In #TestimonyTuesday, Baltimore, MD, Maryland State, Montgomery County, MD

Testimony SUPPORTING HB1029

Correctional Services – Restrictive Housing – Limitations (Restrictive Housing Reform Act of 2019)

TO: Chairman Luke Clippinger, Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary and members of the House Judiciary Committee
FROM: Bianca Palmisano, on behalf of Jews United for Justice

My name is Bianca Palmisano and I am a nursing student at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, a resident of District 46, and a volunteer with Jews United for Justice. JUFJ organizes thousands of Marylanders to fight for racial, social, and economic justice in our state. I’m writing today to support HB 1029, the Restrictive Housing Reform Act of 2019, because I believe, and Jewish tradition teaches, that everyone, including incarcerated people deserves respect and basic human dignity, which is too often stripped away when they enter restrictive housing.

As a future nurse, I know that the stress from restrictive housing has devastating physical and mental health consequences, including fatigue, depression, deterioration of eyesight, heart palpitations, paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidality, and active hallucinations. These effects compound the experience of being socially and physically isolated from the entire world for weeks on end, and can persist after release and make readjustment to life back in community that much harder.

This bill does a few small things that make a big difference: limiting the length of restrictive housing, setting a clear protocol for when restrictive housing can be used, and ensuring that someone in restrictive housing receives basic care. Food, clean clothing, mental wellness checks, and needed medical care—that’s not a tall order.

I also know that restrictive housing creates a massive public health burden for our future. Restrictive housing creates new mental health crises and chronic illnesses, and those conditions will need to be treated throughout a person’s life. As a nurse, I am committed to the care and wellbeing of ALL clients, not just those fortunate enough to have insurance and be seen in traditional healthcare settings. When these incarcerated citizens return to society, I want them to have the best chance of succeeding in their new life.

A few days ago, and I mentioned at a doctor’s office that I would be traveling to Annapolis to advocate for this bill in meetings with my representatives. The medical assistant taking my blood pressure unexpectedly shared how grateful she was for my work, because her son was incarcerated in Maryland, on a “23-1” schedule: 23 hours in a cell the size of parking space, one hour outside to stretch, exercise, or see the sun. This woman is poised to answer her phone at any hour of the day because she never knows when her son will get his one hour to call her. Sometimes it’s at 1:00 AM in the morning. Sometimes it’s in the middle of her shift at the primary care clinic. The pain she feels when she misses a call from him is excruciating.

I strongly urge you to support HB1029 to make these needed reforms to restrictive housing policy. On behalf of myself, and all the nurses who do and will care for these citizens, thank you for your commitment to the health and wellbeing of our community.

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