Cheh introduces bill to revise solitary confinement policy in DC Jail

Councilmember Cheh Introduces “Inmate Segregation Reduction Act of 2015”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, December 1st, Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D – Ward 3), Chair of the Committee on Transportation & the Environment, introduced the “Inmate Segregation Reduction Act of 2015” to revise the Central Detention Facility’s (CDF/DC Jail) policies regarding solitary confinement. Solitary confinement often results in an inmate spending an average of 23 hours a day in isolation while contained in a compact cell with severely restricted human interaction.

“While there are certainly a number of circumstances that warrant solitary confinement, we must also recognize and work to minimize the unintended effects that solitary confinement has on inmates –unwanted effects that may actually make an inmate more of a danger to the general public than they were prior to imprisonment. For example, evidence amassed by the Vera Institute of Justice suggests that solitary confinement actually exacerbates mental health problems, can result in an increase in aggressive and anti-social behavior, and increases the risk of recidivism after release.  For these reasons we must look closely at the circumstances that justify placing an inmate in solitary confinement. Tailoring the use of solitary confinement on an individual basis is not only the most humane approach, but will also result in a more favorable outcome for the public,” said Councilmember Cheh.

The “Inmate Segregation Reduction Act” has a number of provisions that revise the solitary confinement practices at the DC Jail. Primarily, it would require the Department of Corrections to use solitary confinement only for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable to ensure the safety of the jail. It increases the out-of-cell time for adult inmates from one hour to two hours for every 24 hour period while providing juvenile inmates with five hours for every 24 hour period. When solitary confinement is employed for disciplinary reasons, the Department would only be able to do so for the most serious of offenses –solitary confinement would no longer be able to be used for minor offenses such as having an untidy cell or engaging in loud or boisterous talk. Under Cheh’s bill, the Department will be required to conduct a mental health assessment of any inmate placed in solitary confinement as well as provide routine follow-up assessments and care. Additionally, there is a reporting mechanism built into the legislation wherein the Department will be required to provide a report to the Council on the use of solitary confinement, as well as a plan to further reduce the use of solitary confinement.

“The impetus of this legislation arose from my experience touring the DC Jail facilities this past summer. Based upon the conditions that I witnessed and the existing body of research, it was apparent to me that we must tailor any use of solitary confinement to the needs of individual inmates while also meeting the purposes of safety and security. Although the criminal justice system obviously has a punitive function, we must also encourage the rehabilitation of inmates prior to their return to society. By employing outdated segregation practices that have proven to be harmful, we may be inadvertently contributing to an undesired outcome.

“Ultimately, this bill provides inmates with more human interaction, provides a mental health screening process, and, most importantly, challenges the DC Jail to consider alternatives to solitary confinement,” said Councilmember Cheh.

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