State prison officials are reducing the number of offenders in solitary confinement in response to budget pressures, legal challenges and concerns about the punishment’s effectiveness mount, reports USA Today. States such as Mississippi, Texas and Illinois have decreased the number of inmates in solitary confinement, an acknowledgement that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies. “The whole philosophy of being just tough – locking people up and throwing away the key – has not solved the problem,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, Democratic chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
Decisions to return dangerous inmates to the general prison population anger some prison officials, who say the changes could threaten the safety of corrections officers and other inmates. The number of prisoners in solitary confinement – typically locked away for 23 hours a day – grew 40% from 1995 to 2000 when there were 80,870 segregated inmates, a study by The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons found. The overall prison population increased 28% during that time. Isolating prisoners, the private study found, is often “twice as costly.” Spurred by federal lawsuits over deteriorating prison conditions, Mississippi officials sharply reduced solitary confinement numbers in the past two years, from nearly 1,000 to about 150.