Death row exoneree Anthony Graves testified last week at the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. Graves spent 12 years in solitary confinement during the 18 years he was incarcerated in Texas prisons for a murder he didn’t commit. He testified to the horrors of his experience of extreme isolation: “Solitary confinement makes our criminal justice system criminal… It dehumanizes us all.”
The Innocence Project also submitted testimony from six of the many exonerated people who spent time in solitary confinement. Julie Rea, of Illinois, described being tormented by guards playing an audio cassette of a woman being tortured; Nick Yarris, of Pennsylvania’s death row, tells of his own suicide attempt during his 23 years in solitary confinement; and Clarence Elkins described feeling numb while being released because he had endured three months of solitary confinement just before his exoneration.
“When you’re confined with no ability to read, to exercise, to receive basic medical attention or to develop your mind, it’s just inhumane. I saw some people snap. They just lost their sanity,” said Herman Atkins in the written testimony. “As a nation, we must do better. When a government has the authority to treat people so poorly, it’s impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard.” Atkins was wrongfully imprisoned for over 11 years in California before being exonerated by DNA evidence.