In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post on Monday, President Obama announced he will be issuing a series of executive actions to end “the overuse of solitary confinement” in federal prisons.
In August 2015, the president commissioned a review of the use of “restrictive housing” in U.S. correctional facilities by the Department of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
- “Inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting necessary to ensure their own safety“.
- “For every inmate in restrictive housing, correctional staff should develop a clear plan for returning the inmate to less restrictive conditions as promptly as possible. The plan should be shared with the inmate”.
- “An inmate’s initial and ongoing placement in restrictive housing should be regularly reviewed by . . . medical and mental health professionals.”
New policies for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) were also announced in Monday’s press release:
- “[E]nding the practice of placing juveniles in restrictive housing“.
- “[E]xpanding ‘secure mental health units’ for inmates with serious mental illness who cannot function in the general prison population”.
- “[B]uild ‘Reintegration Housing Units’ . . . providing additional space to house ‘protective custody’ inmates in less restrictive conditions.”
- “[E]nsure that inmates who engage in serious criminal activity – especially those who assault or kill correctional staff – face criminal prosecution when appropriate.”
In his op-ed, Mr. Obama pointed to the devastating effects of inmate isolation as the main reason for directing a change in BOP policy. Those who are subject to long periods of time locked up by themselves have much higher rates of suicide, unemployment, depression, and criminal recidivism after they are released from prison.
“How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?”, Obama wrote. “It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”
The new policy could effect up to 10,000 federal prisoners currently in solitary confinement, but there are still 100,000 more suffering similar conditions in state and local jails which Obama’s action will not help.
In recent months and years, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and New York state have introduced more humane “restrictive housing” policies with some successful results.
President Obama also noted that federal prisons have reduced the number of inmates in solitary confinement by 25 percent since 2012, which has resulted in less violence against correctional facility staff.
Also of note, the violent crime rate in America has dropped by nearly half since 1995 when there were 684.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people. In 2014, the rate was 365.5, according to the FBI.
[BBC] [Washington Post] [WhiteHouse.gov] [FBI.gov]