Vera Institute Adds Five States to Solitary Reduction Initiative

The Vera Institute of Justice, using a $2.2 million matching grant from the Justice Department, is working with five state corrections departments on reducing the use of solitary confinement of prisoners, a strategy that is disproportionately employed on young wards.

Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah and Virginia were chosen through a competitive process to participate. Their corrections departments will undergo a Vera-led assessment to identify ways in which policy shifts can lower solitary use, and then develop alternative strategies for de-escalating the sort of conflicts that often lead to segregation.

This is the second wave of sites Vera has worked with through its Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, which began in 2015. The first slate included Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, New York City, and Middlesex County, New Jersey.

Among the resources on Vera’s Safe Alternatives website is a decent webinar on alternatives to segregation that focuses on juvenile facilities. Click here to link directly to the webinar, which was also funded by the Justice Department.

The use of solitary confinement has been connected to all kinds of negative psychological impact. The issue of solitary confinement, particularly of young offenders, has garnered attention since 2014, when investigative journalists Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan exposed the use of solitary at New York City’s Rikers Island. Earlier this year, President Obama took the largely symbolic step of banning solitary for juveniles in the federal prison system (there aren’t any juveniles housed by the Bureau of Prisons).

While the scope of Safe Altneratives includes juvenile and adult facilities operated by corrections departments, a group of advocacy organizations formed a coalition focused on juvenile solitary confinement in April. Stop Solitary for Kids was started with a short- and long-game strategy: roll up victories in helping systems reduce solitary use in juvenile facilities, then eventually mount a constitutional challenge against the practice.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1115 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.

1 Comment

  1. It is exciting to see so many correctional departments eager to find ways to change. One of the aspects of these discussions that sometimes makes me uncomfortable is the sense correctional institutions sometimes seem to have of being “blamed.” Far from being the “bad guys” or people being blamed, they are in a tremendous position to make a big difference and find ways to improve. Correctional institutions have taken incredible steps already.

    The practice of drastically limiting human contact for people living in prison is a serious problem, but I believe that the vast majority of correctional institutions and correctional officers want to do the right thing and treat people humanely.

    There is a difference between saying that a practice causes very serious harms that have been well-documented and jumping to the assumption that correctional institutions are trying to harm anyone. I don’t believe that the vast majority of institutions or correctional officers are trying to harm people in this way. Why on earth would people want to harm anyone in the ways that this practice harms people? The effects of social isolation are horrible. People can lose their minds for a time and seriously deteriorate in well-documented and truly excruciating ways.

    The vast majority of correctional officers and administrators are very good people. They would never want to harm people this way. Once people realize the damage this practice can do, they are naturally moved as good human beings to try to find ways to change. This is an issue of developing increased awareness about the effects of social isolation and of finding logistical approaches that are compassionate and practical and will work well for everyone.

    It is so wonderful to see groups like Vera providing support for humane changes. Practices should be implemented that are supported by research and good evidence and that provide people with a compassionate and therapeutic environment to the fullest extent possible. States can learn from the successes and struggles of other states as well as from justice systems abroad.

    This is an exciting and hopeful time. Far from seeing correctional institutions or correctional officers as the obstacles to progress, I believe they are in a wonderful position to both affect people’s lives in a compassionate way and work to improve public safety for the entire community.

    A huge thank you and kudos to everyone involved in this work for all of the thoughtful, passionate, and patient work that you do to create real change. You are all making a huge difference in the lives of vulnerable people in ways that also protect public safety. Thank you so much for all that you do!

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