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. Thirteen states said that at least 10 percent of their male inmates with mental problems were in isolation.
In a response to the growing consensus that the practice of solitary confinement is cruel and ineffective, North Dakota has reduced the number of infractions that sends prisoners into isolation—and has changed how inmates are treated if they are sent into “administrative segregation.” The reforms came after a visit by Leann Bertsch, the state’s prison chief, to Norway.
The odds that mentally troubled prisoners will be sent to solitary confinement for misconduct are 36 percent higher than for those without mental illness, according to a University of Massachusetts study of data from a 2004 national survey.
Texas’ Harris County jail is considered a progressive example of being attentive to mental health needs, with a suicide rate below the national average. But the recent suicides of two inmates point to systemic gaps in how the jail system handles prisoners in solitary confinement.
Four inmates have committed suicide so far this year in Alabama state prisons—three of them in solitary confinement units. Prisoner advocates say it reflects the failure of state corrections officials to improve conditions in solitary, and the system’s inadequate treatment of mentally ill inmates.
Solitary Housing Units (SHU) were created to discipline the most violent offenders in prison and separate them from the community, but who is really sitting in the SHU? A Vera Institute study of the units in five jurisdictions came up with some disturbing answers.
The time he spent in solitary confinement, trapped in a tiny prison cell with almost no human contact, is “going to be with me for the rest of my life,” says Rev. Matthew Burke. It’s a common refrain among those subjected to what many argue is a counterproductive form of punishment for already-incarcerated individuals—but their special needs are often overlooked in prisoner reentry services.
Solitary confinement’s psychological and physical damage is now “unassailable,” a conference at John Jay College heard Thursday. While many corrections authorities still resist scrapping it, reformers told the conference a nationwide reexamination is getting traction.
Teriyona Winton, a 16-year-old Memphis girl who spent months awaiting trial for a murder in solitary confinement, will be housed in the empty wing of a prison. Her attorney says she doesn’t belong in an adult prison.