By Staff Reporter
Tuesday the US Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee held a hearing titled "Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences." Below is some of testimony submitted to the US Senate Committee:
"We owe it to correctional officers who put their lives on the line every day to do everything we can to protect their safety. Make no mistake, that means that some dangerous inmates must be held in segregated housing. But we also should learn from states like Maine and Mississippi, which have reduced violence in their prisons by reducing the overuse of solitary confinement."
- Senator Dick Durbin
Statement by Chairman Durbin
"One of the most stunning examples of downsizing solitary confinement comes from Mississippi. In 2007, Mississippi had 1,300 inmates in solitary confinement while today there are only 300. This downsizing has saved Mississippi taxpayers $6 million, because solitary confinement costs $102 per day compared to $42 a day for inmates in the general population. Most importantly, violence within Mississippi’s prisons and the recidivism rate upon release are both down, with violence dropping nearly 70 percent."
- Marc Levin (Conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation)
"No one, no matter how horrible the crimes for which they have been convicted, can endure this lack of stimulation, contact, and activity for very long. I saw men lose their minds. Some screamed at all hours of the night. Some just stared at a wall, even when they could spend their one hour a day outside of the cell. Some were drugged to the point that they seemed nearly comatose. Some tried to save their medications and overdose on them to commit suicide. I saw men smear their feces in their cells. For 15 years, I watched the State slowly execute many of my fellow inmates before it could legally put the needle into their arms."
- Damon Thibodeaux (Former Louisiana Death Row Inmate Exonerated After 15 Years in Solitary)
"The intended use of administrative segregation was to reduce violence on staff and inmates. Unfortunately a reduction in violence on staff has not been the case in Texas since the state greatly increased the use of administrative segregation in the 1990s.
The overreliance on solitary confinement in Texas may be a direct result of lack of trained and experienced staff. A better-trained and experienced workforce could better manage an increasing mental health population, reducing the overuse of solitary confinement.
Even more alarming is we are releasing inmates into our communities every day, who have spent years in solitary conditions with little or no treatment to correct the behavior which lead to their incarceration in solitary conditions."
- Lance Lowry (AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees)
The United States Senate on Tuesday heard testimony on the use the solitary confinement with six different witnesses testifying and 130 written testimonies. The bipartisan hearing was held by Senator Dick Durbin (D - Illinois) and Senator Ted Cruz (R - Texas) that examined the degree to which solitary confinement is used.
Marc Levin with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation testified "many states continue to release inmates directly from solitary confinement, with more than 1,300 such releases in 2011 in Texas alone." In an article by Mike Ward (Austin American Statesman / http://bit.ly/1hSWVNU ) Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman stated "that in 2013, 1,243 felons were released directly from solitary confinement to the streets — including 500 who served their entire sentence and 743 who were released on various forms of parole supervision. Statistics weren’t immediately available on how many of those convicts had come back to prison for new crimes."
Levin pointed out in his testimony "The average American may understandably wonder, if an inmate is too dangerous for the general population of a prison, how can they live next to me the next day?"
Levin in his testimony recommends enhancing correctional staff training in de-escalation techniques, mental illness, and mental retardation, issues which often lead to solitary confinement. Levin points out that states such as Nebraska are looking at hiring individuals with degrees in areas of social work who are better equipped to not just respond to behavior, but change it. Levin further recommended implementing a parallel universe model that creates incentives for positive behavior and self-improvement.
Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was appointed to the position after Tom Clements, the former director was murdered answering the door of his home to a recent parolee who had been released directly from administrative segregation, testified that "administrative segregation has been overused, misused, and abused for over 100 years." Raemisch recently wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times describing his recent experience where he entered into Colorado's administrative segregation posing as an inmate for a day. (Click here to see article).
Raemisch announced he would lower the states use of solitary confinement by ending death row administrative segregation, establish a "Transition Unit" with a cognitive course to prepare offenders for transition to General Population, and not release administrative segregation offenders directly into the community.
Shortly after the US Senate Hearing, Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced in an article in the Austin American Statesman Texas would continue to seek ways to reduce the use of administrative segregation. “We’re dialed in on this issue to extend the successes of our treatment programs to this population,” Livingston said. “Consistent with our commitment to public safety, I don’t think the current number of 7,000 is the floor. I think we can do better.”
Livingston's announcement comes after several states have successfully reformed the use of administrative segregation including successes reported in Mississippi and Maine. The State of New York announced last week they would reform their use of administrative segregation. Last month the State of Virginia lost a Federal Court case ruling its use of solitary conditions for death row inmates was unconstitutional. (See Article Click Here).
With national legislation in the works and the Federal Courts at play, states will continue to research the issues of administrative segregation and placing inmates in solitary conditions. States and administrators who fail to remain proactive on the issues of solitary usage may face scrutiny from legislative bodies and courts.