Solitary Confinement

Perhaps the single most barbaric aspect of mass incarceration in California is the cruel practice of assigning inmates to solitary confinement. This practice, affecting as many as 6,000 inmates at any given time, has been judged inhumane and unacceptable by human rights experts. The cruelty of the practice is underscored by its arbitrariness: people are “validated” for solitary not because of their gang affiliation or actual misconduct in prison but because they manage to run afoul of all-powerful corrections officers. People of faith must join forces with the families of those in solitary to put an end to this shameful abuse of human beings.

Easing Solitary Confinement Brings Hope

  It seems like only yesterday I was preparing for a news conference to give a statement on behalf of California Families Against Solitary Confinement announcing a landmark settlement in the case challenging long-term solitary confinement in California prisons, including the one where my son had been held in isolation for 15 years. We were full of hope. At the same time, we couldn’t help but think of the windowless cells that held our loved ones captive for so many decades and the … [Read more...]

Ending Inmate Isolation: Inside the Battle to Stop Solitary Confinement in America

Just before 2:30am Daniel Treglia jostled awake at the sounds of the mechanical iron doors slowly screeching open. The jangling keys and the heavy footsteps that followed were all part of the normal soundscape inside the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, where guards patrol hourly each night. But on that early morning in March, these sounds signified something new — after nearly nine years, Treglia’s time in solitary confinement had finally come to an end. There was … [Read more...]

LA County Restricts Solitary for Juveniles

Los Angeles County, which operates one of the nation’s largest juvenile justice systems, on Tuesday approved a plan that places broad restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles locked in county detention facilities. The plan, approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, allows for the use of solitary confinement only for brief periods as a “cooling-off” measure. Even then, placing someone who is younger than 18 in solitary confinement can be done only in consultation … [Read more...]

After California Prisons Release “Gang Affiliates” From Solitary Confinement, Costs and Violence Levels Drop

Significant reductions in California’s use of solitary confinement in state prisons are expected to save the state millions of dollars, perhaps even more if state lawmakers heed the advice of the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Contrary to warnings by Governor Jerry Brown and others, the reductions in isolation also appear to be coinciding with a measurable reduction in violence in California’s prisons. With the state prison system’s use of segregation units down by … [Read more...]

The End of Solitary Confinement

What is California going to do with "the worst of the worst"? Standing in the warden's office at Pelican Bay, the notorious maximum security prison in Crescent City, California, I don my dark green stab-proof vest and accompany public information officer Lieutenant Christopher Acosta and Associate Warden Rawland Swift (who has since retired) to the Security Housing Unit, or SHU. Acosta is curt and bulldoggish, with a smooth, bald head. Swift is affable and mustachioed, wearing a casual … [Read more...]

One in Five US Inmates Put in Isolation Each Year

Almost one in five inmates in American prisons and jails spend time in solitary confinement or segregation over the course of a year, according to a government report, which found prisoners were more likely to encounter such conditions if they were younger, identified as LGBT or had mental health problems. In the first survey of its kind, the US Justice Department found that about 20% of people in state and federal prisons and 18% of those in local jails said they had spent time in … [Read more...]

What Can Reforming Solitary Confinement Teach Us About Reducing Mass Incarceration?

Although it would have been hard to believe even several years ago, reform of solitary confinement is starting to look inevitable. For decades, a small movement of the incarcerated and their families, advocates, medical and mental health professionals, and forward-thinking corrections leaders labored against solitary confinement with only rare, incremental, and quiet success. Compare that to the last few years: two of the largest prison systems in the country (California and New York) announced … [Read more...]

California Agrees to Overhaul Use of Solitary Confinement

California has agreed to an overhaul of the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, including strict limits on the prolonged isolation of inmates, as part of a landmark legal settlement filed in federal court on Tuesday. The settlement is expected to sharply reduce the number of inmates held in the state’s isolation units, where nearly 3,000 inmates are often kept alone for more than 22 hours a day in cells that sometimes have no windows, and cap the length of time prisoners can spend … [Read more...]

Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life

In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution. He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning to build. Twenty years later, he returned to Pelican Bay for another set of interviews. He was startled to find himself facing … [Read more...]

Locked Up and Alone

How do you define solitary confinement? That question is at the core of a California debate over ending the practice in state- and county-run juvenile detention facilities, which are estimated to house roughly 9,000 individuals at any given time. The debate intensified earlier this year with the introduction of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which would ban the use of solitary confinement as punishment. Under the bill, young people who pose a safety risk can be … [Read more...]