Legislation to revise the Central Detention Facility’s solitary confinement policies
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, January 10th, Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D – Ward 3) introduced the “Inmate Segregation Reduction Act of 2017” to revise the Central Detention Facility’s (CDF/DC Jail) policies regarding *solitary confinement. The bill is a re-introduction of a similar piece of legislation introduced in 2015.
“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 inmates more of a danger to the general public than they were prior to imprisonment. For example, evidence suggests that solitary confinement actually exacerbates mental health problems and aggression. 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.
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.
“The impetus of this legislation arose from my experience touring the DC Jail facilities. 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 By employing outdated segregation practices that have proven to be harmful, we may be inadvertently contributing to an undesired outcome.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.
*Note: 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. This has since been reduced to 22 hours by the DC Jail.