More than 1,600 inmates in Minnesota have been held in solitary confinement for at least six months. Four hundred and thirty-seven have endured stays of a year or longer. One man spent more than seven consecutive years in solitary. Another spent longer than 10 years, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Across the U.S., states are taking new steps to either curtail or review solitary confinement, acknowledging that its unchecked use does not make prisons safer and may cause permanent harm to inmates. The federal government also has cut the use of solitary confinement in its detention facilities by 25 percent in recent years by banning it for juvenile offenders and adults who commit low-level infractions, and diverting inmates with serious mental illnesses.
Minnesota state prisons continue to rely on the use of solitary confinement. The state has no independent system to review whether such punishment was merited, nor any laws that limit who can be assigned to solitary in prison or how long someone can spend in isolation. As a result, what begins as days or a couple of weeks in solitary can turn into weeks, months or years, even for mentally ill inmates. “I would be very surprised if you’d find any mental health professional that would say this is OK,” said Sue Abderholden of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “This is absolutely detrimental to someone’s mental health. It is not a practice that we should be doing in Minnesota.” State officials defend their practices, saying they use solitary confinement only as last-resort discipline for difficult inmates. “There are some inmates who spend long periods of time because of their behavior,” said Terry Carlson, deputy corrections commissioner. “If they seriously assault a staff member, if they kill another offender while they’re incarcerated, they’re going to be in segregation for a long time.”