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HRDC Congressional comments on solitary confinement Feb 2014

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Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal,
and Public Safety Consequences



February 25, 2014


“We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.”
― Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending

Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz and Members of the Subcommittee:
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to
protecting the rights of persons incarcerated in prisons, jails and other detention facilities. HRDC
publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly print magazine that reports on issues related to
criminal justice and prisoners’ rights. Since 1990, PLN has extensively covered topics regarding
solitary confinement and isolation units in the U.S. prison system.
HRDC submitted a comprehensive statement for the record of the first Subcommittee hearing on
solitary confinement, held on June 19, 2012, which we incorporate by reference here. We did not
address the financial implications of solitary confinement in our prior statement, as our research
and reporting over the past several decades has found that prison officials are willing to inflict
torturous punishments on prisoners regardless of the expense, even if those punishments, such as
solitary confinement, are unnecessary or even counterproductive.
To address the totality of issues related to solitary confinement, however, this Statement presents
a brief discussion of the financial costs of solitary. Additionally, appended to this Statement are
three articles concerning solitary confinement published in Prison Legal News between October
2012 and February 2014, which we believe are particularly relevant to this topic.
The Financial Costs of Solitary Confinement
Beyond the many documented problems with solitary confinement, including adverse effects on
prisoners’ mental health and increased recidivism rates that endanger public safety, solitary is
much more expensive than housing prisoners in general population units. 1
For example, according to a 2006 study by the Urban Institute, the average cost of
housing a prisoner in the supermax unit at the Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) was more than
twice as high ($149 per day) than the cost of incarcerating a prisoner in general population ($63
per day). 2
The costs are higher because solitary confinement units typically have higher staff-toprisoner ratios, resulting in elevated staffing expenses. According to the Urban Institute study,


“[The] increased cost of the OSP is due, in part, to the fact that it has a staff-to-prisoner ratio 50
percent higher than that of the state’s maximum-security prison.” 3
As noted by the ACLU in its written statement for the June 2012 Subcommittee hearing
on solitary confinement: “[A] 2007 estimate from Arizona put the annual cost of holding a
prisoner in solitary confinement at approximately $50,000 compared to only about $20,000 for
the average prisoner. In Maryland, the average cost of housing a prisoner in the state’s
segregation units is three times greater than in a general population facility; in Ohio it is twice as
high; and in Texas the costs are 45% greater. In Connecticut the cost of solitary is nearly twice as
much as the average daily expenditure per prisoner; and in Illinois it is three times the statewide
average.” [internal footnotes omitted] 4
In California, according to 2010-2011 data, the average annual cost for housing prisoners
in Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs) at Pelican Bay State Prison was $77,740, which was
33% higher than the average general population per-prisoner cost of $58,324. 5 Further, a 2009
report by California’s Office of the Inspector General estimated “the annual correctional staff
cost of a standard ASU bed to be at least $14,600 more than the equivalent general population
bed. For the 8,878 ASU beds statewide, this additional cost equates to nearly $130 million a
year. While ASUs are an important part of prison population management, unnecessary ASU
housing is a waste of taxpayer dollars.” 6
Further, supermax facilities and other prisons with solitary confinement units are more
expensive to build. According to Solitary Watch, 7 the federal Bureau of Prisons’ ADX Florence
facility was constructed at a cost of $60 million, or more than $122,000 per bed; the supermax
Pelican Bay State Prison in California cost $230 million to build, or over $217,000 per bed; and
the Tamms Correctional Center in Illinois was built at a cost of $73 million, or around $146,000
per bed. 8 These costs are significantly higher than the typical cost of constructing mediumsecurity prisons, which is around $65,000 per bed. 9
Therefore, unsurprisingly, closing supermax or solitary confinement units can result in
substantial savings. According to Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher Epps, the 2010
closure of Unit 32 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, a segregation unit, resulted
in annual savings of approximately $5.6 million. 10 And when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
ordered the closure of the Tamms supermax facility in June 2012, he cited estimated savings of
$21.6 million during the current fiscal year and $26.6 million in 2014. 11
Despite the high costs of building and operating supermax prisons and keeping prisoners
in solitary confinement for lengthy periods of time, most states apparently are willing to pay such
expenses due to a lack of political will and capitulation to corrections officials who contend the
systemic use of segregation is necessary to maintain safety and security.


