It was supposed to be one of the least restrictive forms of incarceration Philadelphia has to offer: a six- to 23-month term in jail, with work release. Then, Cody Carter was caught with a cellphone, sending him to segregation for six months. That typically means at least 23 hours a day locked in a narrow cell, either in isolation or with a cellmate, reports Philly.com. “It’s an experience that you can only live to understand. That’s how raw it is,” he said. “Especially the first 45 days were hell: You get nothing, no toiletries but the soap they give you, a dirty towel. It’s just a gruesome experience.”
It appears to be a strikingly common one: More than 600 people are currently in segregation in Philadelphia jails, officials disclosed at budget hearings this month. That’s more than 11 percent of inmates. Many are sentenced to segregation for 15, 30, or even 60 days at a stretch. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says that as of 2015, 2.7 percent of jail inmates were in segregation. Just 5 percent had spent 30 days or longer in isolation. Mike Dunn, spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said, “The use of segregation is not something we take lightly. We are committed to finding other options and to enhancing therapeutic services.” He said, “its use here is in line with other peer cities.” Yet at New York’s Rikers Island, the confinement rate is just over 1 percent; that jail worked with the Vera Institute of Justice to reduce the rate from 5.9 percent in 2014. While New York has banned punitive segregation for inmates under 21 years old, Philadelphia has no such rule. Since the city said two years ago that it would seek to stop placing juveniles in segregation, it has instead increased the practice.