Solitary confinement in federal prisons is in serious need of renovation. After a 40-year surge in federal prison rates that began in 1980 has leveled down (Gramlich, 2021), bipartisan support for solitary confinement reform is beginning to emerge.
When other disciplinary and administrative measures fail on the first try, what was formerly considered a last-resort disciplinary tactic in federal prisons has evolved into the default choice, this paper is the latest in a series of publications from the Texas Public Policy Foundation that offer recommendations for local, state, and federal prison reform.
Our study comes at a critical moment, as prison officials continue to deploy segregated housing units for medical isolation in the fight against COVID-19. Because prison officials are aware of their limited options for preventing transmission, citing COVID-19 as a rationale for solitary confinement appears to be an appealing choice. Prisoners who report symptoms are unjustifiably compelled to undergo an experience proven to cause emotional and bodily suffering, which makes storing unwell inmates a special difficulty.
Solitary confinement data on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website is inadequate. The actual sequence of operations for the sorts of offenses that place convicts in solitary confinement is hazy, publications of hearings considered for isolation are unavailable, and determining the overall amount of time a person has spent in solitary confinement is practically difficult. If change is to be achieved, it is critical to hold BOP accountable for this knowledge.
Any available solitary confinement information reaches the outside world a day late and with a policy gap. “This slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, [is] immeasurably worse than any torture of the body… and therefore I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay,” Charles Dickens (1842), a noted critic of the American penitentiary system, alluded to the effect of ignorance of solitude in his prescient observation a century and a half earlier.
There hasn’t been much change.
- Solitary confinement has long-term consequences in the form of irreparable physical and mental health problems. When separated convicts are given a long-awaited second opportunity for parole soon after being released from solitary confinement, they re-offend at a disproportionately greater rate than the general prison population.
- Segregation over long periods exacerbates mental diseases and can lead to psychosis. This makes it difficult for offenders to reintegrate into the labor market, let alone society in general, and is linked to a greater rate of criminal episodes.
- Transparency of data is critical first and foremost. The federal prison system’s bureaucratic curtain will be pulled aside, reinforcing administrative rectitude when deciding to utilize solitary confinement.
Another strategy to shift prison authorities to alternate punishment techniques is to improve the due process and continual review. The BOP should also explore expanding educational and rehabilitative programming for convicts held in solitary confinement, as these measures will lower occupancy and recidivism rates with only one policy change. Finally, the BOP system owes it to the public to improve mental health assessments to prevent violence and suicide among convicts in solitary confinement. Addressing these concerns may uncover persistent corruption, leading to increased abuse of this method.
- Solitary confinement reform is in the best interests of both the convicts and the general public for ethical and practical grounds. The BOP’s obstruction and obfuscation of justice is a persuasive case in itself for reconsidering the morality of current isolation policies.
Points to Remember
The use of solitary confinement is on the rise, and data on the grounds for placement, due process, and rehabilitation programs are scarce.
- Extended solitary confinement’s physical and emotional effects are incompatible with the prison system’s punitive goals.
- As a result of the release, recidivism rates have remained steady.
- releasing isolated convicts into the general population without any rehabilitation or educational procedure in between
- More data and openness, improved due process, expanded programs and privileges for individuals in solitary confinement, and improved protocols to avoid suicides, violence, and corruption are all policy options.
See the full report here: