Proposed law named for ex-inmate from Rock Island limits isolation in prisons
A Rock Island man's decades-long stay in isolation in an Illinois prison has led to proposed legislation that would limit how long a person can stay in solitary confinement.
On Tuesday, Romanucci & Blandin, LLC and Rep. Shawn Ford announced a proposal to reform the Illinois Department of Corrections' practice of solitary confinement for inmates.
The proposal is called The Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, named after former inmate Anthony Gay, who was held in solitary confinement for 22 years. That includes 15 years of a prolonged sentence as punishment for behavior resulting from his isolation.
The legislation would bar the department from placing an inmate in isolation for more than 10 days in a 180-day period. Corrections would also be required to give isolated inmates access to things like therapy, medical appointments, meals, education classes, job assignments, visits and exercise, and gymnasium or yard time.
Anthony Gay went to prison in 1994 for aggravated battery and robbery for stealing a dollar bill and a hat. Behavior problems in jail, including a fight and self-mutilation, added to his sentence.
By the time he was released in August 2018, he had served 22 years in solitary.
TV6 spoke to Gay in 2018, a few months after his release. He called solitary confinement "segregation," and his mental health quickly worsened because of it.
"I didn't want to die, but at times I felt like, if I die, it would be better than being in here," Gay said.
Those behind the bill said Gay was "denied appropriate and necessary mental health treatment which made it impossible for Gay to comport with prison rules and regulations, leading him to brutally mutilate himself countless times and endure years of mental and physical torture."
He said he acted out against guards and prison mates as a result, but instead of offering him hope and treatment, his sentence grew.
"I used to tell people all the time, if you take me out of solitary confinement, I'm going to excel. I'm going to do better. I need that social stimulation, that sense of humanity," he said.
Finally, a re-examination of his case got him his freedom. He has spent his time outside bars working to build a support system and combat solitary confinement.
"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," Gay said. "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."