There have been a number of stories recently about former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort’s legal defense efforts. Manafort is in pre-trial detention – something rare for a wealthy person, but frequent for low-income defendants – because he allegedly approached witnesses, trying to influence their testimony.
He complains that he is locked in his cell 23 hours a day, in solitary confinement (except for meetings with his lawyers).
Regardless of whether it is right for Manafort to be in pre-trial detention, or whether he is guilty of the crimes he has been charged with, it is a violation of human rights and civil liberties for him to be subjected to solitary confinement.
Prison authorities justify their use of solitary as intended for Manafort’s safety, but if that were the real motivation Manafort would be given a choice.
As in most cases of administrative segregation in federal and state prisons and county jails around the country, solitary for Manafort is a form of extrajudicial punishment, imposed not by a judge but by correctional staff.
It is inflicted, most of the time, to cause pain and suffering. And it is very useful for that purpose, destroying people’s mental and physical health, often throwing them into psychosis, breaking their spirits.
When used on a person awaiting trial, it has the added benefit of lowering their resistance to plea bargaining and reducing (even beyond the effects of being incarcerated) their ability to mount an effective defense.
Solitary is a very cruel form of punishment, used to inflict severe pain as an end in itself, or to coerce defendants into surrendering their rights.
Curbing the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is not a partisan issue: Paul Manafort has no more business being in solitary than the 80,000 other Americans – including at least 4,000 in New York state – enduring this brutal practice.