Why Long-Term Solitary Confinement Must End

1. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS TORTURE

 
  • People incarcerated in RI restrictive housing/solitary confinement can be in 8-by-10--foot cells for 22-24 hours a day for months or even years, a practice that is widely recognized as "cruel," "inhumane," and "torture," according to the United Nations

    • Time spent in solitary is associated with increased mortality post-release

    • In Rhode Island, some imprisoned people are put in solitary for acts of "disobedience" or for substance abuse, rather than receiving treatment or rehabilitative programming

Screenshot of Director Coyne-Fague during House testimony in 2019

Even RIDOC Director Coyne-Fague knows: when considering modern correctional practices, "keeping people in cells 23 hours a day is not the way to go." Yet RIDOC continues this harmful practice.

  • Solitary confinement takes a toll on anyone's body and mind, but it is especially harmful for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI)

    • In the final report of the RI Solitary Confinement Study Commission in 2017, RIDOC pledged to exclude individuals who have SPMI from restrictive housing, recognizing the significant negative impact 

    • Long-term solitary confinement causes severe harm to mental health (such as increased rates of anxiety, obsessive ruminations, anger, and violent fantasies)

    • Disability Rights Rhode Island sued the RI Department of Corrections in 2019, claiming that it is keeping incarcerated individuals with SPMI in solitary confinement, rather than receiving rehabilitative treatment. The lawsuit is ongoing

“Have you ever been in DCU [Disciplinary Confinement Unit]? Locked up 23 and 1?

 

"Locked down with no showers, only chow food... only certain things in your cell, deprived of sunlight and blocked off from the outside? Let me tell you, it does some things to your mind. It brings trauma, PTSD, and it’s so bad you start talking to roaches and mice. Seeing things you don’t normally see. It’s mentally/physically bad and some people are stuck from 30 days, where I’ve seen the most, 3 years.

"Can you imagine that? Hell no you can’t.

So please fix the inhumane things they are doing to us."

 

Jalil Nelson, Maximum Security

 

2. SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS NOT EFFECTIVE

  • Many correctional administrators claim that solitary confinement is necessary for keeping prisons safe. However, research demonstrates that the use of long-term solitary confinement increases violence in prisons and in our communities.

  • Solitary confinement costs Rhode Island taxpayers a lot of money

    • High Side, RIDOC's supermax building, where many people are incarcerated in long-term solitary confinement and is RIDOC's most expensive facility, costing $216,000 per prisoner per year, compared to $94,000 per prisoner in Maximum Security in FY 2021

  • In addition, many other states have closed their supermax prisons and decreased solitary confinement,  saving money without compromising prison safety. In the last five years, 18 states have passed legislation reforming solitary confinement

    • Massachusetts' Hampden County Correctional Center decreased its reliance on restrictive housing and reported no increase in assaults in general prison population, as well as an improved working environment for staff

    • After Virginia's DOC reduced its population of closest-custody prisoners by 68% and reforming segregation practices, the DOC reported a 78% reduction in incident reports, a 91% decrease of inmate grievances, and an 86% reduction in informal complaints

    • Mississippi moved all 1,000 incarcerated people out of its sole supermax facility, and the state saved $6 million a year and reduced overall rates of violence, serious disciplinary incidents (by 70%), use of force, and recidivism

    • Colorado closed one supermax prison, eliminated long-term solitary confinement, and launched a well-regarded and highly successful 12-week gang disengagement program. The DOC did not see an increase in assaults on staff by prisoners

    • Maine decreased its solitary confinement population through step-down programs, and violence in the prison decreased

    • Although there was skepticism to reforming Oregon’s segregation policies, there was a noticeable shift in prisoner behavior, with reductions in assaults on staff and other imprisoned people

    • North Dakota, which only has five adult correctional facilities, reformed its solitary confinement practices and saw a reduction in use of force and no increase in incidents of violence on staff or other incarcerated individuals

    • South Dakota has similarly seen a significant reduction in violent incidents since embarking on restrictive housing reforms

    • In the Washington Department of Corrections, restrictive housing units that expanded cognitive behavioral and skill-building programs saw an 80% success rate in reducing recidivism and reported less violence and fewer staff uses of force

    • In 2019, 12 states passed legislation to reform solitary confinement, and in 2021, 32 states introduced a total of 70 pieces of legislation limiting solitary confinement

It's time for Rhode Island to follow these other states and pass the Restrictive Housing Act