Prison reform advocate settles solitary confinement suit

Oct 3, 2022, 2:31 PM | Updated: 3:44 pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A longtime prison reform advocate has agreed to a settlement with Tennessee prison officials over their use of solitary confinement for pretrial detainees.

Alex Friedmann sued the Tennessee Department of Correction last year, complaining that he was being housed in one of the most restrictive cells in the most restrictive unit of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, despite the fact that he had not yet been convicted of a crime. The walls of the “hardened” cell where Friedmann was housed for almost two years are covered in steel plates. It has no shelves, mirror, stool or electrical outlets, and the window is a vertical slit less than 2 inches wide. Friedmann claimed he was being punished for his years of advocacy on behalf of prisoners prior to his arrest.

Friedmann was at Riverbend under a “safekeeper” order that allows certain pretrial inmates to be housed at a state prison, rather than a local jail, for reasons that include security concerns. Although not all safekeeper inmates are placed in the hardened cells, it was the Correction Department policy to place them all in the prison’s most restrictive unit, where inmates are kept in individual cells 23-24 hours a day.

A federal judge ordered prison officials to move Friedmann out of solitary confinement last November. As part of an interim agreement, he was housed in a lower security unit where he could spend more time outside of his cell and have more contact with other inmates. In an agreement filed on Friday to settle the lawsuit, prison officials agreed to a series of policy changes. Friedmann said in a written statement that he waived monetary damages in favor of the changes. They are to be implemented no later than Oct. 31.

According to the settlement, prison officials will house safekeeper inmates based on an individualized assessment, like other inmates. Safekeepers will also have the opportunity to participate in their housing classification hearings and appeal classification decisions. If a safekeeper is placed in a hardened cell, as Friedmann was, that placement must be reviewed every 30 days, and the inmate can appeal the decision.

In addition, a regular inmate who is placed in one of the hardened cells — known as “iron man” cells by staff and inmates — will have the ability to file a grievance over that placement.

In a written statement released on Monday, Friedmann said the living conditions in the hardened cells are “barbaric.”

“No civilized corrections system should hold people under such conditions unless absolutely necessary, and then for longer than absolutely necessary,” he said. Friedmann noted that there are still no policies for determining when prisoners are placed in the hardened cells or for how long.

Friedmann was designated a safekeeper after he was arrested in 2020 for hiding three handguns, ammunition, handcuff keys and hacksaw blades inside the walls of Nashville’s new jail during construction. He was convicted in July and is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, who oversees the jail, has suggested that Friedmann was planning a massive jailbreak, calling his actions “evil.” Friedmann did not testify at his trial and investigators found no explanation for his actions in a search of his home, but in a letter to the sentencing judge, Friedmann attributed them to a mental breakdown.

Friedmann said he was gang raped in the old Nashville jail as an 18-year-old when he was arrested for armed robbery in 1987. In 2018, before the new jail was built, he was allowed to tour the old jail as the managing editor of “Prison Legal News.” Seeing the cell where he was raped caused nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. He hid guns and escape kits throughout the new jail in an irrational attempt to combat his fear, according to the letter.

The sentencing memorandum from Friedmann’s attorney asks for leniency.

“Mr. Friedmann acknowledges that many people may not understand his explanation for his conduct because it is admittedly not rational or reasonable,” the memorandum states. “But this Court should consider that it does fall within recognized patterns of trauma responses, albeit in an unusual and extreme manner.”

It points out that in Friedmann’s two decades as a prison reform advocate, he worked entirely within traditional political and legal means. He also never targeted the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and even advocated for them to take over housing inmates at a facility that had been under contract to private prison operator CoreCivic.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Associated Press

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who supported Trump, pleads guilty to Capital riot charge

Ray Epps, the target of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge.

2 days ago

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly declined in an interview aired Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, to ...

Associated Press

Trump refuses to say in a TV interview how he watched the Jan. 6 attack unfold at the US Capitol

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly declined in an interview aired Sunday to answer questions about whether he watched the Capitol riot.

5 days ago

This frame grab from video, provided by the Mexican government, shows Ovidio Guzman Lopez being det...

Associated Press

Mexico extradites son of ‘El Chapo,’ Ovidio Guzman Lopez to US

The son of notorious cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, Ovidio Guzman Lopez was extradited to the U.S. on Friday.

6 days ago

impeachments in US history...

Associated Press

A look at notable impeachments in US history, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted Saturday on during his impeachment trial. Here's a roundup of impeachments in U.S. history.

6 days ago

The sticker price is displayed in the window of an unsold 2023 Navigator sports-utility vehicle at ...

Associated Press

The auto workers strike will drive up car prices, but not right away — unless consumers panic

Car shoppers are heading for a new round of sticker shock if the strike by the United Auto Workers doesn’t end soon, officials say.

6 days ago

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announces an order restricting people from carrying guns in Bernalillo ...

Associated Press

Group sues after New Mexico governor suspends right to carry guns in Albuquerque in public

The New Mexico governor's emergency order suspending the right to carry firearms in public near Albuquerque drew an immediate court challenge.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

5 mental health myths you didn’t know were made up

Helping individuals understand mental health diagnoses like obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder or generalized anxiety disorder isn’t always an easy undertaking. After all, our society tends to spread misconceptions about mental health like wildfire. This is why being mindful about how we talk about mental health is so important. We can either perpetuate misinformation about already […]



Thank you to Al McCoy for 51 years as voice of the Phoenix Suns

Sanderson Ford wants to share its thanks to Al McCoy for the impact he made in the Valley for more than a half-decade.

Prison reform advocate settles solitary confinement suit