Getting Out of Solitary

A new report highlights the progress made in a number of states to reduce the use of isolation in prisons–even as the nation continues to remain an international “outlier” in the practice.

How Routine Traffic Stop Led To Six Months In Solitary Confinement

The use of solitary confinement has reached a watershed moment in the U.S., reports the Washington Post. Most experts agree that the hardships placed on thousands of isolated prisoners, some of whom are mentally ill, push them to a dangerous place. President Obama, citing the “devastating, lasting psychological consequences” solitary confinement can inflict, announced a ban last week on isolating juveniles in federal prisons and reduced the maximum number of days federal inmates can be isolated for a first offense from 365 days to 60. The reforms do nothing to change the circumstances of the vast majority of the nation's isolated inmates. Roughly 90 percent of them are held at state and county facilities The Post tells the story of Kevin Bushrod Jr., who in November 2014, didn't understand why he was isolated.

How Journalist Ridgeway Tells The Stories Of Solitary Confinement

There may be no reporter in the U.S. who has collected more stories of solitary-confinement prisoners than James Ridgeway. “I wanted to use the prisoners themselves as reporters,” he tells the New Yorker. “Of course, that's taboo in the mainstream press, since we all know they're liars and double dealers and escape artists … my position was all we want to do here is, we want to know what is going on inside.” Each week, Ridgeway gets fifty letters from men and women locked in solitary-confinement units in prisons.

Indiana Becomes Latest State To Adopt Solitary Confinement Reforms

Indiana this week became the latest state to curb the use in prisons of solitary confinement, which a Washington Post editorial calls “an extreme, hellish and overused punishment.” The newspaper calls Indiana’s move “another sign of progress in ending a national scandal: the routine overuse of a practice that is akin to torture.” It took a class-action lawsuit to prompt the decision, and even then it promises insufficient change, says the Post. The case against Indiana's Department of Correction centered on three inmates with mental illnesses who were placed in solitary confinement, which the state calls “restricted status housing.” Now, mental-health experts will have much more leeway in determining the conditions in which their patients must live.

Obama Stance Against Juvenile Solitary Could Prompt Action In States

A new ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison could bring momentum to reform efforts in states, says the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. President Obama announced the ban and other prison reforms Monday, saying he hoped the policies would be a model for state and local corrections systems. Jenny Lutz of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which is helping to organize a national campaign against youth solitary, said Obama’s action may be “a springboard for people in states who want to be active and weren't really sure there was a climate for it.” “I think this extra push from the Obama administration is just what this movement needs,” said Amy Fettig of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. In California, children's advocates have been pushing a bill for several years that would strictly limit the use of solitary confinement for children, and the legislation was recently reintroduced. Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund-California said the administration's example will be a powerful one as the bill works its way through the state legislature.

Obama Limits Solitary In Federal Prisons, Bans Practice For Juveniles

President Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system, saying the practice is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences, the Washington Post reports. In an op-ed in today’s editions of the Post, the president outlines a series of executive actions that also prohibit federal corrections officials from punishing prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” with solitary confinement. The new rules also call for expanding treatment for mentally ill prisoners. While the president's reforms apply to the roughly 10,000 federal inmates serving time in solitary confinement, there are only a handful of juvenile offenders placed in such housing each year. Between September 2014 and September 2015, federal authorities were notified of just 13 juveniles who were put in solitary in its prisons, according to officials.

Amid State Reforms Of Solitary, National Group Changes Standards

As states rethink the use of solitary confinement to punish unruly inmates, a prisons oversight group is reshaping national accreditation standards to reduce such procedures, reports the Associated Press. Proposals range from mandatory health care visits and mental illness treatment for inmates in segregation to more time out of cells for recreation and education. “The punishment that we give to Americans is deprivation of their liberty, but it doesn’t mean that we try to punish them more while their liberty is deprived,” said James Gondles, executive director of the American Correctional Association. In Michigan, the state’s 7-year-old Incentives in Segregation program has led to reductions in misbehavior by inmates whose good behavior is rewarded with privileges in a step system. Last month, New York prison officials agreed to overhaul their use of solitary confinement, offering broad reforms aimed at reducing the number of inmates sent to “the box.”

Changing the Rules for Solitary

A “roadmap” for transforming the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons should begin with agreement that inmates should be confined for “the least amount of time necessary” and only when it is necessary to protect themselves or others, a colloquium of top corrections officials, academic experts and advocates has recommended. “The use of social isolation is greater than it has to be, in large measure because prisons have been called upon to do things they were never intended to do, and are inadequately resourced to do it,” said Martin Horn, a former New York City Correction Commissioner and a distinguished lecturer in corrections at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who reported on the colloquium's findings yesterday. The landmark two-day colloquium was convened last fall by the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College in New York, and included the heads of 15 corrections agencies around the U.S., as well as leading academic experts and advocates. The meeting was supported by the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation. The group issued a 90-page report, with 23 major recommendations intended to trigger widespread reform of the practice of “social isolation” in prisons—known more generally as solitary confinement.