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Updated: Mar 30

The Vera Institute of Justice launched the Safe Alternatives to Segregation (SAS) Initiative— a two-year national campaign aimed at reducing the number of incarcerated people held in segregated housing while simultaneously improving safety in prisons and jails. The finding from their report on their work can be found HERE.


There are indications that the use of solitary confinement (also known as segregated housing) has grown substantially in recent years (perhaps as much as by 42 percent between 1995 and 2005), yet the precise number of people held in segregated housing on any given day is not known with any certainty. Estimates range from 25,000 (which includes only those held in supermax facilities) to 80,000 (which includes those held in some form of segregated housing in all state and federal prisons). None of these estimates include people held in segregated housing in jails, military facilities, immigration detention centers, or juvenile justice facilities in the United States. Moreover, because these estimates are only one-day snapshots, they most likely underestimate the total number of people subjected to one or more periods in solitary confinement over the course of their incarceration. Against this backdrop, evidence mounts that solitary confinement produces many unwanted and harmful outcomes—for the mental and physical health of those placed in isolation, for the public safety of the communities to which most will return, and for the corrections budgets of jurisdictions that rely on the practice for facility safety. As these negative impacts have come to light, concern about its overuse has grown. The severe conditions to which people in segregated housing are subjected are now regularly exposed by mainstream journalists. Incarcerated people who participate in hunger strikes against its use, such as those at Pelican Bay state prison in California in 2013, receive sympathetic national attention. A subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a series of hearings in 2012 and 2014 focused on reassessing the use of solitary confinement. In 2014, 10 states announced or implemented policy changes to reduce the number of adults or juveniles held in segregated housing, improve the conditions in segregation units, or facilitate the return of segregated people to a prison’s general population. And, most recently, New York City’s Department of Correction made the historic decision to ban the use of segregated housing for all those in its custody 21 years old and younger. Despite increased attention to the issue, many people—policymakers, corrections officials, and members of the public—still hold misconceptions about and misguided justifications for the use of solitary confinement. This report aims to dispel the most common of these misconceptions and highlight some of the promising alternatives that are resulting in fewer people in segregated housing. Read the complete report: www.vera.org/solitary-confinement-misconceptions-safe-alternatives.



The report, LOUISIANA ON LOCKDOWN: A Report on the Use of Solitary Confinement in Louisiana State Prisons, With Testimony From the People Who Live It, is published by Solitary Watch, the ACLU of Louisiana, and the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.More than two years in the making, it is based primarily on a survey completed by 709 people in solitary in all nine of Louisiana’s prisons, the largest ever survey of people living in solitary.

“For decades, solitary confinement occupied one of the darkest corners of the U.S. criminal justice system,” said Jean Casella, Co-Director of Solitary Watch, a national watchdog group that investigates and reports on the subject. “Even now, most of what we know is based on data provided by corrections departments. That information is incomplete without the testimony of people who know what it means to live for months, years, or even decades in a 6-by-9-foot cell, cut off from nearly all human contact.”

The responses to the survey paint a grim picture of long stretches of time spent in small cells that are often windowless, filthy, and/or subject to extreme temperatures, where individuals are denied basic human needs such as adequate food and daily exercise, and subject to many forms of abuse as well as to unending idleness and loneliness, resulting in physical and mental deterioration.

“These cells drive men mad,” wrote Carl, who reported spending years in solitary. “I have personally witnessed one man take his life, another tried to by running the length of the tier and smashing his head into the front bars, sadly for him he still lives, if you can really call it that…” Those who survive the isolation, Carl wrote, are nonetheless destroyed by it: “Too much hurt, too much pain, too much confusion, we are lost, lost from God, lost from reality.”

These responses are consistent with a growing body of evidence showing the devastating and often permanent psychological and physical harm caused by prolonged isolation. In 2015, the United Nations called on countries to prohibit the use of solitary beyond 15 days, declaring it cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment that in many cases rises to the level of torture.

Read full report here: https://solitarywatch.org/louisianaonlockdown/