In January, President Obama put major limits on solitary confinement in federal prisons. But New Jersey is still lagging far behind.
The Governor currently has a bill on his desk, the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, that could change that. The Senate bill, S51, passed by a vote of 23-16 on June 23, 2016. The bill passed the Assembly, A547, on October 20 with a vote of 45-26-1.
This bill, S51/A547, would dramatically limit when New Jersey subjects people to extreme isolation for long periods of time and create a total ban on the practice for vulnerable populations who suffer most from it.
This bill would:
- Require facilities to use isolated confinement only as a last resort, when less restrictive treatment would pose too much of a risk;
- Prohibit isolation for more than 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a 60-day period;
- Ban isolation for members of vulnerable populations, such as people who have mental illnesses, pregnant women, and people with various disabilities;
- Require medical clearance and daily evaluations when a prisoner is held in isolation.
Long-term isolated confinement poses extremely harmful effects on any prisoner, but especially members of vulnerable populations, such as people with mental illnesses, pregnant women, people under 21, and people over 55. It can worsen existing mental illnesses and inflict psychological trauma where it didn’t exist before. Alternatives to isolated confinement have proven to be successful, because they don’t come with the socially destructive side effects that result from psychological torture.
Most prisoners will re-enter society once they’ve served their time. Once they emerge, who do we want those people to be? Most likely your answer does not include someone whose time in isolated confinement has left them more psychologically wounded and socially ill-equipped than before they entered prison or jail.
This bill won’t eliminate isolated confinement if it’s deemed necessary. But it will put much-needed protections in place to make sure that its use is humane and rare.
Read our Criminal Justice Task Force’s Solitary Confinement Statement.
Laurice Grae-Hauck is the Outreach Coordinator of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ.