Washington state prisons end use of solitary confinement as punishment

Oct 1, 2021, 2:29 PM | Updated: 3:35 pm
Solitary confinement...
A protester against solitary confinement. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Washington Department of Corrections announced this week that it has ended its use of solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes.

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This move comes about as part of a DOC review to “identify areas of improvement” for addressing what it terms as “negative behavior” from inmates.

“This is indeed an historic moment in the department,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange said in a news release. “This is definitely a key step in becoming a human centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change. The science is clear on this and the science says stop doing it.”

Over a year-long period of collecting data on the use of what’s known more formally as “disciplinary segregation,” the DOC tracked roughly 2,500 instances of using it as a punishment. Of those nearly 60% were for non-violent incidents, averaging 11 days of segregation from the general prison populous for each instance. Violent offenses averaged 16 days.

Tracking behavior after these punishments, the DOC determined that solitary confinement “as a disciplinary action has not been proven to be an effective sanction or deterrent to negative behavior.”

Other studies have come to similar conclusions, while pointing to the potential for long-lasting harm brought on by lengthy periods of isolation, as well as higher rates of recidivism for those who were subjected to solitary confinement as a punishment.

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In Texas, 61% of inmates in 2006 released from prison the same year they had been in solitary confinement ended up reoffending, compared to 49% of all inmates who were rearrested within three years of their release.

A separate report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2019 determined that “when people who have been in solitary confinement return to their communities, they are more likely to commit crimes than those who were not subjected to it.”

In choosing to do away with disciplinary segregation in Washington, the state DOC cited a need to “continue to examine our process and make meaningful changes that are both safe and humane.”

“The data shows that the use of disciplinary segregation has many shortcomings, including failing to improve negative behavior,” Prisons Assistant Secretary Mike Obenland said.

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Washington state prisons end use of solitary confinement as punishment