Reducing solitary confinement

By LANCE TAPLEY  |  November 2, 2011

IN THE PAST MANY PEOPLE PUT IN THE SUPERMAX WERE CLASSIFIED BY THE DEPARTMENT AS MENTALLY ILL. ARE YOU STILL PUTTING MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE THERE? The people that are mentally ill should not be placed in segregation. One, there is no evidence that supports that they're ever going to get better there. Two, we're probably doing more harm to do that. We're still refining that policy. One of the things that we were struggling with is when we've got an inmate in the Mental Health Unit and he acts up, he's violent, well, do we put him in seg? That's a problem for us because it's a safety issue for the inmate and for staff. But, clinically, we're standing on firm ground saying "No, you can't." We're going to manage him in the Mental Health Unit because he's mentally ill. Putting him in seg does not accomplish anything for us. It doesn't make him better. It doesn't solve the violence problem.

SO TO DO THIS DO YOU NEED MORE RESOURCES IN THE MENTAL HEALTH UNIT? I think it's more of a change in philosophy and mind-set on how we're going to do it than resources. We've added some resources. We're going to have a recreation therapist in there. We've just added a clinical director there who comes from Long Creek. If you look at the change in juvenile corrections, we went from a custody operation to a treatment operation. So the focus in the Mental Health Unit is going to be a treatment focus, not a custody focus.

SO WHY DO PEOPLE GO INTO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NOW? IS IT DISCIPLINARY? When the inmate is a threat to himself or others, he can be placed in segregation. It could be a number of reasons why that occurs. A disciplinary report doesn't get you into segregation unless we can prove that you are in fact a threat to yourself or others. And that could be a very temporary placement.

SO YOU'RE NOT USING SEGREGATION AS REGULAR DISCIPLINE? No. That's exactly what we got away from.

PREVIOUSLY THERE WAS SOMETHING CALLED "ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION"? They had a high-custody classification. We've done away with that.

YOU'RE TRYING TO KEEP PEOPLE THERE IN SUCH SHORT STAYS THAT THEY'RE NOT GOING TO BE DRIVEN CRAZY BY SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, I TAKE IT? That's our hope. And we're trying to put some program pieces into segregation. If the inmate's behavior is relatively good, we now give them TVs, radios, commissary privileges. It's not disciplinary. If you've got a serious assault where somebody's injured and you've got a weapon involved, you're probably going to do your disciplinary time down there. There will be many more factors to be investigated to make a decision on when and if we can bring them back.

HOW ABOUT CELL EXTRACTIONS IN THE SMU? THE LAST TIME I CHECKED A MONTH OR TWO AGO THERE HADN'T BEEN ONE IN FIVE WEEKS. We've got one particular inmate that's been real difficult to manage. He continues to do things to harm himself. From recent memory, that's really the only one that we've had to take out of his cell.

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