Courtesy of Marissa Blum

Last month, the Liman Center at Yale Law and the Correctional Leader Association released a report on solitary confinement, tracking the number of people held in solitary confinement, the duration of these holdings and the demographics of those held. 

Experts say that the report, entitled Time-In-Cell 2019: A Snapshot of Restrictive Housing, has helped raise awareness of the issue across the United States. Some of the most significant problems brought to light in the 2019-20 report are the large numbers of individuals still being held in restrictive housing, the racial disparities within this system and the question of how to approach the treatment of individuals with “serious mental illness.”

“[This report is the] only longitudinal database in the country that maps the use of solitary confinement in the prison systems around the United States,” said Judith Resnik, an Arthur Liman Professor of Law at the Yale Law School.

According to Resnik, there are 1.4 million individuals incarcerated as of last summer, and between 55,000 and 62,500 prisoners “were held on average in cells 22 hours or more and some 3,000 were held for years or more and some for decades.”

The systematic problem of racial discrimination also plays a role in the problem of restrictive housing, Resnik said.

According to Resnik, the “force and probation and parole and incarceration” is a system that has greatly harmed people of color.

Leann Bertsch, the Restrictive Housing Committee chair and former CLA director, said that there is a tendency in the criminal justice system to over rely on “punitive” measures.

Despite this tendency, many supporters of the current system have expressed “skepticism that restrictive housing was harmful,” Bertsch said.

The report, created through this partnership between the CLA and the Liman Center, has helped change these viewpoints and will serve as a guide for future work and help foster general awareness of the issue, according to Bertsch. In addition, Bersch said that the action of writing the report helps efforts to curb the use of solitary confinement through the spread of information and data to corrections officers throughout the country.

Allie Perry, who is part of a Sterling Committee at Stop Solitary CT — a movement with the goal of ending solitary confinement in Connecticut — expressed that this report has very positive effects on aiding the passage of legislation.

“It really helps us to have the data and so that’s where the kind of report the Liman Center has produced is helpful,” Perry said.

Although the Liman Center’s report is a “snapshot” of the current state of the U.S. prison system and its restrictive housing programs, Perry and Bertsch agreed that there is a general growing awareness of the negative effects of solitary confinement and that more policies are being enacted to restrict it.

The report details how 29 states, including Connecticut, have had legislation enacted or considered in order to reduce the use of restrictive housing. Four jurisdictions — Colorado, Delaware, North Dakota and Vermont — no longer house individuals under the system that the report defines as restrictive housing.

Other state legislatures — New Jersey, Minnesota, Montana and New Mexico — have also already enacted laws to curb the use of the detrimental system. According to Wayne Choinski, the Project Manager at the CLA who served as a conduit between the Liman center and CLA members, there has already been “significant progress in reducing the number of folks that are in a restrictive housing environment as well as changing the kind of the nature of that environment.”

This is the fourth report on restrictive housing that the Liman Center has released.

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu

Alvaro Perpuly | alvaro.perpuly@yale.edu