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Advocates of prison reform are sure to be happy about this news:

NEW YORK — The Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a comprehensive review of the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, including the fiscal and public safety consequences of the controversial practice, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said on Monday.

A spokesman from the bureau confirmed that the National Institute of Corrections plans to retain an independent auditor “in the weeks ahead” to examine the use of solitary confinement, which also is known as restrictive housing.

“We are confident that the audit will yield valuable information to improve our operations, and we thank Senator Durbin for his continued interest in this very important topic,” spokesman Chris Burke said in a statement. - Bangor Daily News, 2/5/13

Last year, Senator Durbin chaired a hearing on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement.  Durbin highly advocated reforming the way prisoners are treated and the use of solitary confinement in prisons and detention centers around the country:

“The announcement by the Bureau of Prisons that it will conduct its first-ever review of its use of solitary confinement is an important development,” Durbin said. “The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore. I am confident the Bureau of Prisons will permit a thorough and independent review and look forward to seeing the results when they are made public. We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation.” - eNews Park Forest, 2/5/13
According to the eNews Park Forest, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reportedly reduced its segregated population by nearly 25 percent since Durbin's hearing.  The Bureau has also closed two of its Special Management Units due to the reduction in the segregated population.  The National Institute of Corrections will be conducting the assessment and has helped prisons in states like Mississippi and Colorado reduce it's segregated population by more than 75% resulting in a 50% reduction in prison violence.  This has been a serious issue for Durbin because in his home state of Illinois, 56% of inmates have spent time in segregated housing:
During the last several decades, the United States has witnessed an explosion in the use of solitary confinement for federal, state, and local prisoners and detainees. Today, more than 2.3 million people are imprisoned in the United States. This is – by far – the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world.

Solitary confinement – also called supermax housing, segregation and isolation – is designed to separate inmates from each other and isolate them for a variety of reasons. Originally used to segregate the most violent prisoners in the nation’s supermax prisons, the practice is being used more frequently, including for the supposed protection of vulnerable groups like immigrants, children and LGBT inmates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States holds over 80,000 people in some kind of restricted housing. - eNews Park Forest, 2/5/13

Maine is another state that has cut back on their use of solitary confinement.  The federal prison system has over 215,000 inmates incarcerated.  Several state and national studies have shown that when inmates are are confined to small cells without windows or access to the outside world or adequate programs and treatment, inmates develop severe psychological effects that lead to mental illness, self-mutilation and suicide:
“The United States holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation in the world, and the dramatic expansion of solitary confinement is a human rights issue we can’t ignore,” said Durbin, We can no longer slam the cell door and turn our backs on the impact our policies have on the mental state of the incarcerated and ultimately on the safety of our nation,” Durbin said Monday. - Bangor Daily News, 2/5/13
These same studies also show that solitary confinement also increases prison violence:
In addition to the impact solitary confinement has on inmates, there are also public safety and fiscal concerns with the practice. The bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons found that the use of solitary confinement often increased acts of violence in prions. Further, it is extremely costly to house a prisoner in solitary confinement. In Tamms, Illinois’ only supermax prison, it cost more than $60,000 a year to house a prisoner in solitary confinement while it was operational, compared to an average of $22,000 for inmates in other prisons. - eNews Park Forest, 2/5/13
I really liked this quote from this op-ed piece about Durbin's work on prison reform:

I wonder just how much arm-twisting Dick Durbin had to engage in to get the prison bureau to agree to this study. But Durbin's reputation is that, when he has the sniff of his target in his nostrils, he can be short, sharp and unforgiving.

That this study might actually get started and finished is good news. But taking a generation to reach the start-point should trigger a healthy dose of skepticism. From testimony given at Durbin's Senate hearing, we get a strong sense that solitary confinement is not a top priority for the current head of the prisons bureau, Charles Samuels. At the hearing, he was unable to tell the senators how many inmates were currently in solitary in the Federal prison system. While Samuels offered no figures for the total number of prisoners the BOP holds in isolation, in 2010 a BOP spokesperson told CNN that there were more than 11,000 inmates in "special housing"--a common euphemism--out of a total prison population, at that time, of about 210,000, it was reported by Mother Jones. Since that time, the prison population has continued to grow.

Samuels says solitary is "a deterrent and it works," before admitting his agency has never studied the issue. Yet the federal prison system is a serious offender when it comes to the use and abuse of solitary. - OpEd News, 2/5/13

I for one have long been an advocate for reforming our prison system.  The way it's run now, all it does is cause criminals to become more violent and only creating repeat offenders.  The prison system is meant to reform and rehabilitate those who broke the law and I applaud Durbin's work in pushing for reducing solitary confinement.  If you would like to donate to Durbin's re-election campaign, please do so here:

Originally posted to pdc on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 09:46 PM PST.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, Madison County, Illinois Kossacks, and Land of Lincoln Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Funny Stuff at

    by poopdogcomedy on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 09:46:18 PM PST

  •  It's amazing that solitary confinement has not (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sceptical observer, Nulwee

    been studied.  But it is good to have it studied with some oversight by Sen. Durbin, a good man for this job.  On the serface it seems like it could help someone cool down, but the excessive use seems inhumane and unneeded, but who can know without study.  I am sure that there are some people who are so disruptive that they need to be segregated from the general community, but again, for how long and what happens then.  Study is needed.

  •  I applaud his effort. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, importer

    I remember that Jim Webb wanted to set up a commission on prison reform. No idea what happened but I wouldn't be surprised if the idea fell on deaf ears.

    Prisons in this country have been a disaster for decades.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 09:57:03 PM PST

    •  Our Senators and former defense (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sceptical observer

      people are making way too much money on prisons to want to change things.  The prison-industrial complex may be more profitable than the military-defense complex at some point.  Slave labor to do telemarketing and every other kind of mindless drudgery they can think up to "employ" prisoners.  

      Wackenhut's website was a veritable who's who of defense before they changed it.  

      Mandatory minimums and three-strike laws have filled our prisons.  

      We should be opting out of prison for non-violent or victimless offenses, like smoking pot.  Nearly half the people in prison are there because of some drug offense.  We now spend more money housing prisoners than educating our kids - that makes great sense.  

  •  Durbin isn't a perfect Dem (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JGibson, Nulwee

    But right now I see him as a much better candidate for Majority Leader than the current moderate who holds the chair.

    Republicans are far more socialist than Democrats. Just because they want to redistribute the wealth upwards does not make it any better.

    by MrAnon on Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 10:06:00 PM PST

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