Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; Kamala Harris, D-California; Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, recently introduced legislation to reduce the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ use of solitary confinement and improve conditions for inmates separated from the general prison population.
The Solitary Confinement Reform Act limits solitary confinement to the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions possible, because the overuse of solitary confinement threatens public safety, strains prison budgets and violates fundamental human rights. The bill also improves access to mental health services for BOP prisoners in solitary confinement and provides resources to state and local jurisdictions to assist them in reforming their own confinement practices. Additionally, the bill protects inmates’ civil rights through the creation of a Civil Rights Ombudsman position and bans the practice of placing LGBTQ inmates in solitary confinement as a means of protection.
“Our criminal justice system should be about justice and rehabilitation, not just punishment,” said Coons. “Solitary confinement should be a tool of last resort, yet the use of solitary confinement by the federal prison system has increased in recent months, even when evidence clearly demonstrates that this practice frequently fails to achieve its intended goal of improving prison safety or stopping criminal behavior. In fact, widespread overuse of solitary confinement is causing lasting, irreparable harm to many inmates subjected to it. I’m proud to join with Sen. Durbin in reintroducing this legislation, which is an important step in our efforts to reform our criminal justice system and reduce recidivism.”
Coons, Durbin, Booker, Harris, Leahy and Warren also pressed Acting Bureau of Prisons Director Hugh Hurwitz to take measures to address the significant increase in the use of restricted housing in the federal prison system. Unfortunately, the once-encouraging decline in the restricted housing population has reversed over the last several months. As of Feb. 27, 7.8 percent of the total federal prison population was housed in restricted housing — including 10,581 inmates in special housing units, 892 inmates in special management units and 398 inmates in the ADX supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.
Full text of the letter is available at bit.ly/2NOOru6.