone else out. I need help.”
Others have filed complaints about access to medicines they need or about health surveillance and prompted judges to intervene. One, Jacob Chansley, won a transfer to a prison in Alexandria, Virginia after the DC Prison said it was too burdensome to provide him with organic foods he believed necessary to be consistent with his spiritual practice.
Some Jan. 6 defendants have alleged that their treatment has a racist component: most are white – some belong to white nationalist groups – while most DC inmates and prison guards are black.
Judge Paul Friedman said last week that these concerns are “not necessarily inadmissible”.
“It may be that some of the people arrested on January 6 are white supremacists,” he added.
Insurgent prisoners are not completely isolated from the outside world. In their cells, they have access to tablet computers that they can use to exchange messages with friends and family members. They may also see other accused rioters during the hour a day given them outside their cell, although this is also their only opportunity to shower, play sports, and contact their lawyers.
But as the defendants’ grievances increased, so did the involvement of judges in the federal district court in Washington. Judge Emmet Sullivan announced last week that he planned to meet with officials in the DC Corrections Department to discuss the conditions of the detainees on Jan. 6.
Although he did not reveal the results of that meeting at a hearing earlier this week, Sullivan particularly encouraged a defendant’s attorney to apply for detention in Georgia, where he was arrested. In this condition, Sullivan said, the defendant would not necessarily be placed in solitary confinement by default.