Making Washington's prisons safer and more humane

Story Body

Since the 1980s, correctional systems have heavily relied on restrictive housing — also known as disciplinary segregation, isolation or solitary confinement. It was originally intended as a way to manage people who commit violence while incarcerated by restricting movement and privileges.

But in recent years, a growing body of research (such as the 2018 Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on solitary confinement), found excessive use of restrictive housing can harm the physical and mental health of people held in such conditions. The detrimental effects of disciplinary segregation can persist even after release. They can also create more obstacles for incarcerated people as they prepare to re-enter the community, since time in restrictive housing limits access to programs, re-entry preparation and positive social interaction.

Correctional leaders in Washington are aware of this phenomenon and are taking steps to make state prisons safer and more humane. As of Sept. 16, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) stopped using disciplinary segregation agency-wide.

“This is indeed an historic moment in the department,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange said. “This is definitely a key step in becoming a human centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change. The science is clear on this and the science says stop doing it.”

The decision follows an agency approach to gather data to inform decisions whenever possible, and will consider new options to support positive and progressive outcomes.

“Disciplinary segregation has been proven to be ineffective in our state correctional facilities and ending their practice as a form of discipline is the right thing to do,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I’d like to thank Secretary Strange and the entire DOC team for their dedication to improving human-centered operations for incarcerated individuals.”

Read the rest of the story on the governor's Medium page.

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