New Report Confirms Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons Largely Unchecked

May 31, 2013 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not adequately monitor its use of solitary confinement and other segregated housing and should evaluate the effect of long-term segregation on prisoners, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office today. The Bureau currently holds about seven percent of its population, or more than 12,000 prisoners, in segregated housing.

“It’s astonishing that the Bureau has steadily increased its use of solitary confinement and other segregated housing while failing to assess whether this expensive and inhumane practice has any actual effect on prison safety,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “The Bureau needs to follow the lead of the growing number of states that have reduced solitary confinement while preserving prison safety and saving millions of dollars in the process.”

The report notes that the number of federal prisoners in solitary confinement and other forms of segregated housing has grown nearly three times as fast as the federal prison population as a whole, even though segregated housing costs two to three times as much per prisoner as regular high security prisons. Despite this increase, the Bureau has not conducted any assessment of the effect of segregated housing on prison safety or of the effects of long-term segregated housing on prisoners.

Federal prisoners in segregated housing are locked in their cells for 23 or 24 hours a day, sometimes for years on end. The GAO report notes that the Bureau’s own Psychology Services Manual recognizes that extended periods in segregated housing “may have an adverse effect on the overall mental status of some individuals.”

The report concludes that the Bureau does not adequately monitor segregated housing to ensure that prisoners are receiving meals, out-of-cell exercise, and other necessities.

The report can be viewed here.

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