The Department of Justice issued guiding principles and policy recommendations this evening that would limit the use of solitary confinement and restrictive housing in prisons, with emphasis on housing prisoners in the least restrictive environment necessary, diverting the mentally ill out of isolation, and drastically limiting the use of solitary for juveniles. The report is the result of a DOJ review, ordered by President Obama in July 2015.
“The U.S. has long stood virtually alone on the world stage, with regard to the sheer number of people condemned to cruel isolation,” said Jasmine Heiss, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA. “The recommendations produced by the Department of Justice represent a momentous break with this shameful legacy, and an acknowledgement that tens of thousands of human beings should not be condemned to live in a cage, hidden in the shadows of the U.S. criminal justice system. This human rights victory comes as the result of years of struggle and efforts by policymakers and reformers and – mostly importantly – survivors of solitary and their families who most intimately understand the nightmare and urgent need for reform.”
“While correctional leaders and policymakers in key states have helped lead the groundswell toward reform, others continue to stand on the wrong side of history. The federal government’s clear commitment to reform should be a call to action across the country for truly national reform of solitary confinement.”
In the U.S., over 80,000 people on any one day are held in isolation, with 25,000 held long-term in super-maximum security prisons. That’s 22-24 hours a day confined to a cell for months, years or decades in conditions of severe social and physical isolation. Individuals in solitary confinement are deprived of all but the minimal amount of human contact, both within the prison and with those outside it. The harsh conditions are psychologically devastating. Half of all successful suicides in U.S. prisons occur in solitary cells.