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Prisoners Sue Illinois Department Of Corrections Over Solitary Confinement

flickr user / Michael Coghlan "Prison Bars" (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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A federal lawsuit alleges that the Illinois Department of Corrections use of solitary confinement is “cruel, inhumane and offensive to basic human decency.”

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Credit flickr user / Michael Coghlan "Prison Bars" (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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The complaint says about 23 hundred people in Illinois prisons are in solitary on any given day -- and that many of those people are there for very minor infractions.

Brian Nelson spent 23 years in solitary.

“I paced 18 hours every day, and they had to cut blood blisters off my feet,” Nelson said. “Consider an animal in the zoo-- we don’t put them in an environment like that.”

He says almost everyone he knows who has survived the experience struggles with mental health.

“We all have a little closet somewhere,” Nelson said. “I got a place in the basement-- it’s pitch black. And I just sit there, and I cry.”  

Nelson still retreats to his closet five years after being released.

The federal lawsuit is seeking class-action status. The complaint says about 2,300 people in Illinois prisons are in solitary on any given day.

An attorney on the case says people can be put in solitary for minor infractions -- like rolling their eyes at a guard.

The Illinois Department of Corrections would not comment on the lawsuit.

Copyright 2015 WNIJ Northern Public Radio

Shannon is a criminal justice reporter. She's also reported on mental health, poverty, labor and climate change.