4,000 Mentally Ill Inmates Held in Solitary Around U.S.

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More than 4,000 prisoners with serious mental illness are being held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, despite the knowledge that holding people in isolation exacerbates mental problems and can even trigger them, says new research reported by The Guardian. A survey by Yale law researchers with the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) found the prevalence of solitary confinement among prisoners struggling with profound mental health issues. They are kept in isolation for at least 22 hours a day for 15 continuous days or more. ASCA and Arthur Liman Center at Yale found that most states are holding mentally-ill individuals in isolation. Of the 33 states that responded to the survey with details, only Texas said it had no such inmates in solitary confinement.

Thirteen of the states that replied – more than a third – said that at least 10 percent of their male prisoners with mental health problems were in isolation. Missouri had the highest number – 703 – while New Mexico had the highest proportion, with 64 percent of mentally ill prisoners being kept in solitary. “This is tragic,” said Judith Resnik, a Yale law professor. “Solitary confinement is a disabling setting that is harmful for human health and safety. It can do harm for people who are mentally okay and inflict terrible damage on people who are already mentally ill.” A 2014 study in New York City’s jails found that the prevalence of self harm among inmates held in isolation was seven times that of those in general population. American Correctional Association standards forbid states from holding mentally-ill prisoners in isolation for prolonged periods. On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a case that the court declined to hear that she was “deeply troubled” by the on-going practice. She wrote that “solitary confinement imprints on those that it clutches a wide range of psychological scars”.

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