This Statement is submitted on behalf of the
Human Rights Defense Center by:
Executive Director Paul Wright. Mr. Wright founded the Human Rights Defense Center and
serves as the editor of Prison Legal News. He was incarcerated for 17 years in the Washington
State prison system.
Associate Director Alex Friedmann. Mr. Friedmann serves as the managing editor of Prison
Legal News and president of the Private Corrections Institute. He was incarcerated for 10 years
in Tennessee.

Human Rights Defense Center
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
(561) 360-2523

Published in Prison Legal News, October 2012, p.16
Solitary Confinement: Bad for Chimps, Okay for Humans?
by Lance Tapley
Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is a key cosponsor of legislation that, among other
provisions, would outlaw psychologically damaging solitary confinement for more than 500
chimpanzees caged for research in federally supported laboratories. In July 2012 the bill bipartisanly passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on its way to a floor vote.
But the legislation, which also protects gorillas and other ape species if they are used for research,
doesn’t protect the dominant primate species, Homo sapiens. Experts say at least 80,000 prisoners
are in solitary confinement in tiny cells in this country.
Some prisoner-rights advocates think it’s ironic when laws give rights to animals that aren’t
extended to humans. Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright noted that, for example, “there are
existing laws saying how much living space primates should have in captivity.
By contrast, no such laws apply to humans in captivity.”
He concluded: “Sadly, I don’t think most people, at least not in this country, see any connection
between animal and human rights.”
Laurie Jo Reynolds, an anti-solitary-confinement activist in Illinois who also is a strong supporter
of animal rights, said, “Acknowledging that we must stop inflicting solitary confinement on
chimpanzees is also a recognition that we must stop the practice for humans.”
S. 810, the Great Ape Protection Act, “corrects the pain and psychological damage that apes often
experience as a result of needless experiments and solitary confinement,” Senator Collins said in a
recent statement. Repeated requests to her office for her views on human solitary confinement did
not get a response.
But Maine’s First District Democratic Representative Chellie Pingree, who is a cosponsor of a
parallel bill in the House, H.R. 1513, agreed that the damaging effects of solitary confinement
extend to humans: “A growing number of experts describe it as cruel and unusual punishment, and
I agree with them.”
Michael Michaud, Maine’s Second District congressman, is also a H.R. 1513 cosponsor. In
repeated attempts, he could not be reached on the question of whether human solitary confinement
should also be banned.
A ban or restrictions on prisoner isolation, however, may soon be debated in Congress. In June
2012, Senator Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee

on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, presided over the first-ever congressional
hearing on solitary confinement. He’s preparing legislation to reform its use.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said he refers to the
damaging effects of solitary confinement on humans in his speeches in support of S. 810, but
banning isolation of chimpanzees was “really not the impetus” for the legislation.
He said forbidding the invasive experiments chimps are subject to is a more important motivation
behind the bill. These include, as the bill’s language states, experiments that cause injury, trauma
or death in drug testing, “intentional exposure” to harmful substances, and removing body parts.
But S. 810 would also ban “isolation” and “social deprivation” that “may be detrimental to the
health or psychological well-being of a great ape.” The legislation notes that apes are “highly
intelligent and social animals.”
Kathleen Conlee, vice president of the Humane Society, pointed to research appearing in the
Journal of Trauma & Dissociation that shows how chimps subject to laboratory conditions express
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-like symptoms. Isolation is listed as a common stress.
Chimpanzee PTSD symptoms include violence, self-injury, screaming and “highly anxious states”
– symptoms humans often show after long-term solitary confinement.
“Great apes” is a term encompassing gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons and chimpanzees, but
only chimpanzees are currently kept for research, according to the Humane Society. The federal
Institute of Medicine has concluded that most chimp research is unnecessary. Violations of the
Great Ape Protection Act could result in a fine of $10,000 a day for each animal mistreated.
S. 810’s full title is the Great Ape Protection and Cost Saving Act of 2011. Proponents claim it
would save the government $25 million a year by relocating chimpanzees from laboratories to
wildlife sanctuaries, which have freer living conditions. Proponents of ending human solitary
confinement also say there are cost-saving reasons to stop that practice. The cage-like cells of
“supermax” prisons and prison units are so labor-intensive for guards that they cost two times as
much as regular imprisonment, experts say.
Independent Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, like Collins another S. 810 lead cosponsor, was
quoted in a recent Humane Society press release: “We remain the only country besides Gabon to
continue holding these animals in laboratories as possible subjects for invasive research.”
Similarly, the U.S. is the only nation that practices human solitary confinement in large numbers.
Pingree said it’s time to take a careful look at how prisons use solitary confinement: “Perhaps there
are some times when it is important to temporarily isolate a prisoner for his safety or the safety of
other inmates, but using solitary confinement as a routine punishment technique is too harsh.”
She added, “If one of the goals of putting people in prison is to rehabilitate, long-term solitary
confinement doesn’t advance that goal.”
This article was originally published in the Portland Phoenix on August 22, 2012, and is reprinted
with permission.

