California will restrict solitary confinement in its state prisons. Under a lawsuit by prisoners, 1,800 inmates must re-enter the general prison population. Washington state has dramatically reduced the use of solitary; many of those still there are the most violent inmates. NPR asked Bernie Warner, who runs Washington state’s corrections department, what programs can help prepare people to move back into the general population. Warner says that “one of the things we did is try to create an environment that gave them more contact with staff and other inmates. So we took an old utility closet and converted it into a classroom. Now, the inmates in the classroom are shackled, but we were able to have up to eight to 10 inmates in a classroom. We trained our staff on delivering programs that provided specific skills that are proven to be effective to reduce violence.”
Warner says Washington used role playing around an interaction with other inmates. Instead of interactions that could escalate to more aggression and more violence., “we provide some skills in terms of how they can diffuse that and really have it be a more normal conversation. Or we could simply create a process in which they’re thinking, the best thing for me to do is walk away from this.” The classroom programs within solitary are led by correctional staff, “and that’s really giving them an opportunity for buy-in to support this change,” Warner says. .