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Inmates describe ‘The Hole’ as they testify in support of bill limiting solitary confinement

The proposed bill would limit the use of solitary confinement in Washington state, which has been deemed as "torture" by the United Nations.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Prison inmates who spent years in solitary confinement told state legislators of the trauma they suffered living in what they call "the hole."

”You lose hope, and this situation here creates despair. And that leads to anger and frustration,” said inmate Sterling Jernigan, testifying on a video feed from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Wash.

Jernigan said most of his time served, since 1991, has been in solitary confinement.

Legislation to limit the practice had a hearing Thursday before the House Public Safety Committee.

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House Bill 1756 would limit the use of solitary confinement to a maximum of 15 days, and it could only be administered for an inmate’s safety or for medical reasons.

The United Nations considers solitary confinement torture when inmates are subjected to it for more than 15 days.

Republican Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, raised concerns during the hearing about potential risks to Department of Corrections employees if inmates considered dangerous were allowed to be in less restrictive custody.

The legislative session got underway on Monday, as state lawmakers conduct much of their business virtually due to rapid rise in COVID-19 cases due to omicron. 

Lawmakers will have 60 days to convene and pass new laws or change old ones before the session adjourns on March 10.  

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