Raistlen Katka was so desperate for any human contact, so despairing, that he thought the only way out was to kill himself. The 17-year-old was locked in a single cell at Montana State Prison in 2009, when we first found out about his situation. He spent 23 hours each day in isolation, and was only released into an outdoor dog-run like cage or to shower for one hour a day.
It was more than he could take. Raistlen tried to commit suicide multiple times, including an attempt by biting through the veins in his wrists.
It was heartbreaking for staff at the ACLU of Montana. We sued the Montana Department of Corrections to get Raistlen out of solitary confinement and into mental health treatment. It took a year and one-half before we were successful, and even longer to settle our case. Finally, in April of this year, the DOC agreed to settlement conditions that mandate juvenile and mentally ill prisoners can only be held in solitary confinement for 72 hours, unless the warden or head of the DOC reviews the situation and signs off on a longer time period.
And we're not stopping there. We're continuing our work to reduce the use of solitary confinement on ALL prisoners. Join us at the University of Montana at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 15 for a workshop on solitary confinement featuring former Secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections Eldon Vail.
The ACLU of Montana is not alone in its work to end solitary confinement, particularly its use on children. Earlier this week, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch issued a report on its use and disastrous consequences, "Growing Up in Lockdown: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States."
The author of the report, Ian Kysel, interviewed more than a hundred different juvenile prisoners and heard many difficult stories:
"They spoke about cutting themselves with staples or razors while in solitary confinement, having hallucinations, and losing touch with reality. Several said they had attempted suicide multiple times in solitary... For some, the hardest part about solitary confinement was being denied visits and not being able to hug their mother or father.
"We should be focused on rehabilitating child offenders so that they can become productive members of society, not treating them in a way that can cause them long-term damage."