Poor and incomplete data collection makes it difficult to know the full extent of people held in solitary confinement in US jails and prisons. But the first analysis of its kind aims to become a benchmark for tracking the practice — part of a larger effort as cities, states and the federal government figure out how to limit its use.
About 122,840 people were held in federal and state adult prisons and federal and local jails. restrictive housing — informally known as solitary confinement — for 22 hours or more on a given day in mid-2019, according to a New report released on Tuesday Based on the latest available government data.
This is approximately 6% of the total US prison and jail population at the time.
The report — prepared by Solitary Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group, and Unlock the Box, an advocacy campaign — relied on self-reported data from states and the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, as well as a . Survey sent to all US prisons From the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group.
Democratic Rep. Corey Bush, whose home state of Missouri counted nearly 12% of its total prison population in restrictive housing in a single day, said the report’s findings underscore a “catastrophe.”
“Loneliness on one person is a moral curse on this nation,” she said. “Applying this to hundreds of thousands of people – disproportionately Black, Brown and Indigenous people – is a disaster. We as public officials must act now to stop this widespread outbreak of tyranny.”
Gene Casella, director of Solitary Watch, said the overall figure is more than 1 in 20 held in solitary confinement in the United States, adding that the report is still an incomplete picture because not all states provide their restrictive housing numbers to the federal government. do and local jails are not usually forced to record incidents. The report also does not cover the uses of solitary confinement. immigration detention center Or youth facilitiesWhere data is also limited.
“Until a better system is developed and mandated, we’ll have this snapshot,” Casella said. “And since there’s no penalty for not reporting [Bureau of Justice Statistics]We are fortunate that we have so many states that are doing this as well.”
According to the report, only one state — West Virginia — did not provide numbers to the bureau or make them publicly available. The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to a request for comment.
Nevada had the highest share of its prison population in solitary confinement, with nearly 26%, according to the report.
Nevada Department of Corrections said in 2019 It was looking at options for segregating and separating prisoners after admitting Vera Institute Report It found that people would spend extra days or weeks waiting for general population beds to open and that the mental health needs of prisoners were not being adequately addressed.
The department did not immediately return requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Delaware was the only state in the report that said it had zero instances of solitary confinement in its prisons.
A spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections attributed this to Delaware’s 2019 change to its restrictive housing policy and the opening of a special unit at the state’s largest prison treating mentally ill inmates, who are usually treated in prison. Kept in maximum security housing.
While solitary confinement is generally defined as keeping someone in a cell for at least 22 hours per day for 15 consecutive days or more, Delaware updated its disciplinary policy to allow prisoners to be held for more than 15 days. They should not be kept in isolation for long and they should get 10 days. hours per week of entertainment time.
Prison staff and correctional officer organizations have contended that separating prisoners may be a necessary tool to prevent serious harm to prisoners or others. But studies have shown It also increases the risk of self-harm and suicide and may not be effective in combating abuse.
latest report differ from previous studies Not only by focusing on inmates who have been held in solitary confinement for 15 days or more, but also on how many days they have spent in a cell for 22 hours or more.
Casella said he hoped the report could help corrections officers isolate prisoners only in very limited situations, such as to reduce violence, and only for brief periods, not days on end.
solitary confinement increases
Efforts are on in some places.
State legislators in Nevada are considering Bill It will address the use of solitary confinement so that it is “used only as a last resort, in the least restrictive manner and for the least amount of time that can be safely used.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is currently tasked with creating new guidelines for segregated confinement after Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed a bill last year Abolishing solitary confinement indefinitely due to concerns about security.
In New York City, an effort to ban solitary confinement in prisons appears to have stalled with resistance from corrections officials, while the City Council holds a veto-proof majority. Meanwhile, the city agreed last month to settle a $53 million lawsuit filed by pre-trial detainees who alleged they were being held in prison conditions similar to solitary confinement.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden vowed to end mass solitary confinement and issued an executive order a year ago aimed at ending the practice, but an NBC News analysis found that the use of only increasing in the following months.
A Justice Department report in February said a task force of senior federal prison officials was investigating the use of restrictive housing and was “actively investigating” whether the number of inmates in restrictive housing has increased in recent years. Why has it increased?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is “taking the necessary short- and long-term steps to thoughtfully address this issue, and we are confident that [BOP Director Colette Peters’] ability to effectively carry out the goals of the president’s executive order,” a Justice Department spokeswoman said.
At the very least, Casella said, the federal government could improve its overall data collection process.
“Prisons and prisons are probably the most change-resistant government institutions we have in this country,” she said, “so bringing about any kind of change will be a long, difficult process.”