Over much time, there has been a wide range of attention directed to solitary confinement, including various advocacy groups that are seeking to change and/or abolish solitary confinement as a whole. These advocacy groups can include National Religious Campaign against Torture, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, as well as the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (Ahalt et al., 2017). To include in these advocacy groups, former President Barack Obama, he reformed the use of solitary confinement by banning it on those offenders that were under the age of 18 (Morgan, 2018).
Although this was viewed as a step in the right direction for some individuals, the federal government is only responsible for partial of the individuals that are incarcerated within the federal facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sought to show how solitary confinement within the United States has been dangerously overused. The American Civil Liberties Union has sought to show better alternatives as well as reforms to try and decrease the use of solitary confinement.
Guidelines were offered from the American Bar Association through their publication of Standards for Criminal Justice, Treatment of Prisoners. Within the guidelines it focuses on the provision of an adequate process prior to placing an offender within segregation, posing limitations on the length of solitary confinement and the least restrictive segregation possible (Arrigo & Bullock, 2017). There are also recommendations on allowing social activities such as giving offenders access to phones, television, and things to read, reducing auditory isolation, the scarcity of light, and punitive diets.
Various states have also taken the necessary steps to investigate, supervise, and restructure their use of solitary confinement. Changing the way they have utilized solitary confinement has also resulted in a decrease of litigation being acted upon. This has become significant for those with mental illnesses being sent to solitary confinement. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections made adjustments due to a litigation that they received in 2012. In return they rewrote their policies pertaining to the mental health care policies to eliminate those individuals with severe mental illnesses from serving long sentences within solitary confinement (Shaley, 2011). Within the Colorado Department of Corrections, Wardens have been directed by higher leaderships that those individuals with severe mental illnesses are not allowed to be placed within solitary confinement; Colorado state legislature obtained the necessary funding to make this permanent. Within the state of New York, specifically at Rikers Island, does not place those with mental illnesses in solitary confinement but within their punitive segregation. Within punitive segregation, those with mental illnesses are able to receive more therapeutic care to help with their illnesses. In 2007, the State of New York passed a law where those individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses excludes them from being placed in solitary confinement and places them in a less restrictive environment that provides healthy monitoring and helps with their needs.
State correctional leaders have also taken necessary steps to try and limit the use of solitary confinement within correctional institutions. In 2014, New Yorks Department of Corrections and Community Supervision came up with a formal agreement with the New York Civil Liberties Union to transform the way solitary confinement was used within New Yorks correctional facilities (Shaley, 2011). Their immediate steps consisted of removing pregnant woman, youth, the disabled and those with mental illnesses from confinement. In January 2013, the state of Illinois rid of the supermax prison, Tamms Correctional Center, which saved them approximately $20 million a year (Ahalt et al., 2017). In November 2013, the secretary within New Mexicos department of corrections suggested moving those offenders that were non-violent out of solitary confinement, and move those offenders in protective custody to a separate population (Ahalt et al., 2017). Also in 2012, the Department of Corrections within Colorado closed a supermax facility that was designed to hold 316 offenders, and ultimately saved millions of dollars. And in the state of Maine, their use of SHUs and MHUs was reduced by over 50% because of the change of approval requirements. Throughout the years, other cities such as Mississippi and Michigan have also significantly reduced their rate of solitary confinement.
Within Juvenile Justice Facilities, various states have also made significant strides towards the lesser use of solitary confinement. For example the governor of the state of Nevada in 2013 signed a law that put newer and tougher restrictions on placing youth in isolation. Within that law it placed coverage requirements on the use of solitary confinement, and restrictions on the length of placing youth in solitary confinement; typically, no longer than 72 hours (King, 2019). Similar to the state of Nevada, the governor of West Virginia signed a law that banned the use of solitary confinement within their juvenile facilities (King, 2019).
