It’s time for Rhode Island to come together on this issue.
We are an alliance of local community organizers, formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones, students, educators, lawyers, abolitionists, community agencies, and other concerned people, working to end the use of extended solitary confinement. We aim to bring light any prison malpractices and bring about the following changes:
1. End our reliance on long-term solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is inhumane, ineffective, unsafe, and costly. Many states are moving away from solitary confinement with positive results, and RIDOC Director has said that “keeping people in cells 23 hours a day is not the way to go.” The deplorable conditions in High Security cannot merely be perpetuated in another building or facility: Rhode Island must move away from the practice altogether.
2. Close the High Security Center
The High Security Center, colloquially known as High Side or Supermax, houses 80-90 prisoners in extended solitary confinement, in unsafe living conditions, at great cost to the state. In 2019, High Security cost Rhode Island taxpayers almost $200,000 per year for each person incarcerated in the building. Meanwhile, Rhode Island officials continue to underfund reentry services, mental health care and social services inside and outside prison—investments that improve public safety and quality of life.
The Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) has said that the facility must be closed. We agree: The state must permanently shutter the High Security building and find an alternate housing solution for its current residents that can address prisoners’ health and socio-behavioral needs. Funds saved from closing High Security must be redirected into more effective programs that will actually make our prisons and communities safer.
3. No forced out-of-state transfers
In the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2021 proposed budget, the DOC proposed exchanging 24 High Security prisoners with 24 out-of-state prisoners who could be placed in other RIDOC facilities. While we understand that some people may prefer and elect to be transferred out of state, we oppose any forced out-of-state relocations, which can separate prisoners from their loved ones and harm their chances at successful re-entry.
4. No new beds, no new facilities
As of September 17, 2020, Rhode Island prisons were at 59% capacity, with about 1500 empty beds — enough to house the 85 High Security residents 17 times over. Rather than building new facilities and creating more bed space at great taxpayer expense, RIDOC should permanently close housing modules.
5. Listen to those most directly impacted
Finally, we believe that no decisions should be made without the input of those who are most directly affected by the Department of Corrections’ practices: prisoners and their loved ones. RIDOC should draw on hundreds of years of collective experience from current and former residents of High Security, who know best what occurs behind its walls and inside its cells.