Charles Sheshane, a Washington State inmate, says long stints in solitary confinement, officially the Intensive Management Unit, can “destroy some guys,” says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Prison officials are acknowledging that long periods in isolation are bad for inmates and society. For the Department of Corrections, it is a fundamental shift, after decades of viewing solitary confinement as semi-permanent homes for “the worst of the worst.” “There was a hopelessness about it that bred hostility, and that bred oversensitivity that bred conflict,” said Steve Blakeman, supervisor of “intensive management” at the Clallam Bay prison.
Even as the state builds more ultra-secure, segregated units, it is working to keep people out of them. Instead of simply isolating people for years, some prisons have “step-down” programs to help violent and chronically difficult inmates stay out of trouble. The programs take inmates through anger-management training and provide “advanced living” skills, cognitive-behavioral therapies and basic education, while gradually increasing their level of freedom. In a department mandate to reduce the state’s recidivism rate, which has inched upward, the programs give priority to inmates about to leave prison. A University of Washington study published last year found that inmates who went directly from long-term isolation to the community committed new crimes at a significantly higher rate than inmates who had never been isolated.