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States Show Progress in Ending Solitary Confinement

States Show Progress in Ending Solitary Confinement

Early this year, President Obama announced sweeping changes to rules regarding the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. While this executive order could affect up to 10,000 federal inmates, it does not address the tens of thousands of people held in solitary confinement in local and state jails and prisons.

Fortunately, a bipartisan movement to end solitary confinement is growing across the country. After major victories in 2015, including a highly-publicized announcement that the Rikers Island prison in New York would cease the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, several state and local jurisdictions have already taken steps in 2016 to reduce the number of individuals held in isolation for extended periods of time.

In Colorado, for example, the State Senate unanimously approved a bill in May to codify existing Colorado Department of Youth Corrections policy prohibiting solitary confinement for juvenile offenders and create better oversight to ensure that the law is obeyed. The bill was passed by the House a week later, and it now goes to the desk of Governor John Hickenlooper, who has previously commented positively on the protections it would provide.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took similar action last month, voting to implement a series of new rules that ban solitary confinement in youth detention facilities except “as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to any person.” These measures will likely have a significant impact in L.A. County, where there were more than 4,000 referrals to restrictive housing in juvenile centers in 2015.

Despite this significant progress, solitary confinement for juvenile and adult offenders remains on the books in dozens of states.

The Reform Movement has spoken out against the widespread and excessive use of solitary confinement, recognizing that it can cause serious physical and psychological harm. For that reason, the Religious Action Center has also endorsed the Together to End Solitary campaign, a nationwide effort that calls on local, state and federal officials to ban solitary confinement in jails and prisons. On the 23rd of each month, a reference to the number of hours that some individuals are held in solitary each day, the Together to End Solitary campaign organizes events and actions around the country protesting the continued use of solitary and educating people about its effects.

For more information about Together to End Solitary events happening in your local community, visit http://www.togethertoendsolitary.org/events.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 6/02/2016