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Reforming solitary confinement: the development, implementation, and processes of a restrictive housing step down reentry program in Oregon

Over the past decade there have been numerous and impassioned calls to reform the practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. This article examines the development, implementation, and processes of a restrictive housing reentry program in the Oregon Department of Corrections. It draws on data from official documents, site observations, and interviews with 12 prison officials and 38 prisoners. The Step Up Program (SUP) seeks to improve the living conditions in restrictive housing over business-as-usual, alleviate physiological and psychological harms of solitary confinement, and use rehabilitative programming to increase success upon returning to the general prison population or community.

The impetus to change the culture and structure of restrictive housing was primarily the result of internal administrative reform. Prisoners assigned at random to housing assignments offered accounts of their daily activities suggesting that the SUP provides more time out-of-cell and greater access to other services and activities. Program participants preferred the living conditions in the SUP because they had more opportunities for social interaction and incentives for compliant behavior. However, views on the value of programming among respondents were mixed.

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