National Effort to Reduce Use of Solitary Confinement Expands

NEW YORK — Following a competitive proposal process, the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice announced on Dec. 21 that its Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative will now include corrections departments in Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah and Virginia. The initiative guides both state and local corrections agencies in reducing their use of solitary confinement, and already includes jurisdictions in Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, New York City and Middlesex County, N.J.

Solitary confinement, while still widely used in U.S. prisons and jails to maintain order and respond to various infractions, has been shown to have numerous mental and physical impacts on inmates, according to a statement by the Vera Institute. The organization also points to emerging concerns about the potentially harmful effects of solitary confinement on facility staff who work in these environments. Further arguments against the practice include its costliness — according to the organization housing inmates in solitary confinement costs more than housing them in the general population — as well as the lack of evidence that it positively impacts facility safety.

Through this initiative, the Vera Institute will work with the newly selected states to assess their current use of solitary confinement, develop strategies to safely reduce that use, and assist with implementing these changes, the organization said in a statement. The participating states will also receive guidance from the initiative’s advisory council, which includes corrections officials who have successfully reduced their use of solitary confinement as well as mental health and correctional reform experts.

“The response to this initiative demonstrates that states across the nation and political spectrum are committed to taking on criminal justice reform, including a focus on the conditions of confinement,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in a statement. “We are thrilled to now be working with ten jurisdictions to not only improve the safety and well-being of individuals, prisons, and communities in their states, but also to model promising practices for others who share this vision.”

Beginning in early 2017, the partnership will span 21 months. Funding will be provided by a $2.2 U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance grant, through which states will provide a match up to $50,000.

This spring, the Vera Institute will release a report detailing findings and recommendations from its work with the original five jurisdictions, many of which have already begun implementing reforms. For example, North Carolina banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in June 2016 and Nebraska ended the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for all disciplinary violations in July 2016.