“Solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is cruel and psychologically damaging,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in regard to the men and women being held over the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.
Warren was among those who fled the Capitol when protesters entered the Capitol building in what Warren later called “domestic terrorists.” The senator has since joined forces with another high-level Democrat to stand up for the rights of the perpetrators.
The bulk of the 300 individuals who were charged in the riots have been released to await trial, but around a dozen were deemed flight risks, or in some other way unfit to be under their own recognizance, and have been held without bond in a D.C. jail. After that order was made, officials decided that those detainees were going to be kept in so-called restrictive housing which they claim was to keep them and other inmates and guards safe.
This housing situation means that they are in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, waiting for their trial. That treatment doesn’t seem like a fair shake to Warren or Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), both of whom have been outspoken critics of solitary confinement in the past.
“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.”
Warren, who is part of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s leadership team, said that while she understands some use of solitary confinement, she’s concerned law enforcement is looking to “punish” the Jan. 6 defendants or to “break them so that they will cooperate.”
Durbin agreed with Warren, sharing his surprise that all of the Jan. 6 defendants were in the “restrictive housing.”
“There has to be a clear justification for that, in very limited circumstances,” Durban said of solitary confinement, something he has long championed the abolishment of.
A spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Corrections addressed the Democratic senator’s concerns saying that there are a growing number of educational programs and limited amenity access that inmates are now offered.
“We appreciate the concern, patience, and support of our neighbors as we work to keep all within DOC safe, as well as support the public safety of all in the District,” said spokesperson Keena Blackmon.
As for the detainees themselves, defendant, Lisa Eisenhart, challenged the conditions last month, saying it was unconstitutional, and requesting that she be transferred to another jail.
“A policy that is reasonably related to a legitimate government objective in running a correctional facility does not amount to punishment, even when the policy is applied to a pretrial inmate,” Stephanie Litos, an attorney for the city, said in a recent filing that spoke to the city’s policy applying to all Jan. 6 pretrial detainees, according to Politico.
“This is not normal. It’s not normal to isolate people and make them eat on their floor,” said Marty Tankleff, a defense attorney representing two detained defendants, Edward Lang and Dominic Pezzola.
The reasons behind the solitary confinement seem to be generally relegated to safety, either for the person being confined, others they might harm, or guards who might have to break up either one of those scenarios.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to assess from the outside what the sentiments of other inmates toward the Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants. However, considering Warren and Durban’s typical attitudes toward conservatives, it’s at least worth considering that the hardcore Democrats are not attempting to look out for the rioters, but rather want the main population of the prisons to have access to them.
The last scenario seems unlikely. But so did having the election stolen, so let’s not discount anything just yet.