California's overuse of solitary confinement is inhumane, costly and jeopardizes public safety by ignoring the fact that normal human contact is essential for ensuring successful re-entry and reducing recidivism rates.
Now, following a weeks-long hunger strike by inmates that brought California's use of solitary into the national spotlight, the California legislature is considering making some positive policy changes.
And it's about time. California simply can't afford the fiscal and human costs of overusing solitary.
As the Washington Post editorialized, solitary confinement should be a last resort:
[S]olitary confinement costs roughly twice as much as housing in less restrictive conditions — an expense that California and other fiscally challenged states can't afford. Subjecting the average prisoner to the trauma of prolonged solitary confinement is inhumane. It comes perilously close to the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality that has been long discredited as a legitimate prison management tool.
Unfortunately, according to Vanderbilt University professor Colin Dayan in the New York Times:
Solitary confinement has been transmuted from an occasional tool of discipline into a widespread form of preventive detention. The Supreme Court, over the last two decades, has whittled steadily away at the rights of inmates, surrendering to prison administrators virtually all control over what is done to those held in "administrative segregation."
Rather than spending two to three times as much to build and operate solitary housing units, California should be investing in proven alternatives that lead to greater rehabilitation and pave the way for successful re-entry to the community.
If you live in California, take action today: Contact your legislators and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate and tell them to support solitary confinement reform.
California can and should make smarter choices, before the costs get any higher.