New bill would limit use of solitary confinement in Illinois prisons

(The Center Square) – The harrowing story of a man who spent more than two decades in solitary confinement is now the call to arms for advocates looking to limit how Illinois prisons can use the practice.

In 1994, Rock Island native Anthony Gay was put in solitary confinement after being arrested for stealing a hat and a $1 bill.

In the cell, his mental illness got the best of him and he began acting out, lashing out at guards. After assaulting guards, Gay’s three-year sentence was enhanced and he expected to be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.

“I spent 22 years in solitary confinement in Illinois prisons,” he said at a news conference in Chicago. “I was trapped in a cell smaller than the size of a parking space 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was torture.”

His lawyers successfully petitioned to have his sentence reduced in 2018.

Now, Gay and Chicago law firm Romanucci and Blandin have sued the Illinois Department of Corrections. They are also pushing for legislation sponsored by state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, that would limit solitary time and require inmates in solitary to have activities and limited contact with others.

“People fight for a long time for change, but there’s a moment when it’s right,” Ford said. “Mr. Gay has come forward and he has made the moment right.”

The bill would also add reporting requirements for the IDOC regarding the inmates in solitary confinement.

The House could soon vote on House Bill 182, after it was amended to be renamed in Gay’s honor. However, the House has canceled a number of session days next week amid concerns over the spread of a new coronavirus, COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Corrections would not comment on the bill, but officials said they were in contact with Ford.

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