Reassessing Solitary Confinement in the U.S.

Thank you, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and members of the Subcommittee for holding this hearing on the human rights, fiscal, and public safety consequences of solitary confinement in United States prisons, jails, and detention centers. My name is Michael Jacobson and I serve as President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice. Vera is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice, with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Since 1961, Vera has combined expertise in research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects to help develop justice systems that are fairer, more humane, and more effective for everyone. One of the ways Vera works toward these goals is through its Segregation Reduction Project, which partners with states to decrease safely the number of people held in segregation (also called solitary confinement), provides recommendations tailored to the states’ specific circumstances and needs, and offers assistance as states plan and implement changes. A. Background on Use of Solitary Confinement/Segregation in U.S. Prisons Since the 1980s, prisons in the United States have increasingly relied on segregation to manage difficult populations in their overcrowded systems. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the number of people in restricted housing units nationwide increased from 57,591 in 1995 to 81,622 in 2005.1 Segregation was developed as a method for handling highly dangerous prisoners. However, it has increasingly been used with prisoners who do not pose a threat to staff or other prisoners but are placed in segregation for minor violations that are disruptive but not violent, such as talking back (insolence), being out of place, failure to report to work or school, or refusing to change housing units or cells. In some jurisdictions, these prisoners constitute a significant proportion of the population in this form of housing.

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