Michigan has a long, sordid history of using isolation for prisoners, sometimes with disastrous and deadly results, says Detroit Free Press columnist Jeff Gerritt. Inmates call it “the box” or the “the hole,” the corrections department calls it “administrative segregation.” For months, or even years, the steel-bolted cells hold inmates who can’t adjust to prison or pose a safety, security or escape risk. In one prison, a pilot program shows that alternative approaches can reduce the need for segregation cells and the dangers they pose.
Alger Correctional Facility’s remote location can mean few or no visits from friends and family. It has 176 segregation cells. The state is trying to reduce the use of segregation, where inmates do time alone in an 8-foot-by-10-foot cell. Segregation costs nearly double the $33,000 a year the state typically pays to incarcerate each prisoner. In 2009, Alger started an “Incentives in Segregation” pilot project to reward positive behavior. The program has cut down on major misconducts and critical incidents in segregation, including cell damage, by more than half. It has also reduced days in segregation by possibly 10%. “When you start re-enforcing positive behavior, (prisoners) have something to lose,” said Warden Catherine Bauman. “It’s made a safer environment for staff and prisoners.”