North Carolina routinely puts inmates in solitary confinement for minor offenses, may keep them there for years, and it frequently releases them directly into the community with little preparation for the free world, says a Vera Institute of Justice study. About 2,200 of North Carolina’s inmates are now in solitary confinement, meaning that they spend 22 to 23 hours alone each day in cells smaller than parking spaces, the Charlotte Observer reports. Research has found that solitary can cause and worsen mental illness. The Observer reported last year that seven inmates had spent more than a decade in solitary. Human rights experts call that torture. One of those inmates suffered from bipolar depression. He became so disturbed in solitary that he began swallowing razor blades, ripping open his surgical incisions and plunging sharp objects into his open wounds.
Vera commended the Department of Public Safety for steps its has taken to reduce the number of inmates in isolation. The state has cut that number by more than half since 2012. The report outlined a litany of problems. Among them: Prison officials place many inmates in solitary for minor infractions, such as using profanity or disobeying orders. Vera recommended reserving disciplinary segregation for the most serious infractions. David Guice, chief deputy secretary for adult correction and juvenile justice, said he agreed with that recommendation. Prison leaders this year will make policy changes designed to prevent minor infractions from landing inmates in solitary, he said. Many inmates remain in isolation for years. In a solitary unit at Polk Correctional Institution, the average length of stay was almost five years. Vera urged the state to reduce the maximum lengths of time that inmates can be placed in solitary.