by Scott Grammer
joint report published in June 2019by Solitary Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, and the Jesuit Social Research Institute/Loyola University New Orleans discusses the use of solitary confinement by the Louisiana prison system. The report, called “Louisiana on Lockdown,” includes statistics and testimony from more than 700 people in solitary in all nine of Louisiana’s prisons.
According to the report, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LADOC) reported in the fall of 2017 that “19 percent of the men in its state prisons—2,709 in all—had been in solitary confinement for more than two weeks. Many had been there for years or even decades.” Another report from 2016 found over 17 percent of the state’s prisoners were in solitary. The report states, “these rates of solitary confinement use were more than double the next highest state’s, and approximately four times the national average. Given that Louisiana also has the second highest incarceration rate in the United States, which leads the world in both incarceration and solitary confinement use, it is clear that Louisiana holds the title of solitary confinement capital of the world.”
The report found that over 77% of the respondents had been in solitary over a year, and 30% for more than five years. The respondents described negative health effects such as “anxiety, panic attacks, depression, hopelessness, sensitivity to light and sound, visual and auditory hallucinations, rage, paranoia, and difficulty interacting with others. Some expressed fear that the damage would be permanent, and they would ‘never be the same again.” More than 25% reported harming themselves while in solitary. More than 43% said they were never allowed to leave their cells, which averaged six feet by nine feet in size. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse were common, both from guards and from other prisoners. Some 79% reported that racial harassment was common.
The report gives a number of recommendations to alleviate this problem, including full review and reclassification of everyone in solitary, while avoiding the use of “risk assessment tools” and class biases. Other recommendations included an overhaul of the LADOC rule book to eliminate solitary as a punishment for all but the most serious and violent offenses; eliminate the use of solitary for all juveniles and those with serious mental illnesses; eliminate the use of solitary as a substitute for protective custody; create “step-down” programs with at least six hours a day out of the cell for those who must be in solitary, and close the “extended lockdown” camps at two correctional facilities.
There are many other recommendations, but perhaps the most logical one would be to stop locking up so many people. The report states that “[a]t the end of 2018, the state of Louisiana incarcerated 32,397 people, including 14,880 in state prison facilities and an additional 17,517 state-sentenced individuals in local jails and transitional work programs. And with 1,052 out of every 100,000 citizens incarcerated, Louisiana had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation (last year, it fell slightly below Oklahoma for the first time in decades), and a rate far higher than the U.S. average of 698 per 100,000.”
Sources: Louisiana on Lockdown: A Report on the Use of Solitary Confinement in Louisiana State Prisons, With Testimony From the People Who Live It
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