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Report Calls for the End of Solitary Confinement at Michigan Prisons

The report discussed the effects of solitary on prisoners and their families. It called the practice “dehumanizing” and advocated for serious reform with emphasis on a list of recommendations including redefining the practice, training of guards and staff, and greater family involvement.

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz agreed that it was important to reduce the number of prisoners in solitary, especially those with mental illnesses. Where the two sides disagree is in the total number of prisoners in solitary confinement. The MDOC does not count Level V lock-down, prisoners in mental health restrictive housing, or those in observation cells, so its number is significantly less than CPR’s.

The group’s report states that the mentally ill make up a high percentage of those being housed in solitary confinement. “Despite the perception that these prisoners are the ‘worst of the worst,’” read the report, “most people in solitary confinement are there because of mental illness or because they are ‘nuisance’ prisoners, who repeatedly have low-level violations.”

The report stated that 47% of prisoners in isolation in the MDOC have been there for more than two consecutive years, and 11% for 5 to 20 years. This differs from the international guidelines titled the Mandela Rules, which state “solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and ‘prolonged’ solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.”

Prisoners in solitary are subjected to intensive strip searches, water and food deprivation, and four corner restraint in cells that are like ovens in the summer and freezers in the winter. Consistent communication with loved ones is replaced by near total sensory deprivation. Prisoners are routinely tased or gassed and loss of privileges is the norm.

The report said that solitary confinement not only affects the prisoners, but also the guards and prisoners’ families. Guards who work solitary confinement have a 25% higher risk of suffering major depressive disorder, 50% higher risk of centralized anxiety, 41% of post-traumatic stress disorder, 25% of alcohol abuse, and 9% suicidal tendencies.

It stated that guards in solitary tended to be more hardened, abusive, and demeaning. About half the prisoners’ families said that their loved ones were “hogtied” to a bed for up to 24 consecutive hours. One prisoner reported being hogtied for a whole week without any bathroom breaks.

Many prisoners in solitary have shown a marked increase in weight loss. Jonathan Lancaster died at Alger Correctional Facility in Munising, Michigan in 2019 from severe dehydration and starvation. His family recently signed an out-of-court settlement for $2.6 million.

Physical health has been proven to deteriorate for prisoners in solitary confinement, but families state that their loved ones are denied adequate medical access because guards and staff believe they are “faking it.” Cell conditions are so severe that a number of prisoners have died from heat exhaustion or overexposure.

The report ended with a list of recommendations to help alleviate the devastating effect solitary confinement has on all involved. It called for the complete elimination of prolonged solitary use, banning its use on vulnerable populations, training guards in de-escalation methods as well as caring for mentally ill prisoners, more family involvement and notification for the need for isolation and treatment while in isolation, and more independent oversight of prisons’ isolation use.

“The damage that is done in solitary cannot be undone,” the report concluded. “It cannot be reversed. We need to take action now so that no other mother needs to watch her child suffer.” 


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