The Georgia Department of Corrections agreed to improve prison conditions at a solitary confinement unit that one inspector found to have created some of the most psychologically traumatized inmates he’d ever encountered, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The agreement is part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by inmates who served years in solitary in the 192-bed “special management unit” at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. As described by inmates’ lawyers, some were confined in solitary cells for years under such draconian conditions that they suffered irreversible psychological harm. The cells were described as “smaller than the average parking space” and inmates could have only 5 hours each week outside of the cells.
Under the settlement, inmates will not be held in the cells for more than two years, except under special circumstances, and will be allowed outside their cells for 4 hours each day. While the settlement applies to only to one prison, there are indications the changes could be used elsewhere. “The settlement represents a change in culture for (the Department of Corrections) and a realization and an acknowledgement of the profound harms caused by long-term isolated confinement,” said Sarah Geraghty, a lawyer for inmates. “We … look forward to seeing similar reforms of other isolation units across the state.” The corrections department said it had reduced the total in solitary confinement by 40 percent. Craig Haney of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who specializes in the psychological effects of imprisonment, inspected the prison, which has almost 2,500 beds and is the location for Georgia’s Death Row and executions. The atmosphere in the solitary unit, he said, was “as chaotic and out-of-control as any such unit I have seen in decades of conducting evaluations.” Some of the inmates’ psychological harm, he found, “may be irreversible and even fatal.”