Solitary confinement is fundamentally inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. We must insist on humane and more cost-effective methods of punishment and prison management.
Inmates in Montana State Prison's "Locked Housing Unit" (solitary) spend 23 hours a day in a cramped cell with no outside light and no human contact other than a tray of food pushed through a slot in the door.
Five days a week, for one hour, the inmate can leave his cell to shower or spend time in an open-air metal cage. A basketball hoop is the only thing in that cage. Nothing of the outside world is visible but a small patch of sky.
Prisoners can be trapped in these conditions for weeks, months or even years. Many are released directly onto the streets without any kind of rehabilitation counseling or training to prepare them for re-entry into our communities. This increases their chances of reoffending and landing back in prison.
It's estimated that 80,000 prisoners nationwide are housed in solitary confinement on any given day. This comes at a great mental health cost to prisoners and a great financial cost to taxpayers. For example, a 2007 study in Arizona found that placing a prisoner in solitary confinement cost $50,000 per year compared to $20,000 per year for the average prisoner.
The ACLU, together with activists, mental health experts, and faith-based organizations around the country, is challenging the use of long-term solitary confinement - in the courts, in the legislatures, in reforms of correctional practice, and in the battle for public opinion. The goal of the Stop Solitary campaign is to limit the use of long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers. Here are 12 ways that prison officials can begin working toward that goal today.
Katka v. Montana State Prison
An ACLU of Montana case challenging solitary confinement for juvenile and mentally ill prisoners
The ACLU of Montana's Montana Prison Project filed a complaint against the state of Montana and the Montana Department of Corrections in December 2009 on behalf of a 17-year-old who has been incarcerated in the maximum security section of the Montana State Prison since the age of 16, much of that time in solitary confinement. Raistlen Katka suffered from mental illness and tried to commit suicide four times at the prison, with a nearly successful attempt in June 2010. In the summer of 2010 we were successful in getting Raistlen transferred to the Montana State Hospital. He has since been released, and in spring 2012, the ACLU reached a settlement with Montana State Prison limiting the use of solitary confinement on juvenile and mentally ill prisoners.
Stories from Solitary
"The Soul Cries and the Brain Shrinks": Stories from Louisiana's Angola Prison
"Solitary Confinement" by National Geographic
Montana Briefing on Solitary Confinement (Nov. 16, 2012) - MP3 of a one-hour call on the ACLU of Montana's legal and legislative efforts to reduce the use of solitary confinement and a discussion of alternatives to solitary confinement by former Washington Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail. Includes a Q&A session.
Transcript from Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement - June 19, 2012