After a man on death-row spent 20 years in solitary confinement, Justice Anthony Kennedy described solitary confinement as taking a human toll. He stated that being in solitary confinement brings those individuals to the edge of madness. He also stated that solitary confinement exacts anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hallucinations, self-mutilation, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behaviors. Originally, states built both SHUs and MHUs which were dedicated to housing offenders in solitary confinement, often spent in isolation for 23 hours a day. However, in todays day and age the use of solitary confinement has become routine. Solitary confinement was built of the idea of housing those offenders that were the worst of the worst, and keeping them isolated would ensure safety. However, solitary confinement is being abused as offenders are being sent to solitary for things such as talking back to correctional officers, having consensual sex, possessing minor contraband (i.e. too many stamps or too many rolls of toilet paper), and trading food items with other offenders. In order to minimize the use of solitary confinement an adjusted incremental approach needs to be utilized. These adjustments can ultimately reduce cost, benefit correctional departments across states, and impact external stakeholders.
One of the solutions in order to combat the mass use of solitary confinement is for all states to develop a program for those offenders that have shown to be chronic violent offenders and other behavior problems. Instead of locking these individuals into solitary confinement intensive programs would be utilized that serve to rehabilitate the offender and also serves as being therapeutic. These programs would be designed to identify the problem that results in their behavior and teaching self-control. With the progression of the offenders participation in the program they would also gradually engage within social opportunities which could help safely reintegrate them back into general population.
Those offenders that have serious mental health issues or may be considered vulnerable (i.e. youth) should be limited to solitary confinement. Those individuals that suffer from mental illnesses are not capable of always thinking rationally. These offenders may act in bizarre ways that may cause self-injury or result in the destruction of property or persons. It can be argued that housing those that are mentally ill in these types of units violate their eighth amendment rights of cruel and unusual punishment. Various science studies also shows that those individuals under the age of 21 possess a brain that may not be fully developed, so housing them in a cell for 23 hours a day may damage them permanently (Morgan, 2018). Policies need to be implemented across correctional facilities where those with diagnosed mental illnesses are sent the shortest term in solitary confinement and not at all if possible.
The use of solitary confinement can pose many threats to many state correctional departments. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Justice Initiative, and The Marshall project all seek to bring light to the issues surrounding the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the use of solitary confinement. Many of these groups, especially the American Civil Liberties Union have sought litigation across many states due to the unconstitutional conditions of SHUs and MHUs. These litigations have forced criminal justice systems to pay thousands of dollars and/or revamp their use of solitary confinement. If states change the standards and policies regarding the use of solitary confinement, they can build a platform for other states to follow as well as become compliant to avoid litigation issues.
Ultimately those offenders that have a long period of time within incarceration have been shown to be negatively effected by being isolated. It deteriorates their mental health thus possibly making them more violent when they return to general population or their prospective communities. It also may cause physical health problems from a variety of illnesses to physical disabilities. All of which can negatively effect those individuals, their families, and the communities to which they return to upon their release. These offenders may continue to cause harm and commit crime thus negatively effecting their communities are they become more dependent on their family members and friends who have to tend to the mental and physical illnesses. Reducing the use of solitary confinement and refining its usage can prevent communities and families being affected, which can ultimately help with reducing recidivism.
Solitary Confinement can be seen as a financial disaster to the United States criminal justice system. On average, it costs states approximately $78,000 to hold an offender in solitary confinement, which is three times more than what it costs to house an offender in general population (Bennet, Kizzire, Tucker, 2019). On average it costs approximately $22,000 to house an average offender in general population. The increased amount is due to several reasons to include the construction of these types of facilities or units costs more. This is due to the use of single cells, and more enhanced technology in order to monitor the offenders. Reducing the use of solitary confinement can help reduce the costs.
Hebrews 13:1-3 (NIV) states “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” As Christians it is important to not forget those that are sentenced to prison or solitary confinement. In order to reduce recidivism rates and aid offenders to reintegrate back into society they need to be able to continue to receive support, and love from those working inside of the correctional system as well as their families, friends, and their community. Every interaction with an offender can have an effect on whether they are successful both in prison as well as once they are released.
Similar to how the United States has an incarceration rate that has been to be more extensive than any other country; solitary confinement is also used at a more extensive rate than any other country. The use of isolation has developed through the eyes of politics rather than through the eyes of public safety. Based on various researches, the human cost of increased physiological and psychological torment is caused by the use of solitary confinement in combination with a massive financial cost. These concerns ultimately outweigh the alleged benefits of using solitary confinement. In order to continue to build and refine a efficient and benevolent criminal justice system within the United States, the system should work to limit its usage overall and to try an guarantee that those individuals that have a mental illness and the youth are not being held in solitary confinement.