(L to R) California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks and California Western student Herman Atkins listen to former Iranian hostage Sarah Shourd discuss her experience living in solitary confinement.
Woman Wrongly Imprisoned in Iran Calls for End to Prolonged Solitary Confinement in U.S.
California Western School of Law speaker Sarah Shourd explains how her experience as an Iranian hostage influences her work as a social justice activist
SAN DIEGO, February 21, 2013 - Approximately 80,000 people live in solitary confinement in United States prisons each day, according to Sarah Shourd, who spoke at a California Western School of Law event today.
The practice is used to isolate a prisoner from the larger prison population often as a form of punishment for bad behavior, or as a safety measure. Some prisoners spend months, even years, in solitary confinement with very little human contact outside of brief interactions with prison staff.
Now, the American woman who spent 410 days alone in a 10-foot-by-14-foot cell in Iran’s Evin prison is speaking out against the practice, and calling for the U.S. to end its use of prolonged solitary confinement.
“Solitary confinement grates on the inside of your skull like metal on flesh,” said Shourd, a journalist and teacher who was captured and held hostage in the Iranian prison for more than a year.
Shourd today recounted her harrowing experience in prolonged solitary confinement to a packed room of California Western School of Law students, faculty, staff, and members of the local media.
Following her release in September 2010, Shourd said she was shocked to learn how widespread the use of solitary confinement is in U.S. prisons. Since then, she has made it her mission to speak out against the practice and explain the negative consequences of keeping a person in that kind of isolation for long periods of time.
"Prisoners are people who yearn to be part of a community like the rest of us," said Shourd. "It doesn't benefit society to torture them."
Shourd says it is more costly to house a person in solitary confinement, and leads to a greater recidivism rate compared to prisoners living in the general population. She is hoping to help bring an end to the use of prolonged solitary confinement by sharing her story with others.
“I am thrilled Sarah is using her platform as a former Iranian hostage to speak out against the use of solitary confinement in this country,” said Director of the California Innocence Project Justin Brooks, who hosted today’s event. “The U.S. has more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other country, and many of them are innocent.”
During the event, California Western student and exoneree Herman Atkins also described his experience living in isolation for more than 16 months during his wrongful imprisonment. Atkins hopes to help humanize the experience for fellow California Western students, who might someday represent a person going through a similar situation.
About Sarah Shourd
Sarah Shourd is a writer, educator, and social justice activist based in Oakland, Calif. While living in Syria in 2009, working as a journalist and teaching Iraqi refugees, Shourd was captured by Iranian forces somewhere along an unmarked border between Iran and Iraq while on a weekend trip in semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. She was subsequently convicted of a crime she did not commit, and spent almost 14 months in solitary confinement in an Iranian prison before being released.
Since her return from Iran, Shourd has been speaking out against the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and working on several different social justice issues. In 2012, Shourd joined with the California Innocence Project and other supporters to ask the Nicaraguan government to release now-exonerated U.S. citizen Jason Puracal.
About the California Innocence Project
Founded in 1999, the California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project reviews approximately 2,000 claims from inmates each year and has earned the exoneration of nine wrongfully convicted clients since its inception.
On April 27, 2013, California Innocence Project attorneys and students, along with exonerees and family members of the wrongfully convicted, begin a march from San Diego to Sacramento with clemency petitions for 10 of their clients who are innocent yet remain incarcerated. The Innocence March kicks off at California Western School of Law and finishes at the Governor’s office roughly 55 days later.
The public is invited to join the 600-plus mile freedom march across the state. The march includes 11 rallies and three public walking days. For more information about the Innocence March, visit http://innocencemarch.com/.