Prisoners in Western Australia petition to reduce the use of solitary confinement

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by the Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the work produced by this team.

Solitary confinement inside a Washington prison created malignant “psychological stress” on Kevin Light-Roth, he said from a video monitor at the Washington Corrections Center in Chilton, Mason County.

“Every social interaction made me feel uncomfortable. Eye contact caused tension. I was always on edge, and I was afraid of myself,” Light Ruth, 39, told state lawmakers in a statement. Listen this week. He said he spent 10 years in solitary confinement during his imprisonment.

There are no government restrictions on the use of restricted housing in adult facilities operated by the Department of Corrections, though Research Proof of prolonged solitary confinement, where the imprisoned person is alone 20 hours at least per day, can lead to Psychological deterioration And Emotional meltdowns.

While advocates say solitary confinement can negatively affect anyone’s mental health, they add that people with serious pre-existing mental illnesses face disproportionate psychological effects, exacerbating their mental conditions. People with serious mental illness are often held in solitary confinement for a longer period because sometimes what is needed for their release – following certain rules – cannot be achieved because of their condition or disability.

A new bill working its way through the legislature would restrict when prisons can use solitary confinement, but some prison staff say the use of solitary confinement is necessary to protect their safety.

House of Representatives 1087sponsored by the state Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Seattle, would limit the use of solitary confinement to emergency use, medical isolation, or to people who choose to go voluntarily (for protection, for example), with requirements for each of those situations. No person shall be held in solitary confinement for emergency purposes for more than 24 hours and for more than 72 hours in a 30-day period. No one shall be held in prolonged solitary confinement for more than 15 days or more than 45 days in one year. If someone is sent for medical isolation, a qualified medical provider can determine the additional time necessary.

The legislation also includes requirements for activities, living space conditions, and the ability to communicate by phone.

“Everyone agrees on the detrimental effects of solitary confinement not only on the person who is in solitary confinement, but also on the mental health effects it has on the staff” who have to administer it in that setting, Peterson said in an interview.

He said he hopes to create a system where people who are incarcerated can get the mental health support they need, so when they return to communities, they can adjust more easily.

The action follows years of legislative efforts that the DOC has argued against, saying the agency regularly improves unilateral conditions and already meets most demands. still A report released last month by Disability Rights Washington It found that some people had spent years in solitary confinement to their mental detriment and that the DOC often failed to move them to a less restrictive place.

While the DOC said it was Abolish the use of solitary confinement as punishment in 2021However, the agency still uses forms of restricted housing for other purposes: administrative separation, which is supposed to be a short-term stay to allow time to investigate an alleged wrongdoing, and maximum confinement, which is indefinite solitary confinement.

Someone can also be put in Administrative separation After being found guilty of breaking a rule and waiting to be returned to their unit or waiting for a van to take them elsewhere. Infractions can include gang-related fighting or possession of tattoo equipment.

On average, more than 400 of the approximately 12,000 people in state prisons are in administrative separation, the via The report said. And while the total prison population has fallen by 27% since 2018, the DOC’s use of administrative segregation has fallen by just 3% over the same period.

Some people, while not technically in custodial units, may still be “locked up in solitary confinement-like conditions.” The report said. For example, people who have expressed an intent to harm themselves are taken to a nearby observation area, or suicide watch, “which aims to help treat the person and get them to the living unit as quickly as possible,” but often means people spend days or Weeks in gowns specifically designed to make it difficult to injure themselves, eat meals without utensils, and have lights on constantly while highly visible to staff.

“I don’t know what environment would be best for someone expressing suicidal thoughts,” Rachel Sievers, an attorney with Disabilities Rights Washington, said in an interview, but “I would say that moving someone into a room with suicidal smoke and suicidal smoke is not likely to make them any better.” “.

Sievers said a person with mental health challenges could be better served by increasing access to mental health counselors and programs.

After spending some time in solitary confinement, Light Roth, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2004 at the age of 19, said, “It will take months for me to reset myself psychologically, to feel mentally fit again.” his case He reached the state supreme court on an appeal that centered on whether the court should consider his youth when imposing a sentence of nearly 28 years.

In the Security Council Committee on Justice and Community Return he heard On Tuesday, several prison staff responded against incarcerated people testifying, citing safety concerns for themselves as the main reason for maintaining solitary confinement.

Mental health resources from The Seattle Times

Corrections officer Jeffrey Rudd said he was assaulted by Kyle Payment – one of the prisoners who testified – while standing at his desk working on a case plan. Push, he said, came to his desk and punched him above his left eye, causing Rude to crash into a wall and bounce off it.

“I have suffered a severe concussion and have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury,” Rudd said at the hearing, arguing that the bill would create an unsafe environment for employees.

Dafa, 36, who has been incarcerated for 23 years, testified that he spent 21 of those years in solitary confinement. He said that the pediatrician refused to treat his serious mental illness and that “solitary confinement worsened my condition.”

Shaun Murphy, DOC Deputy Secretary of Corrective OperationsMental health units at some facilities “have a bit of a waiting list sometimes,” he said, adding that “there are strains of resources that are really causing some challenges, not insurmountable challenges.”

He said the DOC is working creatively with the funding it has received to “provide mental health services, medical services, and extracellular time within the settings in which it is located.”

The DOC declined to comment further on the legislation and pointed to its website describing making “improvements that significantly reduce restricted housing use.”

Brenda West“The rest of the bill is either in policy and practice or completely impractical,” said the vice president of Teamsters 117, which represents prison staff.

New YorkAnd Connecticut And New Jersey It recently passed similar legislation to limit the use of solitary confinement.

the justice and return The bill is expected to be debated again on January 19, and will go to the House Appropriations Committee to review the required financial resources. the State Senate Consider a relevant copy of the legislation.

“It will not be easy to implement the policy,” Peterson said. “But I think we, as a legislature, need to make a statement about policy that this is the right thing to do. This is the humane thing to do.”

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