A bill named after an Illinois prisoner who spent nearly 20 years in solitary confinement aims to limit consecutive and total days of solitary confinement imposed on state inmates.
House Bill 182, titled the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for more than 10 consecutive days or for more than 10 days across a 180-day period.
It would also ensure that when inmates in solitary confinement are out of their cells, they have access to certain activities, such as group therapy, medical appointments, meals, educational classes, job assignments, visits and exercise, gymnasium or yard time.
Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, D-Chicago, and Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, are co-sponsors. The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary-Civil Committee.
“We call on Illinois lawmakers and Governor J.B. Pritzker to expedite the passage and signing of the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act to create a more humane environment and end this devastating and unconstitutional practice,” Ford said.
“I value the conversations I have had with Illinois Department of Corrections acting Director Rob Jeffreys, and look forward to working with him to create this much-needed reform.”
In 1994, Gay was sentenced to seven years in prison after he was put on probation, following a fight at school and then violated the probation by driving without a license.
Due to his mental illness, Gay acted out at other inmates and guards while in prison.
Prison officials responded to Gay’s erratic behavior by placing him in solitary confinement.
In 1996, prison officials put Gay in solitary confinement, and he remained there for more than 20 years.
During his time in solitary, Gay used contraband razors, staples, and other blunt objects to severely mutilate himself, including cuts to his scrotum, arms, legs and eyelids.
Gay, 46, was released from prison in August 2018, roughly 24 years after he was locked up.
Upon his release, Gay sued the Department of Corrections, as well as current and former state officials, with violating his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and usual punishment.
Gay’s amended complaint, filed March 7, also alleges he was faced discriminated due to his mental illness, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. He also claims the defendants violated his 14th Amendment right to due process. The case is Gay v. State of Illinois, et al., No. 19 C 1133.
“Being in solitary confinement for decades psychologically rocked me to the core. No one should be subjected to such torture. We must act now to stop it,” said Gay in the news release. “My personal mission is to educate and inspire America to help those solitary confinement inmates heal, learn and rebuild themselves in order to become productive citizens.”
Nicolette A. Ward of Romanucci & Blandin LLC, one of Gay’s attorneys, said in the release that her client was in need of mental health care “but, instead, was denied human contact and vital treatment for decades.”
The prison officials named as defendants are represented by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.