Federal prisoners in solitary confinement for long periods- Watchdog

14 July 2017

Federal prisoners, in the US, including those with mental illness, were undergoing solitary confinement for long period in violation of federal policy, according to a new report.

Although the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) stated that it did not practice solitary confinement, the justice department inspector general found inmates, including mentally ill prisoners, housed in single-cell confinement for extended periods and "with limited human contact," the 96-page report said.

The BOP, part of the justice department, did not put a limit on the maximum amount of time that inmates could spend in what was known as "restrictive housing." Inmates, including those with mental illness, might spend years and even decades in these types of cells.

At one prison, investigators found inmates who had been confined to their cells for over 22 hours a day and did not engage in recreation with each other or with other inmates.

"You have no contact, you don't speak to anybody, and it's a form of torture on some level," a psychologist at one prison told the inspector general's investigators, News and Tribune reported.

In one case, a prisoner had been placed in single-cell confinement for about four years and in another case, a mentally ill inmate was placed in restrictive housing for 1,912 consecutive days, or five years. One mentally ill prisoner had served six years.

''This was particularly concerning given that the BOP recognizes that inmates' mental health can deteriorate while in restrictive housing,'' Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the DOJ said.

The DOJ defined restrictive housing as ''any type of detention that includes removal from the general inmate population, whether voluntary or involuntary; placement in a locked room or cell, whether alone or with another inmate; and inability to leave the room or cell for the vast majority of the day, typically 22 hours or more.''

According to the Office of Inspector General (OIG), a watchdog arm of the DOJ, nearly 10,000 federal inmates, or around 7 per cent of the total federal inmate population, were confined to restrictive housing units as of June 2016.

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