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Safe Alternatives to Solitary Confinement: A Human Dignity Approach
NIC News & Updates


On Tuesday September 29, 2015, VERA Institute of Justice held a meeting in Washington, D.C. which brought together corrections professionals from all over the cvera (1)ountry to discuss solitary confinement. A recording of the proceeding can be found here: Safe Alternatives to Solitary Confinement: A Human Dignity Approach

Mass incarceration has led to an increase in the use of solitary confinement. The Crime and Justice Institute reports that from 1995 to 2005 the population in restrictive housing units has increased by 40%. Solitary Confinement or Restrictive Housing is used to manage the behavior of disruptive offenders. The offender is removed from the general population and restrictions are imposed on their movement and privileges. Typically, those in restrictive housing are housed alone in high security cells for 23 hour a day. They are allowed to leave their cells for a hour of recreation and to shower. A growing body of research suggests that prolonged isolation can negatively effect one’s physical and mental health.

The United States Senate held hearings in 2011 and 2014 on the use of restrictive housing. The testimony illuminated not only the psychological effects of solitary confinement, but also its fiscal impact. Currently, there is bipartisan support to reduce not only the number of people in solitary confinement, but the entire population held in correctional facilities across the country.

In July of this year President Obama spoke to the NAACP. One of the main themes of his speech was mass incarceration in the United States.

From the President’s speech in Philadelphia on July 14, 2015:

“So let’s look at the statistics.  The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  Think about that.  Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s.  We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined.  And it hasn’t always been the case -- this huge explosion in incarceration rates.  In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America -- half a million people in 1980.  I was in college in 1980.  Many of you were not born in 1980 -- that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  I remember 1980 -- 500,000.  Today there are 2.2 million.  It has quadrupled since 1980. Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone.”

“What’s more, I’ve asked my Attorney General to start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons.  (Applause.)  The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent.  Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time? That is not going to make us safer.  That’s not going to make us stronger.  And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?  It’s not smart.”


Related resources:

NIC Restrictive Housing in Prison

Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative A project of VERA Institute of Justice 

The Marshall Project

Posted Thu, Oct 8 2015 1:02 PM by Elizabeth


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