The State of Colorado is taking steps to restrict the use of solitary confinement for those with a serious mental illness. Colorado Senate Bill 14-064, A Bill for an Act Concerning Restricting the Use of Long-Term Isolated Confinement for Inmates with Serious Mental Illness, has passed through the second regular session reading and would require
the department of corrections to review the status of all offenders held in long-term isolated confinement within 90 days after the effective date of the bill.
According to the bill, if such review concludes that an inmate is suffering from a serious mental illness, the correction facility would be required to move the inmate to a mental health unit, prison hospital or other form of housing that would not include long-term solitary confinement. Further, this bill would require that any inmate would go through a mental evaluation prior to being placed in isolation.
Colorado isn’t the first state revising this long-established and controversial practice of placing inmates in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. In 2013, Massachusetts introduced a Bill S. 1133, An Act Relative to the Appropriate Use of Solitary Confinement, requiring that the decision to place an inmate in segregation be reviewed within 15 days of such placement and at 90 day intervals thereafter and that an inmate shall receive a written notice, a hearing at which inmate has the opportunity to dispute such placement, and a final written decision on the matter.
In California, Senator L. Lee introduced SB Bill 970 that would limit the use of solitary confinement on minors at state and county juvenile correctional facilities. This bill would
prohibit a minor or ward who is detained in, or sentenced to, any juvenile facility or other secure state or local facility from being subject to solitary confinement, unless the minor or ward poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or to the security of the facility, and all other less-restrictive options have been exhausted.
And more recently on May 8, 2014, Rep. Cedric Richmond from 2d District of Louisiana, introduced H.R. 4618, Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2014, intended to develop and implement national standards for the use of solitary confinement in the Nation’s prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities. The recommendations include:
- Limiting the use of segregation to only extreme and specifically defined situations;
- Ensuring that prior to being placed in segregation, an inmate is entitled to a meaningful hearing on the reasons for and duration of the confinement;
- Ensuring that indefinite sentencing of an adult inmate to long-term isolation will not be allowed;
- Ensuring that inmates are afforded a meaningful review of the confinement at least once every 30 days;
- Ensuring that prisoners and juvenile detainees diagnosed with a serious mental illness shall not be held in long-term solitary confinement;
- Limiting the use of solitary for the purpose of protective custody only; and more.
This bill was co-sponsored by 22 other representatives from California, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, D.C, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Texas, and on May 8, 2014 it was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
- S.B. 14-064, 2014 69th Gen. Ass. Sess. (Co. 2014).
- S.B. 1133, 188th Gen. Court of Ma. Sess, (Ma. 2013).
- SB 970, 2013-2014 Reg. Sess. (Ca 2014).
- H.R. 4618, 113th Congr. (2013-2014).
- Press Release, The United States Department of Justice: Office of Public Affairs, Attorney General Holder Criticizes Excessive Use of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles with Mental Illness (May 14, 2014).
- Anthony DiPietro, Prison Reform: New York Strikes Deal to Limit Solitary Confinement, Pace Criminal Justice Center Blog (Feb. 21, 2014).
- M. F. Horn & M. B. Mushlin, Reform Prison Isolation, TimesUnion.com (Oct. 29, 2013).
- Michael B. Mushlin, Watching Herman’s House, PBS: Documentaries with a Point of View (Jul. 8, 2013).
- J.L. Metzner & J. Fellner, Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: a Challenge for Medical Ethics, 38 J. Am. Acad. Psych. L. 104 (2010).
- Jean Casella & James Ridgeway, Solitary Watch Blog: News from a Nation in Lockdown.
- Sharon Shalev, Solitary Confinement.org (2014).
- ACLU Blog: Solitary Confinement.