Hundreds of Louisiana prisoners report they were held in isolation for more than a year and many believe their mental health deteriorated as a result, says a survey prison-reform advocates released on Tuesday, reports The Advocate. The report from groups that include the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana reflects earlier findings that Louisiana has the nation’s highest percentage of prisoners in solitary confinement. The report is based on surveys of 700 state prisoners being held with special restrictions on their movements and communication. More than 77 percent of the survey respondents said that they had been held in solitary for more than a year, and 30 percent said they had spent more than five years there.
More than 43 percent claimed they never left their cells, which averaged 6 feet by 9 feet in size, during their time in isolation. A Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokesperson disputed the allegations made in the report, saying many of the assertions were “vague and blatant lies.” The spokesperson cited the state’s effort in recent years to lower its prison population as well as reduce the use of what the department calls “restrictive housing.” The report was produced by Solitary Watch, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University. The groups acknowledged that their survey was hardly scientific, but they described it as the most comprehensive such poll ever conducted behind prison walls. While many people picture solitary confinement as a single prisoner kept in a small, dark room for days or weeks on end, the United Nations defines it more broadly to include any prisoners held in isolation for more than 22 hours a day. The groups issuing the report said they included inmates who have a cellmate but are denied other meaningful social interaction.