In a sign of how far the nation has moved from supporting solitary confinement for inmates, the leading organization for the nation’s prison and jail administrators on Wednesday called for sharply limiting or even ending its use for extended periods.The statement from the Association of State Correctional Administrators, whose members are largely responsible for the growth in solitary confinement in recent decades, is its most forceful to date on the practice. Calls for reducing the use of solitary have taken on greater urgency since President Obama ordered the Justice Department in July to review its use in federal prisons.A day earlier, California announced plans to overhaul its use of solitary confinement, including by setting strict limits on the prolonged isolation of inmates, as part of a legal settlement that is expected to sharply reduce the number of inmates held in the state’s isolation units.
Congress and more than a dozen states are also considering placing limits on the use of solitary confinement, which is used on tens of thousands of inmates each year as punishment or to protect them from one another, as well as to isolate prisoners with severe mental illnesses.“Prolonged isolation of individuals in jails and prisons is a grave problem in the United States,” the statement said. It added that the organization was committed to “ongoing efforts to limit or end extended isolation,” though it did not propose specific policies.
“Today’s disciplinary confinement policies have evolved over decades of experience, and it is simply wrong to unilaterally take the tools away from law enforcement officers who face dangerous situations on a daily basis,” the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association said Wednesday about the prison directors’ statement.“It is a fact that many of our corrections facilities have become more overcrowded with a higher proportion of violent offenders than ever before, and any policy changes must prioritize the safety and security of everyone who works or resides in these institutions.”
The correctional administrators group along with the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School on Wednesday also released a study estimating that 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners were segregated from other inmates during 2014, including in solitary confinement.The figure includes inmates kept in cells for at least 22 hours a day, whether they were alone or with another inmate.The study used data from 34 prisons that house nearly three-quarters of the nation’s 1.5 million inmates to estimate the total number of people kept in segregation in the nation’s 1,800 state and federal prisons, said Judith Resnik, a Yale law professor and an author of the study.The figure does not include those kept isolated in local jails, juvenile facilities, immigration detention centers or military prisons, which together hold more than 700,000 people, according to the Justice Department.And in a number of prisons, inmates spent 23 hours in their cells on weekdays and 48 consecutive hours on weekends, according to the report.The study also found that in 2013, more than 4,400 prisoners were released directly from isolation.