JLUSA leader Johnny Perez on the role of philanthropy in ending solitary confinement
November 20, 2023
“Since leaving prison in September 2013, I’ve been part of [the movement to end solitary confinement], both as the director of U.S. Prison Programs at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and as a steering committee member of Unlock the Box, a coalition to end prolonged solitary confinement in the next decade. An initial grant from the Ford Foundation more than 10 years ago to NRCAT helped fuel this work. Since then, both NRCAT and Unlock the Box have received yearly grants from the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation.
“Through the Unlock the Box Campaign, I help provide grants to 20 state anti-solitary campaigns that are almost entirely led by survivors or their relatives. The organization has seen huge success: Before its inception in 2018, state legislators only introduced a few dozen bills each year addressing solitary confinement. In 2023 alone, more than 170 pieces of legislation were introduced, and more than a dozen states passed laws limiting the practice.
Those in prison need help now.
“Despite this momentum, many of the country’s top criminal justice grant makers don’t consider the movement to end solitary confinement a priority. Some I’ve talked to insist their dollars are better spent reducing the incarcerated population overall. Others argue it’s fruitless to improve conditions inside facilities that are broken at their core.
“This makes little sense and is morally questionable. Yes, the criminal legal system must be completely reimagined. Certainly, communities need re-entry programs, mental health evaluations, and interventions to keep people out of jail in the first place.
“But reducing the incarcerated population will take decades, and those in prison need help now. People in solitary are still dying in New York City’s Rikers Island jail, for example, even though the facility is slated to close.
“Large and small foundations alike can provide the funds needed to capitalize on growing support to end the torture of solitary confinement.”
(Photo above screenshot from #EndTheException video)