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Why we need solitary confinement in corrections

Without tools like segregation and security housing units, we will end up spawning situations where inmates may be forced to take matters into their own hands and staff may have to resort to using increasingly higher degrees of force


Last January, President Obama move forward with his plan to ban solitary confinement on all juvenile offenders in the federal prison system. In addition, he outlined a series of executive actions that prohibited federal corrections officials from punishing low-level infractions with solitary confinement and also placing a limit of 60 days max in solitary confinement for first offenses (as opposed to 365 days). 

To some, this looks like a positive move forward in tackling one of the many issues facing the criminal justice system, but, to others, this move may eventually cause more harm than good.

Russ Hamilton — a retired Sergeant for the California Department of Corrections — said, “Taking away solitary confinement, or segregation, is the removal of a tool from corrections for which there is no substitute. These units are the jail of the prison, a measure of last resort to ensure the safety of inmates and staff alike.”  

Wayne Sanderson — a retired Custody Supervisor for State Corrections — said, “The public is being told by activists, like the ACLU, that in the US prison system the practice of solitary confinement is widespread. The reality is that very few inmates in the US are confined under conditions even remotely approaching the level of seclusion that activists claim, and the vast majority of those inmates, so confined, are placed in restrictive housing situations because they are exceptionally violent, highly disruptive, escape-prone, or mentally ill and are consider a danger to themselves and others.” 

If this is the case, then why is the public being told something totally different? Is there a hidden agenda? 

Wayne believes that those who are pushing their agenda to eliminate solitary confinement/administrative segregation are doing it based on a few extreme circumstances that have been unfairly generalized across the board. 

“A combination of carelessness and bad faith,” Wayne said. “Having uncovered a few (very few) inmates confined under extreme circumstances in one or two places, and having found that California has placed a large number of inmates in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison for reasons that subsequent court scrutiny did not support, the activists, in part, assume that if they can find it anywhere then it must be everywhere. And I believe a few unscrupulous individuals have latched onto this and are attempting to push a nationwide agenda to rectify a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And they know it doesn’t exist in the form, severity and extent that they claim.” 

Unfortunately, most media outlets have sensationalized the stories of the few and have really painted a very bias picture to the public. This picture has now become embedded in the minds of many who have yet to even make their way into a correctional facility. They are basing their knowledge from primitive past practices that are spoon fed to them from the media.

Lieutenant Gary Cornelius — a retired Deputy Sheriff for Fairfax County Virginia — said, “Some are under the false impression that inmates in segregation are chained to walls, or they are being bathed with fire hoses. In fairness, corrections has come along way. In a well-run constitutional facility, segregated inmates’ cases are reviewed, they’re seen by staff and are given medical and mental health care. If they’re on disciplinary segregation, some privileges are taken away because they broke the rules. I respectfully suggest that if one is concerned about inmate segregation, they should take a tour of their local facility and talk to Officers about inmate management.” 

Fearful of Change
The concern for many who work behind the wall is the fear that the public will demand changes that can put the security and safety of their respected facility in jeopardy. The changes that are being implemented are based on a false reality of the prison life. 

Captain Keith Hellwig, author of “No Place Like Home,” believes that the current trend by the federal Government to reduce punitive segregation in correctional facilities is a step in the wrong direction. He said, “It will filter down to state governments, and lead to a loss of control and security. This, in and of itself, will create a danger to the many professionals who work with the inmates and, ultimately, a danger to the inmates themselves.”    

Before changes are implemented, we must ask ourselves, “How will this affect those immediate to the area of change?” It seems like the frontline, those who are most affected, have been ignored. 

Just like they arrest those for doing wrong on the streets, Correctional Professional also have to have a mean of removing a threat so safety and security can be maintained. Eliminating solitary confinement/administrative segregation, with no other solution in play, puts both inmates and staff at risk. Remember, while the public is focused on the one... correctional staff must focus on the many. 

Segregation is a Needed Tool
I would like to close with a quote from Russ Hamilton, retired Sergeant from the California Department of Corrections, “I think without tools like segregation and security housing units, we will end up spawning situations where inmates may be forced to take matters into their own hands and staff may have to resort to using increasingly higher degrees of force, including lethal force options.”

Just thought I would give you something to think about. 

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