The transition from a prison cell to freedom can be perilous for any inmate, but those who’ve spent extended stays in solitary face an especially rocky path, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the continuation of a series on solitary confinement in the state. Some come from strict lockdown units, where every detail of their lives is predetermined by prison staff. Many suffer from mental illness caused or made worse by days or even years of isolation.
They’ve been denied prison jobs, education, and normal visits from friends and family — all of which have been proved by studies to reduce their chances of being rearrested. They don’t receive normal services designed to help them re-enter society, such as classes on job skills, staying sober or finding housing.
In the past six years, Minnesota prisons have released nearly 700 inmates directly from solitary back into society. Some, lacking fundamental social skills, fail to find their place in a society they no longer understand. Others turn back to crime and end up in prison again, not knowing any other way of life.
“You ever see bulls when they prod them in the bullpen? That’s sort of what solitary confinement is,” said John Turnipseed, an ex-Minneapolis gang leader who served 10 years in prison, including 18 months in solitary, and now helps ex-prisoners through the nonprofit Urban Ventures. “You get prodded and then they let you into society. I just think it’s an inhumane practice.”
Research shows how serving time in isolation makes the already-difficult task of re-entering society harder. Studies in Texas, Washington, and Michigan have found higher rates of rearrests for inmates who spent solitary time. In a high-profile incident in 2013, an inmate released straight from solitary shot and killed the head of corrections in Colorado. The incident helped fuel massive reforms. Now, the prison system limits disciplinary solitary sentences to 30 consecutive days.