Published in Prison Legal News, August 2013, p.15
Report: BOP Fails to Monitor Effects, Conditions of Segregated Housing
by Derek Gilna
In May, 2013, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report critical of the
federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) use of segregated housing. The report found that the
percentage of prisoners held in segregated housing, including Special Housing Units (SHUs),
Special Management Units (SMUs) and Administrative Maximum (ADX), had increased 17%
over the past five years from 10,659 to 12,460, while the BOP’s overall population had increased
6% in the same time period.
BOP prisoners held in segregated housing are generally confined to their cells for 23 hours per
day, for indeterminate lengths of time.
The GAO criticized the BOP for failing to consistently manage or implement its regulations
uniformly from institution to institution and for not having adequate controls in place to address
what the GAO termed “document deficiencies.” The BOP was unable to show that it provided
“minimum conditions of confinement and procedural protections” for segregated prisoners, or
that it had implemented adequate computer systems to monitor its compliance with written
procedures for segregated housing.
Human rights activists have long advocated the abolition of most forms of segregation based
upon studies that show prolonged isolation “may have an adverse effect on the overall mental
status of some individuals.” [See, e.g., PLN, Oct. 2012, p.1]. The BOP has acknowledged that it
has no data regarding the psychological effects of such isolation, but stated as of January 2013
that it plans to study segregated housing and is “considering conducting mental health case
reviews for inmates held in SHUs or ADX for more than 12 continuous months.” Additionally,
the BOP began using a new software program to “document conditions of confinement in SHUs
and SMUs.”
The GAO also noted that the BOP, although claiming that segregated housing enhances the
protection of prisoners, staff and the general public, “cannot determine the extent to which
segregated housing achieves its stated purpose.” SHUs are generally used for shorter-term stays
for disciplinary or administrative reasons, SMUs are often used to transition prisoners to a lowerlevel security and ADX units provide the highest level of security for allegedly more dangerous
The GAO made several recommendations for the correction of the problems it identified in its
report, including “(1) develop ADX-specific monitoring requirements; (2) develop a plan that
clarifies how BOP will address documentation concerns GAO identified, through the new
software program; (3) ensure that any current study to assess segregated housing also includes
reviews of its impact on institutional safety; and (4) assess the impact of long-term segregation.”
What stands out in the report is the lack of apparent concern on the part of the BOP – and by
extension the Justice Department, Attorney General and the executive branch of the federal
government – for the more than 12,400 federal prisoners who are confined in segregation. In

an era where many states, including Illinois and Maine among others, are phasing out segregated
housing, the BOP has increased the number of prisoners held in segregation units.
David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, is especially critical of the use of
segregation. “It’s astonishing that the [BOP] has steadily increased its use of solitary
confinement and other segregated housing while failing to assess whether this expensive and
inhumane practice has any actual effect on prison safety. The Bureau needs to follow the lead of
the growing number of states that have reduced solitary confinement while preserving prison
safety and saving millions of dollars in the process.”
Left unaddressed by the GAO report is the incalculable psychological damage being inflicted on
BOP prisoners held in segregation, and the human and financial costs stemming from their
confinement in segregated housing.
Sources: “Improvements Needed in Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring and Evaluation of Impact of
Segregated Housing,” Government Accountability Office (May 1, 2013);

