Solitary confinement commission reports substantial policy changes already made at ACI
STATE HOUSE – A legislative commission that has been studying the use of solitary confinement in Rhode Island since September issued its final report today in which it states that substantial changes have already been made or are forthcoming at the Adult Correctional Institutes (ACI) as a result of the commission’s work.
The Special Legislative Commission to Study and Assess the Use of Solitary confinement in the Rhode Island ACI reported that, as result of discussion between stakeholders and Department of Corrections (DOC) officials working together on the commission, the DOC has adopted policies that limit time in segregation, reduce sensory deprivation for those in it, and exclude from segregation inmates who are mentally ill, have developmental disabilities as defined by the federal government or are pregnant.
The report details those changes and more, as well as other changes members of the commission would still like to see instituted at the ACI.
“I believe this commission process has been challenging and informative for all sides. Through our information-gathering, we have seen in so many ways how damaging prolonged solitary confinement can be, and how important it is we reform these practices. I am glad to see the DOC’s commitment to a series of administrative changes to begin this work, and I know this conversation is not ending with this commission — it is really just beginning,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence).
In 2014, the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture issued a report that called upon the United States to make substantial reforms regarding the use of solitary confinement. In recent years, numerous states have examined the issue and made reforms. Critics of solitary confinement cite a number of issues, including the impact on prisoners’ mental and physical health, the dehumanizing nature of the practice, and the lack of effectiveness as a disciplinary or rehabilitative tool. Prison officials and other professionals within the prison system note the legitimate correctional goals of solitary confinement including protecting the safety of all prisoners, disciplining serious offenders and the deterring misbehavior.
The 19-member special legislative study commission performed a comprehensive study of the use of solitary confinement, its effects and alternatives and best practices used by other jurisdictions and with an eye toward drafting recommendations for administrative or legislative changes.
Since the commission began its work, the DOC has made what the commission called a “sweeping revision” of policy to ensure that only inmates who commit the most serious offenses — levels one and two out of four — can be placed into disciplinary confinement, and that only those who commit the most serious predatory offenses will be subject to segregation for more than 31 days, and for no more than one year. Nonpredatory Class 1 offenses would be limited to 30 days and Class 2 offenses would be capped at 20.
DOC has also instituted a policy of regular medical and mental health reviews and an immediate evaluation by mental health staff whenever an inmate shows signs of psychological deterioration.
Policies have also been implemented to prohibit inmates from being placed in restrictive housing solely because of gang affiliation or their status as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Other new policies provide those in segregation with written plans detailing why they are there, what their time there will entail and what their plan is for returning to less-restrictive housing.
Additionally, DOC will issue regular reports about statistics of the segregated population.
“Through the hard work of the commission’s members we are confident that we have created a plan which takes account of the unique challenges involved in managing this population while also meeting their special needs,” said Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall, who served on the commission.
Said commission member Brad Brockmann of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, “The results of the study commission bring Rhode Island closer in line with emerging national efforts to reform the use of solitary confinement. We are encouraged by the progress made and look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues to promote the use of safe and innovative practices that support less reliance on restrictive housing. We trust the commission’s report will help our legislators to recognize and address this pressing need.”
The commission identified several issues that its members would still like to see addressed, including specific times limits on sentences in restrictive housing, the time frame in which inmates will receive written plans to assist in their release from restrictive housing as well as the allowance and timing of visits for those in restrictive housing.
“When people come back out in our community they need to be in a good state of mind. Prison isolation must end for the safety of our communities, for human rights, and for the sake of our common humanity. I am glad I was able to bring my firsthand experiences of solitary confinement to the commission. We have begun a process of making change with this commission. And there is a lot more work to do, which we will continue,” said commission member John Prince of Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE).
Besides Chairman Regunberg, Wall, Prince and Brockmann, the commission included Vice Chairman Rep. Jean Phillipe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), Rep. Sheri Roberts (D-Dist. 29, Coventry), Department of Corrections Behavioral Health Director Louis Cerbo, former Department of Corrections administrators Roberta Richman and Nancy Bailey, Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers President Richard Ferruccio, Shakur El-Amin of DARE, Jordan Seaberry of the Institute for the Study & Practice of Non-Violence, Parole Board Chairperson Laura Pisaturo, public defender Michael DiLauro, Mental Health Advocate Meghan Clingham, Department of Health Chief Legal Counsel Kenny Alston, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights Project Director Sarah Martino, Robert Marshall of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, Department of Corrections Assistant Director Institutions/Operations James Weeden and Rhode Island Hospital Division of Correctional Psychiatry Director Christopher Matkovic.
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903