Bureau of prisons agrees to solitary confinement review

Civil liberties groups hope the review will help curtail the widespread practice of isolating prisoners

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 5, 2013 10:33PM (EST)

    (Shutterstock/ Pattie Steib)
(Shutterstock/ Pattie Steib)

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced Monday that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has agreed to a full review of the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. An independent auditor will carry out the review on the recommendations of a congressional hearing held last year by a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee chaired by Durbin.

“The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world, and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore,” noted Durbin. As Reuters noted, prisoners in isolation often are confined to small cells without windows for up to 23 hours a day. "[M]ore than half of all suicides committed in prisons occur in solitary confinement," noted Reuters, adding that in Durbin’s state of Illinois, 56 percent of inmates have spent some time in segregated housing.

Solitary Watch, an online project aiming to highlight the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, noted that in 2010, a spokesperson for the BOP said that federal prisons held approximately 11,150 prisoners in some form of segregated “special housing.” "This figure includes the 400 men held in ultra-isolation at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colo., which is currently the target of federal lawsuits claiming conditions there lead to mental illness and suicide, and violate the Constitution," Solitary Watch noted Tuesday.

Civil liberties and human rights groups welcomed the news of the review, hoping that it would lead to a significant curtailing of the isolating of prisoners. "We hope and expect that the review announced today will lead the Bureau to significantly curtail its use of this draconian, inhumane and expensive practice,” David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a statement.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Bureau Of Prisons Dick Durbin Prisons Solitary Confinement U.s. Prisons