Solitary Confinement

  • November 17, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Rick Raemisch, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections

    In 2011 my predecessor, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements, was hired and began reforms in the use/misuse of solitary confinement. At that time 1,500 inmates, almost seven percent of Colorado inmates, were in solitary confinement. Many of them were held in these cells 23 hours per day for years. Each year 40 percent of those in solitary were released directly from solitary to the community. When I started with the Department, I heard stories of correctional officers removing an inmate from solitary in leg irons and handcuffs, placing him on a public bus, removing the shackles and then leaving him alone on the bus with the public. Ironically, in 2013 Mr. Clements was assassinated by a former inmate who had spent seven years in solitary and was then released directly to the community.

    I was hired by Governor John Hickenlooper to continue and complete the reforms Mr. Clements had started. We initiated aggressive programs to decrease the use of solitary confinement. We felt that we had failed in our mission. The use of solitary confinement, particularly for non-violent inmates, was primarily to run a more efficient institution. That is a noble goal, but not our mission. Our mission is public safety, and by the overuse of solitary, particularly the practice of releasing individuals directly from solitary to the community, we were releasing people worse than when they entered prison. I believe that the use of solitary does not solve problems—it merely suspends them. I also believe that long-term solitary multiplies mental illness and manufactures disruptive behavior. Now, our reforms have proven that the use of solitary confinement can be extremely decreased and, for the most part, used only for the violent offender.

    Currently, we have approximately 150 inmates in what we now call restrictive housing – less than one percent of our population – and those individuals know when they are getting out. In the past, an inmate could be placed in solitary for an indeterminate amount of time. They had to earn their way out by means of graduating to various levels. Often times if they acted up their time started over and they could spend years in solitary. Today, the maximum amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary is one year, and that is only for the most violent offenders.

  • September 11, 2015

    by Paul Guequierre

    Solitary confinement has been described as a living death. Jack Henry Abbot said about the practice: “Time descends in your cell like the lid of a coffin in which you lie and watch it as it slowly closes over you. When you neither move nor think in your cell, you are awash in pure nothingness. . . . Solitary confinement in prison can alter the ontological makeup of a stone.”

    Solitary confinement, the topic of a new Issue Brief by law professor Laura Rovner released today by ACS, is viewed by much of the developed world as torture. The international community has almost universally condemned the use of long-term isolation. In 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that prolonged solitary confinement is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the Convention Against Torture, and declared that the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. So why then, is use of the practice so rampant in the United States? The good news is it’s gaining renewed scrutiny in the court of public opinion. The question is: How will federal courts respond?

    As long ago as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court criticized the use of solitary confinement. Justice Samuel Miller, who was a physician as well as a lawyer, observed that: “A considerable number of the prisoners [subjected to solitary confinement] fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

    And as recently as this year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized the practice, practically asking for a solitary confinement case, saying: “Research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.

  • September 3, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse, a member of the ACS Board of Directors, argues that conservatives are now taking a broader approach to standing, a stark departure from past canons of conservative thought.

    Rosie Flores at The Nation argues that a criminal record should not disqualify someone from public assistance, reasoning that “no one should go hungry for a crime they have already served time for.”

    In The New Republic, Brian Beutler warns against the waxing tide of libertarian scholars seeking to dismantle legal gains of the New Deal.

    Timothy Williams reports in The New York Times that the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the nation’s leading organization for prison and jail administrators, has called for sharply reducing or altogether eliminating the use of solitary confinement for extended periods of time. 

  • September 2, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In the Los Angeles Times, Tracey Lien reports that a federal judge ruled Tuesday that a group of Uber drivers may move forward with a class action lawsuit that aims to classify them as employees, not contract workers.

    In The Chicago Tribune, Dina Bass encourages lawmakers to develop a legal framework for international data access protocols.

    A press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights celebrates a landmark settlement in the federal class action case Ashker v. Governor of California that effectively ends indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in California prisons.

  • June 22, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Geoffrey R. Stone argues at The Huffington Post that “Justice Alito had it right” in the Texas license plate case the Supreme Court decided last week.

    Simon Lazarus writes at The New Republic that Justice Kennedy could use a conservative principle in order to save the Affordable Care Act.

    At Salon, Corey Robin urges the United States to rethink its “politics of prevention and protection, of safety and security…that [are] all too friendly to racial inequality.”

    David Savage explains the ruling in the Texas license plate case at the Los Angeles Times and its impact on First Amendment cases in the future.

    Kenneth Jost writes at Jost on Justice about whether Justice Kennedy argued that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment.