Reducing solitary confinement

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 2, 2011

We had to measure the outcomes. Did we increase inmate violence? And every measure we've had, first in segregation — the acting out, the use of chemicals, the use of force, use of restraint chair — those numbers have dropped significantly, so segregation is a better place. And then we took those same measurements and looked at them in population — inmate assaults, staff assaults, use of force — did they increase after we limited the use of segregation to the more violent offenders? All of our data show us that the situation actually has improved and not gotten worse.

HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE IMPROVEMENT IN GENERAL POPULATION? The effectiveness of our staff interacting with inmates and changing behavior. Locking them up in segregation didn't change the behavior. Instead, we do informal sanctions, like you lose your recreation time, or you lose your commissary privileges, or you're locked in your cell for a period of time.

PEOPLE WHO WERE PUT INTO SEGREGATION BECAUSE THEY WERE ALLEGED TO BE VIOLENT, YOU'RE NOW PUTTING THEM INTO GENERAL POPULATION, AND YOU'RE SAYING YOU'RE ACTUALLY GETTING LESS VIOLENCE NOW? That's correct.

WHAT CAUSES THAT? Face-to-face interaction starts the process — where the officers know the offender, they know what the issues are, they work on the issues. An inmate fight would be a good example. It used to be they would go to seg. They would do their disciplinary time in seg. It might take two or three months, that whole process. Now an inmate gets into a fight, they'll go to seg and be evaluated. We would decide, after talking with the inmate and staff, can these guys go back in population. If they had a little disagreement and there were no serious injuries, they'll probably go back either in the same housing unit or in some cases the fighters will be separated.

HOW HAVE THE INMATES IN THE GENERAL POPULATION REACTED TO THIS NEW SET-UP? I HEARD THERE WAS NERVOUSNESS AT FIRST THAT SOME OF THESE PEOPLE IN SEGREGATION WERE COMING BACK. Right. There was a nervousness in staff and inmates. Some inmates thought that this was a weakness in the sense now is the time to start misbehaving because you're not going to get locked up. But we're letting people know that if you do something serious you're going to get locked up for a substantial amount of time. But for the everyday things as long as we can safely manage them in the population we're going to manage them in the population. It's a lot more work for the staff. It's a lot easier for the officers to take somebody who's acting out or being a pain to lock them up in seg. He's out of their hair. But now you've got to deal with this guy every day, talk to him every day to convince him of the right thing to do.

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