Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement today announcing that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a comprehensive and independent assessment of its use of solitary confinement in the nation's federal prisons. This first-ever review of federal segregation policies comes after Durbin chaired a hearing last year on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. Last week, Durbin and Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels discussed the assessment, which will be conducted through the National Institute of Corrections.
"The announcement by the Bureau of Prisons that it will conduct its first-ever review of its use of solitary confinement is an important development," Durbin said. "The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can't ignore. I am confident the Bureau of Prisons will permit a thorough and independent review and look forward to seeing the results when they are made public. We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation."
In his hearing last year, Durbin emphasized the importance of reforming the way we treat the incarcerated and the use of solitary confinement in prisons and detention centers around the country. Following that hearing, Durbin has twice met with Bureau of Prisons Director Samuels to push for additional reforms and encourage a sufficiently robust assessment of the Bureau's segregation practices.
Since Durbin's hearing, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reportedly reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent. In addition, it has closed two of its Special Management Units, a form of segregated housing, due to the reduction in the segregated population.
The National Institute of Corrections, through which the assessment will be conducted, assisted states like Mississippi and Colorado in reforming their solitary practices. After assessing its practices, Mississippi reduced its segregated population by more than 75 percent, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction in prison violence.
During the last several decades, the United States has witnessed an explosion in the use of solitary confinement for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States. This is -- by far -- the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world.
Solitary confinement -- also called supermax housing, segregation and isolation -- is designed to separate inmates from each other and isolate them for a variety of reasons. Originally used to segregate the most violent prisoners in the nation's supermax prisons, the practice is being used more frequently, including for the supposed protection of vulnerable groups like immigrants, children and LGBT inmates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing. In Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.
Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells without windows, with little to no access to the outside world or adequate programs and treatment. Inmates are confined to these cells for up to 23 hours a day. Such extreme isolation can have serious psychological effects on inmates and can lead to mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide. According to several state and national studies, at least half of all prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.
In addition to the impact solitary confinement has on inmates, there are also public safety and fiscal concerns with the practice. The bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons found that the use of solitary confinement often increased acts of violence in prions. Further, it is extremely costly to house a prisoner in solitary confinement. In Tamms, Illinois' only supermax prison, it cost more than $60,000 a year to house a prisoner in solitary confinement while it was operational, compared to an average of $22,000 for inmates in other prisons.
Video from Durbin's June hearing on solitary confinement can be found at www.judiciary.senate.gov.