WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Prisons recently agreed to conduct a comprehensive review of solitary confinement practices in its correctional facilities to determine the monetary and public safety repercussions of the current policy. The federal agency will hire an independent auditor to review the practice. The federal prison system is larger than any of the individual state systems, holding 215,000 inmates.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) spearheaded the review. Durbin believes the practice of solitary confinement has gone on for too long.
“The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world, and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can't ignore,” Durbin said.
Representatives for Durbin argued that prisoners in isolation often suffered severe psychological impacts after spending the vast majority of their time in small cells with no windows. They added that over half of all suicides committed in prisons occurred in solitary confinement.
They also noted that 56 percent of inmates had spent some time in segregated housing in Durbin’s home state of Illinois.
“We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation,” Durbin added.
Durbin first raised the issue in June 2012, when the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement. A press release from the senator’s office reported that the Federal Bureau of Prisons reduced the size of its segregated population by nearly 25 percent since that original hearing. The document added that several states also made changes since that hearing.
“Mississippi reduced its segregated population by more than 75 percent, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction in prison violence,” the statement explained.
The announcement was embraced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has long decried the solitary confinement tactic.
“We hope and expect that the review announced today will lead the bureau to significantly curtail its use of this draconian, inhumane and expensive practice,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said in a statement.
The most notorious solitary confinement unit is the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colo., which holds 400 men. That facility currently faces a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of five inmates housed there.