In Tuesday’s election, nearly 70% of voters voted on a measure to end nearly all uses of solitary confinement at the Allegheny County Jail. More than 166,000 supported the ballot measure. Upon learning this news, James Byrd, who has been living in solitary confinement at the Allegheny County Jail for more than three years, wrote a letter thanking voters.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the tireless efforts put forth by the citizens of Allegheny County Pennsylvania to make a difference by seeking the abolishment of solitary confinement at the ACJ.
Often times, our community is left in the dark as to the atrocities, physical, and psychological torture that is inflicted upon their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, friends, and neighbors who unfortunately find themselves incarcerated in the ACJ. The public is misled or intentionally not informed about the lack of medical and mental healthcare, the violent physical abuse by corrections officers, and most importantly, the adverse effects caused to their mental health from being locked in and treated worse than wild animals are treated.
I know better than most, the ways and means in which long term solitary confinement can exacerbate current mental conditions, effectuate severe decompensation, and even create mental conditions where none previously existed.
I have been at the ACJ since June 9, 2015 and for the past three (3) years I have been locked away in solitary confinement on unit 8E. I have been denied basic human interaction, literally walked around on a dog leash (tether) when outside of the cell, beaten and strapped in restraint chairs for requesting mental health treatment, denied outside communications with attorneys, family, and friends.
Being subject to these types of conditions of confinement has caused me to experience feelings of hopelessness, severe anxiety, manic depression, PTSD and to attempt to commit suicide by overdose on more than 10 separate occasions. I have witnessed other inmates both attempt and succeed at taking their own lives as a result of the effects of long term solitary confinement at the ACJ.
Quite frankly, the ACJ Administration typically plays the word game when addressing solitary confinement within the facility.
The public relations office repeatedly states that the ACJ doesn’t utilize solitary confinement. However, the ACJ utilizes something far worse. It uses the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) as a place to house various inmates who are classified to various statuses, most of whom suffer from acute or some other form of mental disease. These inmates are mistreated and denied access to the necessary treatment in accordance with their medical and mental health needs. Because RHU is used interchangeably with solitary confinement, the ACJ frequently disguises its conditions of confinement there as something other than solitary confinement, when in reality, it is the same and often worse.
Pretrial detainees who are incarcerated at the ACJ are human beings first and foremost. Many are incarcerated because of a manifestation of a mental condition which led to the circumstances for which they are incarcerated. Others are innocent victims of the system. While incarceration can be, and is sometimes, necessary to protect society from crime and violent criminals, it is NEVER NECESSARY to lock human beings in solitary confinement and treat them like animals. Especially when it has been outlawed in the society in which we live.
So on behalf of myself and the inmates at the Allegheny County Jail, THANK YOU CITIZENS WHO CARE! Thank you for giving us hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.
James Byrd aka Lost In The ACJ