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“Long-term isolation can create or exacerbate serious mental health problems and assaultive or anti-social behaviors, result in negative outcomes for institutional safety, and increase the risk of recidivism after release...."

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Contacts: Patricia Connelly
pconnelly@vera.org
(212) 376-3062

Vera Director Michael Jacobson Submits Testimony
on Reassessing Solitary Confinement to the
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights

NEW YORK, NY―The first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement is being held today by the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Solitary confinement—also known as segregation—long used to manage difficult prison populations, has come under closer scrutiny by policy makers in recent years, as more jurisdictions are looking for alternatives to this exceptionally expensive and increasingly harsh form of incarceration. The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) is currently working with Illinois, Washington State, and Maryland to develop such safe alternatives.

As Vera Director Michael Jacobson told the Subcommittee in written testimony, the use of solitary confinement by state and federal prisons has skyrocketed in recent decades. “Segregation was developed as a method for handling highly dangerous prisoners,” Jacobson said. Increasingly, however, “it has been used with prisoners who do not pose a threat to staff or other prisoners but are placed in segregation for minor violations that are disruptive but not violent.”

The reexamination of solitary confinement is driven, in part, by recent research suggesting that segregation is often counterproductive. “Long-term isolation can create or exacerbate serious mental health problems and assaultive or anti-social behaviors, result in negative outcomes for institutional safety, and increase the risk of recidivism after release,” Jacobson told the Subcommittee. The current fiscal crisis is also prompting state prison systems to curtail expensive and ineffective practices, Jacobson said. “States can no longer afford these costs,” he remarked.

Pointing to one promising advance, Jacobson described the work of Vera’s Segregation Reduction Project (SRP). Launched in 2010, SRP is the first project of its kind to work with state prison systems to reduce safely the number of prisoners held in segregation and to improve the conditions of solitary confinement for those who remain. Currently, Vera is partnering with Illinois, Maryland, and Washington State and is in the process of extending SRP to a fourth state in the Southwest. 

Based on the lessons learned thus far through SRP, Jacobson offered a series of policy recommendations that jurisdictions could undertake now to curtail the public safety and financial costs of over-reliance on segregation, including:

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