How Michigan Prison Led The Way In Reducing Solitary Confinement


Over 25 meetings, staff members of Michigan’s Alger prison devised a system of six “stages” that inmates could pass through on their way from solitary to a lower-security status, says The Marshall Project. On the way, there would be perks: At one stage, they would get recreation equipment, like a basketball, during their hour per day out of the cell. Later, they would be able to have a television in their cells. Most importantly, they would be able to call family members, which is normally forbidden in solitary. Normally, prisoners resist their punishments, driving officers to punish them more. At Alger, the staff found it could reverse this process simply by giving prisoners a reason not to be violent.

Since it started in 2009, Alger's Incentives in Segregation program has allowed one of the prison’s three 88-man segregation wings to be transformed into a general-population wing. The program has spread to other prisons in the state, and the daily average number of Michigan prisoners in administrative segregation has dropped by nearly 20 percent, from 1,204 in 2008 to 982 in 2013. Alger saw a 76 percent drop in the yearly rate of “critical incidents,” such as physical assaults and rapes, and an 88 percent drop in smaller rule-breaking, such as smoking in a cell. Alger was one of the first prisons to experiment with such program. In the six years since it began, more than 30 states have developed similar ones, using words such as “step-down,” “levels,” and “incentives.”

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