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Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives

"Segregated housing, commonly known as solitary confinement, is increasingly being recognized in the United States as a human rights issue. While the precise number of people held in segregated housing on any given day is not known with any certainty, estimates run to more than 80,000 in state and federal prisons-which is surely an undercount as these do not include people held in solitary confinement in jails, military facilities, immigration detention centers, or juvenile justice facilities. Evidence mounts that the practice produces many unwanted and harmful outcomes-for the mental and physical health of those placed in isolation, for the public safety of the communities to which most will return, and for the corrections budgets of jurisdictions that rely on it for facility safety. Yet solitary confinement remains a mainstay of prison management and control in the U.S. largely because many policymakers, corrections officials, and members of the general public still subscribe to some or all of the common misconceptions and misguided justifications addressed in this report." The most common misconceptions are corrected while describing some of the promising alternatives that reduce the use of solitary confinement. The ten misconceptions are: conditions in segregated housing are stark but not inhumane; segregated housing is reserved only for the most violent; segregated housing is used only as a last resort; segregated housing is used only for brief periods of time; the harmful effects of segregated housing are overstated and not well understood; segregated housing helps keep prisons and jails safer; segregated housing deters misbehavior and violence; segregated housing is the only way to protect the vulnerable; safe alternatives to segregated housing are expensive; and incarcerated people are rarely released directly to the community from segregated housing. Also included is a copy of the Washington State Department of Corrections "Prison Sanctioning Guidelines: Violation Categories and Range of Sanction Options" (current as of 5/7/15). The grid shows general and serious violation sanction options for the first offense, second offense, third offense, and the maximum ranges of sanction.