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Barrett Brown was in solitary when he won a National Magazine Award

We can report that Barrett Brown was placed in FCI Three Rivers’ Segregated Housing Unit (SHU) last Wednesday, 27 January, and released Tuesday 2 February — meaning he was in the hole on Monday 1 Feb. when it was announced that Barrett won the National Magazine Award for his prison column in The Intercept.

Barrett was moved to the SHU just two hours after he had done a telephone interview with radio producer Kenny Webster. Prison officials informed him that he was being “segregated” for “information-gathering purposes.” For the first three days in the SHU, Barrett was deprived of his daily antidepressant medication. Barrett has previously been in the SHU several times, including one stay more than a month long.

Solitary confinement, widely used in American prisons and long-derided as a form of psychological torture, is under increasing, overdue scrutiny. Last month, President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, affecting some 10,000 inmates. Obama noted,

Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones.

Several Courage beneficiaries and other truthtellers we support have been placed in solitary confinement, for varying reasons that are often connected to their political motivations. Jeremy Hammond has been specifically targeted and punished due to his support outside the prison walls. Many speculated that Chelsea Manning was being tortured in an effort to get her to flip on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Despite the well-documented deleterious effects of solitary, the practice is even used on those with psychological needs — there is little practical distinction between ‘protective custody’ and disciplinary segregation — effectively torturing inmates because the prison cannot adequately provide mental health care. This puts someone like Lauri Love, who faces extradition to the US and who suffers from Asperger’s and depression, at a higher risk than most.

Obama’s action on solitary is a good small step in the right direction toward ending this abusive practice.

Meanwhile, we can also report that Barrett was quite excited to hear of his award.