As 2016 draws to a close, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on all of the progress made over the past year to stop solitary confinement. Throughout the country, at both the federal and state level, legislative bodies, departments of corrections and executive agencies enacted progressive, vital reforms, placing severe restrictions on who can be placed in solitary and for how long. Additionally, the courts have approved influential settlements in far-reaching litigations that will affect thousands of incarcerated men and women. Many of the most far-ranging reforms have addressed the issue of placing youthful offenders in solitary confinement – with several states and the federal government effectively putting an end to the use of solitary confinement for kids, at the same time recognizing that the effects of prolonged solitary confinement on a developing mind can be devastating. Below is a brief look-back at some of the reforms that were made in 2016. Please consult this timeline for more information on other crucial milestones in solitary reform.
- September 2016 – California – Governor Jerry Brown signs into law pivotal legislation which places severe limitations on the use of solitary confinement of youth in California’s juvenile facilities. Youths can now only be subjected to “room confinement” for up to 4 hours, generally, and this can only be used as a last resort.
- September 2016 – Delaware – parties to the litigation captioned CLASI v. Coupe reached a settlement, which effectively ended the use of solitary confinement of individuals with mental illness. Many of the terms of the agreement positively impact all inmates being held in solitary confinement, not just those suffering from mental illness.
- July 2016 – Nebraska – new regulations governing the use of solitary confinement went into effect. Nebraska’s Department of Corrections must now use the least restrictive means when separating inmates from the general prison population and placement in solitary confinement must be based on one of specific number of criterion – including assault/attempted assault or attempted escape.
- June 2016 – North Carolina – Department of Public Safety announced its plans to completely eradicate the practice of placing inmates under the age of 18 in solitary confinement by September 2016. The Department also announced plans to introduce a new Youthful Offender Program, to help identify the risks and needs of each youth and effectively address those needs.
- May 2016 – Colorado – law enacted placing substantial restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for children in juvenile facilities. Includes procedures to be followed when a child is secluded for more than four hours, and also includes recording requirements and a working group to ensure implementation of the law and to prevent reversion to harmful seclusion practices.
- May 2016 – Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to end the practice of solitary confinement at its three juvenile halls and 13 camps.
- January 2016 – Indiana – settlement was reached in a long-running class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Indiana and the Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services Commission. The settlement included a prohibition on the placement of seriously mentally ill prisoners into solitary confinement.
- January 2016 – Oregon – Oregon Department of Corrections agreed to permit prisoners more time out of cell, provide enhanced mental health services and improve the overall quality of individual mental health treatment.
- January 2016 – Federal – U.S. Department of Justice released its report and recommendations on the use of solitary confinement, which contained specific policy reforms to overhaul the use of solitary confinement in the federal Bureau of Prisons. Writing in an op-ed for the Washington Post, President Obama announced he was adopting the report’s recommendations, which, in part, support a ban on the use of solitary confinement on youth and call for the diversion of vulnerable population – such as those with serious mental illness – into treatment units.
This year saw important victories for solitary confinement reform. Momentum is growing and change is in the air: committed activists, organizers, and community members around the country are the reason for this change. But our job is not done!
In 2017, state and local campaigns will again take up the challenge of ensuring safer, more humane and effective prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers by working TOGETHER to End Solitary Confinement.
PICTURE: Activist in the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement rally on December 23, 2016.