As conservatives, we are appropriately skeptical of government that is too large, too intrusive, and too costly, and we insist on accountability and transparency. Government is at its most restrictive when it imposes solitary confinement, so it is only appropriate that we bring a critical focus to this issue rather than succumb to an out of sight, out of mind mentality. While we recognize the need for solitary confinement in certain instances, it must also be held accountable to its purpose. In order to ensure that accountability, policies and practices must be implemented to ensure it is not unnecessarily used to the detriment of public safety, taxpayers, and justice.
“The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is responsible for confining offenders in environments that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure.” To that end, it is necessary to take preventative measures that ensure the safety of all inmates. If one inmate poses a risk for others, the norm is to remove the threat in order to ensure safe environments for all offenders housed in a facility. However, the BOP is also responsible for confining offenders in cost-efficient environments. Restrictive housing costs more than housing general-population inmates. Additionally, inmates in solitary confinement will eventually be returned to society. If that individual recidivates, society receives a poor rate of return on their investment into the criminal justice system. Therefore, it is imperative that procedure regarding solitary confinement be both safe, and cost-efficient.
End the practice of releasing inmates directly from solitary confinement
Being placed in solitary confinement limits the ability of prisoners to participate in rehabilitative programming or classes that teach life skills. Moreover, even solitary confinement that includes a cellmate is limiting in social interaction. In turn, these conditions negatively affect the reentry process for an inmate who is preparing for his or her release back into society. To facilitate the reentry process, correctional officials should not hold an inmate in solitary confinement until the completion of his or her sentence. Stepping inmates down to a lower level of custody at least several months prior to release in order to facilitate preparation for reentering society is a better alternative for the public as opposed to directly releasing individuals from solitary confinement.
Establish intermediate sanctions prior to utilizing solitary confinement
When inmates violate institutional rules, they must be held accountable. However, correctional officials should refrain from utilizing solitary confinement as a consequence for violations that could be appropriately and effectively punished through alternative sanctions. Correctional officials should create a matrix of intermediate sanctions that must be used prior to placing an inmate in solitary confinement for more than 72 hours, unless that inmate has instigated force that caused serious bodily injury to a staff member or other inmates.
Create a process for inmates to earn their way out of solitary confinement
In order to incentivize positive behavior and facilitate a productive prison community, correctional officials should provide a means for inmates to earn their way out of solitary confinement, such as through a period of exemplary behavior and gang renunciation. If inmates were not placed in solitary confinement for instigating force that caused serious bodily injury to a staff member or other inmate, correctional officials should positively respond to their prolonged compliance following placement in solitary confinement so as not to cultivate the impression that the inmate has “nothing to lose.”
Enhance training of correctional officers in de-escalation tactics
Correctional officials should enhance training for prison personnel in de-escalation techniques regarding issues that often lead to solitary confinement. Moreover, correctional systems consider filling some positions with individuals with backgrounds in areas such as social work, equipping officers with the ability to not just respond to behavior, but potentially alter it.
Implement administrative reviews
Correction departments should ensure that there is an oversight mechanism, whether that is an ombudsman or the head of the department, to review decisions to keep an inmate in solitary confinement beyond 72 hours. This is particularly important in correctional systems in which inmates can be placed in solitary confinement simply for being a suspected gang member, a subjective determination which is prone to human error.