Human rights groups call for federal investigation of solitary confinement in N.C. | News

Human rights groups call for federal investigation of solitary confinement in N.C.

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Michael Kerr died of dehydration following a month-long stay in solitary confinement last year.
  • Photo courtesy of the Kerr family
  • Michael Kerr died of dehydration following a month-long stay in solitary confinement last year.

A coalition of human rights groups are calling for a federal investigation of North Carolina's use of solitary confinement, more than a year after the Indy uncovered the death of 53-year-old Michael Kerr, an Army veteran diagnosed with mental illness who spent more than a month in isolation, sometimes without food or water.

A witness reported Kerr spent six days handcuffed in his cell, covered in his own feces.

Kerr died of dehydration. His death prompted the termination of numerous prison workers, as well as a state task force examining methods for reforming the state's system of solitary confinement. In solitary confinement, prisoners like Kerr spend 23 hours a day in an isolated cell. More than 20 percent of those prisoners are believed to have a mental illness.

The coalition includes the ACLU of N.C., the ACLU's National Prison Project, N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, UNC School of Law's Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights and N.C. Stop Torture Now.

“Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,” the letter states. “However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform. Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.”

Read the groups' full letter here. More coverage on this as it develops.

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