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.
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.
Eliminating the use of solitary is essential to transforming the modern culture of corrections, speakers at John Jay College said Wednesday. The college’s week-long examination of solitary confinement continues Thursday with a conference of leading researchers, legislators and advocates.
A former inmate at Pelican Bay State prison in California recounts being shackled, beaten with nightsticks and Tasered because he neglected to hand over a pack of coffee. The humiliation, he writes in an essay for The Beat Within prison writers’ workshop, was nearly as awful as the pain.