Proposed law named for ex-inmate limits isolation in prisons
CHICAGO (AP) — A man’s decades-long stay in isolation in an Illinois prison has prompted proposed legislation that would limit how long a prisoner can stay in solitary confinement.
Called the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, the legislation would bar the Illinois Department of Corrections from placing an inmate in isolation for more than 10 days in a six-month period. IDOC would also be required to give isolated inmates access to therapy, medical appointments, job assignments and exercise outside their cells.
Anthony Gay went to prison in 1994 for stealing a dollar bill and a hat. Behavior problems, including self-mutilation, added to his sentence, and by the time he was released in August 2018, he had served 24 years in prison, 22 in solitary confinement. Later that year, the Corrections Department determined nearly 1 in 3 prisoners in segregation had serious mental illness issues.
“There is a difference between putting someone behind bars and putting someone in a hole,” state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said Tuesday. “It goes beyond punishment. Now you’re torturing someone.”
Gay was expected to serve 3½ years for the crime, but a fight with an inmate led to his first time in segregation. It was the beginning of time in solitary confinement, where he began self-mutilating and attempting suicide.
Gay also was antagonistic toward his guards at Pontiac Correctional Center, at times throwing urine or feces at them. The Livingstone County state’s attorney’s office obtained 21 indictments of Gay between 2000 and 2004, which added about 100 years to his initial sentence.
Speaking at a news conference Tuesday to promote Ford’s legislation, Gay said if the state had its way, he would spent the rest of his life alone
“Instead of being removed (from solitary), I was buried deeper,” he said as he described his descent into mental illness. “I was scheduled to die in solitary confinement.”
Ford has failed in the past in getting proposed legislation dealing with solitary confinement reforms through the legislature. He says Gay’s story has impacted legislators, who now have a face attached to the issue.