Published in Prison Legal News, Feb. 2014, p.48
Solitary Confinement’s Invisible Scars
I spent more than five years of my sentence in “the box,” for trivial violations. It’s time we saw
this casual abuse for what it is: torture.
by Five Oman Mualimm-ak
As kids, many of us imagine having superpowers. An avid comic book reader, I often imagined
being invisible. I never thought I would actually experience it, but I did.
It wasn’t in a parallel universe – although it often felt that way – but right here in the Empire
State, my home. While serving time in New York’s prisons, I spent 2,054 days in solitary and
other forms of isolated confinement, out of sight and invisible to other human beings – and
eventually, even to myself.
After only a short time in solitary, I felt all of my senses begin to diminish. There was nothing to
see but gray walls. In New York’s so-called special housing units, or SHUs, most cells have
solid steel doors, and many do not have windows. You cannot even tape up pictures or
photographs; they must be kept in an envelope. To fight the blankness, I counted bricks and
measured the walls. I stared obsessively at the bolts on the door to my cell.
There was nothing to hear except empty, echoing voices from other parts of the prison. I was so
lonely that I hallucinated words coming out of the wind. They sounded like whispers. Sometimes
I smelled the paint on the wall, but more often I just smelled myself, revolted by my own scent.
There was no touch. My food was pushed through a slot. Doors were activated by buzzers, even
the one that led to a literal cage directly outside of my cell for one hour per day of “recreation.”
Even time had no meaning in the SHU. The lights were kept on for 24 hours. I often found
myself wondering if an event I was recollecting had happened that morning or days before. I
talked to myself. I began to get scared that the guards would come in and kill me and leave me
hanging in the cell. Who would know if something happened to me? Just as I was invisible, so
was the space I inhabited.
The very essence of life, I came to learn during those seemingly endless days, is human contact,
and the affirmation of existence that comes with it. Losing that contact, you lose your sense of
identity. You become nothing.
Everyone knows that prison is supposed to take away your freedom. But solitary doesn’t just
confine your body; it kills your soul.
Yet neither a judge nor a jury of my peers handed down this sentence to me. Each of the
tormented 23 hours per day that I spent in a bathroom-sized room, without any contact with the
outside world, was determined by prison staff.
Anyone lacking familiarity with our state prison system would probably guess I must have been
a pretty scary, out-of-control prisoner. But I never committed one act of violence during my

entire sentence. Instead, a series of “tickets,” or disciplinary write-ups for prison rule violations,
were punished with a total of more than five years in “the box.”
In New York, guards give out tickets like penny candy. During my nine years in prison I
received an endless stream of tickets, each one more absurd than the last. When I tried to use
artwork to stay sane, I was ticketed for having too many pencils. Another time, I had too many
postage stamps.
One day I ate an entire apple – including the core – because I was starving for lack of nutrition. I
received a ticket for eating the core since apple seeds contain arsenic, as spelled out in the prison
handbook. The next time I received an apple, fearful of another ticket, I simply left it on the tray.
I received a ticket for “refusing to eat.”
For the five years I spent in the box, I received insulin shots for my diabetes by extending my
arm through the food slot in the cell’s door (“therapy” for prisoners with mental illness is often
conducted this way, as well). One day, the person who gave me the shot yanked roughly on my
arm through the small opening and I instinctively pulled back. This earned me another ticket for
“refusing medical attention,” adding additional time to my solitary sentence.
My case is far from unusual. A 2012 study by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that
five out of six of the 13,000 SHU sentences handed out each year are for nonviolent
misbehavior, rather than violent acts. This brutal approach to discipline means that New York
isolates its prisoners at rates well above the national average.
On any given day, some 4,300 men, women and children are in isolated confinement in the state,
many for months or years. Those with more serious prison offenses have been held in solitary for
20 years or more.
Using this form of punishment is particularly absurd for minor rule infractions. But in truth, no
one should be subjected to the kind of extreme isolation that is practiced in New York’s prisons
today. I have no doubt that what is going on in prisons all over our state is torture. Many national
and international human rights groups – including UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E.
Méndez – concur. Yet it continues, unseen and largely ignored by the public.
The scars that isolated confinement leaves behind may be invisible, too, but they are no less
painful or permanent than physical scars. Even now that I am out of prison, I suffer major
psychological consequences from those years in isolation.
I know that I have irreparable memory damage. I can hardly sleep. I have a short temper. I
do not like people to touch me. I cannot listen to music or watch television or sports. I am only
beginning to recover my ability to talk on the phone. I no longer feel connected to people.
Even though I am a free man now, I often feel as though I remain invisible, going through the
motions of life. Feeling tormented by a punishment that has ended is a strange and unnerving
anguish. But there are thousands like me, and until New Yorkers choose to bear witness to the souldestroying torture taking place in their own backyards, our suffering, too, will remain invisible.
This article was originally published by The Guardian ( on October 30,
2013; it is reprinted with permission.