Pennsylvania Slow to Cut Use of Solitary Confinement

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States including Colorado, Texas and California have begun to reduce use of solitary confinement, also called “segregation.” In 2015, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel called it “unprecedented … that you have the corrections field … look at segregation and say, ‘Look, we need to do better.’ ” As of late September, Pennsylvania had 1,235 inmates in disciplinary cells — 2.6 percent of the prison population — up from 2.3 percent in 2015, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Last year, the average time an inmate spent in restricted housing was five months, down from six months the year before; the median time was 39 days, down from 47. The lengthiest tenure in segregation was 16 years. University of Pittsburgh law Prof. Jules Lobel, who has sued prison systems over isolation practices, says, “Even though Wetzel presents himself as a reformer, the reality is that the reforms are very slow moving in Pennsylvania.”

Richard Dale Thomas, 32, spent 2½ years in solitary confinement. After his release, he tried to avoid the behaviors — breaking things, mostly, and “snapping out” at authority — that got him “hole time” totaling nearly 1,000 days, during each of which he spent 23 hours by himself. “I was losing my mind because I was locked up in the hole,” he says. For two years, he was disciplined each month, for abusive language, contraband, destroying property, disobeying orders and making threats. He sabotaged his plumbing, swallowed a razor blade, and “damaged around 100 cells,” he said. “I was bad, man,” he said. Solitary confinement turns bad to worse, say some psychiatrists. Left with no socialization and no decisions to make, prisoners suffer “the decimation of life skills,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who wrote the new book “Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It.”

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