Last month, New Jersey legislators voted to stop isolating prison inmates for as long as 23 hours a day for months or years on end after deciding it was abusive and hampered a return to society. If Gov. Chris Christie signs the bill, juvenile, pregnant, elderly, mentally ill, gay and transgender inmates will no longer be put in solitary confinement in state prisons and local jails, because isolation could be particularly harmful to them, reports Stateline. For all other inmates, solitary will be a last resort. New Jersey is the latest state to limit the use of solitary confinement, as legislatures weigh whether long-held practices of incarceration create more problems than they solve.
“Abuse of solitary confinement is proved to cause mental illness, bitterness, and anger, and to make reentry into society much more difficult,” said N.J. Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who sponsored the bill. “Its use is definitely on the way out.” Last year, as many as 100,000 inmates spent time in solitary confinement, also known as segregated, administrative or restrictive housing, in federal and state prisons and local jails. Research indicates that solitary confinement can cause long-term psychological trauma and brain damage even among mentally healthy prisoners. It may not deter bad behavior or protect prisoners and guards. It doesn’t prepare inmates for life outside of prison. At least a dozen states besides New Jersey have placed restrictions on the use of solitary confinement — a tool used by wardens for decades to discipline prisoners, safeguard high-risk prisoners from violent inmates and safely contain the “worst of the worst.”