Monday, October 20, 2014
WaPo editorial board hopes states will stop subjecting inmates to "psychological and physical hell" of solitary confinement
WaPo's editorial board comments on the recent settlement between the Arizona DOC and the ACLU/Prison Law Project that will limit the DOC's use of solitary confinement and expand the number of hours isolated inmates are allowed out of their cells. It writes:
In some ways, Arizona’s use of solitary confinement has been worse than others’. David C. Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project, said the state still automatically assigns all inmates with life sentences to serve their first two years in isolation, whether they were convicted of a violent crime or not. This is a gratuitously nasty punishment that sets prisoners up to be problem inmates. Even after the settlement, guaranteeing prisoners a mere one hour per day outside their cells is hardly lenient, only justifiable if a prisoner is an extreme risk to staff or other inmates.
Yet Arizona’s Department of Corrections has not been alone in enforcing some counterproductive, harsh rules. Systems in states across the country have devised bizarrely mean-spirited restrictions, such as denying prisoners reading material or even timepieces, making it impossible for them to keep their mind from slipping away or to determine whether it is day or night.
Mr. Fathi predicts that once Arizona sees its rates of inmate suicide and other psychiatric issues drop, prison officials will ease up even more. The optimistic view extends beyond the state’s borders: Others, too, may note the movement in Arizona, as well as in early reformist states such as Colorado, Maine and Mississippi, and decide that it is also in their interest to end the common use of unnecessary and debilitating isolation. The less optimistic view is that it will take more lawsuits to force some states to change.