President Barack Obama keeps the executive actions coming. This time it deals with wanting the prison system to curb its use on solitary confinement.
Earlier this week President Barack Obama announced that he would be furthering his promise to reform the criminal justice system by curbing the practice of solitary confinement through the use of multiple executive actions. How does his administration plan on doing this and are these changes really that substantial? Let’s take a look with our 10-Point Expert.
Point 1: In an op-ed piece appearing in the Washington Post yesterday, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile defenders (and deter the general use of the practice) with a series of executive actions.
Point 2: For those who have never seen a prison movie in their life, solitary confinement is a practice in which inmates are put into a cell by themselves with little to no human contact for an extended period of time. Here’s a scene from The Shawshank Redemption to get a better idea of what solitary confinement could potentially do to a prisoner.
Point 3: For years, many experts sounded off on the practice as having irreversible effects on mental health with the UN citing that more than 15 days of solitary confinement can be considered as torture under international standards!
Point 4: According to President Obama’s executive actions, the longest a prisoner can be punished with a first offense is 60 days, in contrast to the 1-year length that formally was the max! Yet the biggest change comes in completely eliminating the practice of solitary confinement with juvenile prisoners.
Point 5: While traditionally solitary confinement is used as a disciplinary measure for wrongdoing in prison, at times it can also be used to protect specific prisoners from the general prison population. Because of this, the use of solitary confinement in the US prison system is more common than most people think. In fact, according to an ASCA-Liman 2014 National Survey as many as 10,000 prisoners were put into solitary confinement last year alone!
Point 6: Because of the various aspects of solitary confinement – such as its use in separating individuals from the regular prison population – the executive actions go as far as to help inmates with serious mental illness be relocated to “secure mental health units” and those placed in protective custody to be put into “reintegration housing units.” In the past, these individuals traditionally would be placed into solitary confinement for their own protection.
Point 7: By the nature of an executive action, these steps can only be implemented at the federal level (ie only federal prisons will see these actions implemented). However, if you consider that the majority of the prison population in the US is currently held in federal facilities, then President Obama’s executive actions become much more significant.
Point 8: Essentially what President Obama’s executive actions try to accomplish is to change how the US prison system uses solitary confinement. By deterring its practice so that it’s used only in certain extreme circumstances, the Obama administration hopes that it will continue to press correctional facilities to focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Point 9: These actions on solitary confinement by the Obama administration stem from a promise made six months ago in that they would push for more reforms to the criminal justice system. Many proponents of these reforms on the criminal justice system have applauded President Obama for the changes thus far.
Point 10: Due to the nature of more prisoners being held in federal systems, the executive actions that President Obama has laid out regarding solitary confinement is incredibly impressive. Advocates for prison reform are even saying these executive actions could have a profound effect on the US prison system for years to come, if they are properly implemented.
(Photo Credit: SolitaryWatch.com, White House Twitter)