In early 2010, police responded to calls about a “suspicious black male” and found a young black man waiting outside a local school library. An officer approached Reginald “Neli” Latson, then-18 and also autistic. He did not give his name when asked, and he attempted to walk away. The initial contact led to an altercation. Afterward, Neli was charged with assaulting a police officer and later sentenced to two years of prison and eight years of probation. Police profiled Neli as suspicious and then attempted to arrest him after he failed to state his name. This incident was avoidable, but the consequences afterward were even more devastating for Neli, who has been repeatedly subjected to inappropriate and ineffective punishment.
While on probation after serving two years in prison, Neli had another unfortunate encounter with police during which he threatened suicide. Since September 2013, he has been back in prison. Neli has languished for over a year in 24-hour lockdown solitary confinement. In theory, this was for his own protection after he attempted suicide inside his prison cell. Because of his developmental and intellectual disabilities, Neli was deemed too vulnerable to place in the prison’s general population. The already inappropriate prison environment has in turn led to increased behavior difficulties. Isolating vulnerable prisoners in solitary confinement is a violation of human rights. Solitary confinement is particularly pernicious and potentially counterproductive for those with disability-related behavioral difficulties. Neli has lost coping skills while in isolation, and remains at continued threat of further adverse psychological impact. Yet instead of providing him with appropriate supports and a meaningful transition plan, the system continues to fail him.
In 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center over routinely housing inmates with psychiatric disabilities in solitary confinement for the convenience of prison staff. Psychological and neuroscience research have repeatedly demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement has a profoundly negative impact on prisoners’ emotional and mental wellbeing. For those like Neli who are wrongfully imprisoned, the effects are no doubt exacerbated by the complete injustice of the situation.
Neli Latson should not be in prison, let alone in solitary confinement. His placement in prison is entirely inappropriate and not conducive to positive learning or behavior supports. Governor McAuliffe still has an opportunity to remedy this injustice immediately by pardoning Neli or commuting his sentence. There is no public safety or rehabilitation justification for his continued imprisonment either in general population or in solitary confinement. Neli could be significantly better served in a community-based setting with appropriate re-entry services and behavior supports, including someone to accompany him in the community. For these reasons, we call for Neli’s immediate release.
This statement compiled by Samantha Crane, ASAN’s Director of Public Policy, and Lydia Brown, ASAN Policy Analyst.