The Vera Institute of Justice, using a $2.2 million matching grant from the Justice Department, is working with five state corrections departments on reducing the use of solitary confinement of prisoners, a strategy that is disproportionately employed on young wards.
Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Utah and Virginia were chosen through a competitive process to participate. Their corrections departments will undergo a Vera-led assessment to identify ways in which policy shifts can lower solitary use, and then develop alternative strategies for de-escalating the sort of conflicts that often lead to segregation.
This is the second wave of sites Vera has worked with through its Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, which began in 2015. The first slate included Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, New York City, and Middlesex County, New Jersey.
Among the resources on Vera’s Safe Alternatives website is a decent webinar on alternatives to segregation that focuses on juvenile facilities. Click here to link directly to the webinar, which was also funded by the Justice Department.
The use of solitary confinement has been connected to all kinds of negative psychological impact. The issue of solitary confinement, particularly of young offenders, has garnered attention since 2014, when investigative journalists Trey Bundy and Daffodil Altan exposed the use of solitary at New York City’s Rikers Island. Earlier this year, President Obama took the largely symbolic step of banning solitary for juveniles in the federal prison system (there aren’t any juveniles housed by the Bureau of Prisons).
While the scope of Safe Altneratives includes juvenile and adult facilities operated by corrections departments, a group of advocacy organizations formed a coalition focused on juvenile solitary confinement in April. Stop Solitary for Kids was started with a short- and long-game strategy: roll up victories in helping systems reduce solitary use in juvenile facilities, then eventually mount a constitutional challenge against the practice.