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house Bill H.R. 4488

Should a Commission Study Solitary Confinement & Make Recommendations to Reduce its Use?

Argument in favor

Solitary confinement is a cruel and unusual form of punishment that may qualify as torture. It’s currently overused in U.S. prisons, and it’s important for Congress step in to legislate on this issue in the absence of a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

larubia's Opinion
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10/07/2019
Yes, please look into solitary confinement. Please look into mass incarceration in the USA and put an end to the privatization of the prison system !
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Brian's Opinion
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10/07/2019
Yes, solitary confinement has been shown to have a negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners. If we really believe in reform and rehabilitation, then we must stop using solitary confinement on prisoners, especially those who may be eligible for parole at some point. I think this is a cruel practice that does not fit in with purported American values.
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Dawn's Opinion
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10/07/2019
Solitary confinement is a cruel and unusual form of punishment that may qualify as torture. It’s currently overused in U.S. prisons, and it’s important for Congress step in to legislate on this issue in the absence of a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
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Argument opposed

While certainly unpleasant, solitary confinement is needed to help prison staff keep themselves and prisoners safe. Congress shouldn’t waste time and money on funding a committee whose findings likely won’t change policy on the ground.

Terry's Opinion
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10/07/2019
No. Stop coddling violators of a civilized societies rules. You don’t need to treat them inhumanly but show them you don’t want to violate these rules again.
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Carmine's Opinion
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10/07/2019
Inmates continue to perpetrate violence even after they’ve lost their freedom and are living behind prison walls!!! So correction staff face a dual challenge: 1) Provide safety and security to both inmates and fellow staff!!! 2) Implementing programs designed to rehabilitate inmates so that they live as law abiding citizens once they return to society!!! Critics either don’t have experience inside the correctional system, or wrongly assume disciplinary confinement is used arbitrarily!!! Disciplinary confinement is a critical tool for ensuring this stability and safety inside a correctional facility both for other inmates and the staff working there!!! It bears no resemblance to the Hollywood stereotypes that perpetrate a myth of inhumane treatment!!!! Inmates are closely monitored through constant rounds made by correction officers, security staff, prison management, mental-health staff, medical personnel, the inmate grievance coordinator and other staff!!!! They are allowed reading and legal materials!!! In some cases, inmates can participate in limited programs, earn privileges or reduce their time in disciplinary confinement!!! Some are even housed in two man cells!!! They get time to exercise and some with substance abuse problems can participate in treatment programs!!! Make no mistake disciplinary confinement is a punishment for violating the code of conduct inside the prison walls!!! It’s the only mechanism now in place for removing an inmate from the general population for the protection of staff, other inmates or sometimes even the inmate himself!!!
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Bill.W's Opinion
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10/07/2019
This can’t be serious. If a prisoner is acting out, being violent towards others, running a drug ring inside the prison, there must be some sort of serious consequences for their actions. I get so sick of hearing about human rights when it comes to prisoners. Most are there because they did something to strip them of their rights. Now days every time you turn around you are hearing about prisoners rights being violated, you here about politicians wanting to give prisoners the right to vote. They can serve their time under harsh conditions that hopefully will want to make them not go back there. When they are finished serving their time they can petition to have their rights restored. Why don’t Congress spend more time doing things to better our country? To strengthen our country? Instead of digging the hole we are in deeper.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedSeptember 25th, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 4488?

This bill — the Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2019 — would establish a National Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Commission to carry out a comprehensive legal and factual of solitary confinement’s penological, physical, mental, medical, social, fiscal, and economic impacts. The Commission would also be charged with providing the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services with recommended national standards for significantly reducing solitary confinement’s use in correctional facilities. 

In order to develop its recommended national standards, the Commission would consider any standards that have already been developed, or that are being developed simultaneously, and also consult with accreditation organizations responsible for accrediting correctional facilities that have developed, or which are developing, standards related to solitary confinement. 

Following receipt of the Commission’s recommendations, the Attorney General would be required to publish a final rule adopting national standards for reducing solitary confinement’s use in correctional facilities. The rule would immediately apply to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Beginning in the second fiscal year after the rule’s publication, states or local government units not in compliance with the national standards would see a 5% reduction in their federal funding for law enforcement through the Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets Act of 1968.

Impact

Prisoners in solitary confinement; prisons; solitary confinement; Federal Bureau of Prisons; Attorney General; and HHS Secretary.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4488

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require Congress to study and reform solitary confinement

“It is past time that Congress act to study and reform solitary confinement in the United States. This is an issue I have been working on since my time in the Louisiana State Legislature. Solitary confinement is inhumane, psychologically damaging, and unnecessarily expensive to taxpayers. Passage of this bill would advance the national conversation we need on solitary confinement and help improve the treatment of prisoners and juveniles in our prison systems.”

In 2015, Rep. Richmond called solitary confinement a form of “modern torture” that is “inconsistent with our morals and values in America”: 

“We have abused the practice of solitary confinement to the point where it has become modern day torture. Too many prisoners, including the seriously mentally ill and juveniles are locked away for 23 hours a day, often with little to no due process and at a steep cost to the taxpayer. [Instead of being] reserved for the worst of the worst, solitary confinement is too often being overused for 'administrative' reasons to avoid providing treatment for the mentally ill and rehabilitation for those who will return to society."

Original cosponsor Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) adds

“In our country, offenders are to be held responsible for their crimes, but solitary confinement with its numerous negative effects on a human’s well-being and the taxpayer’s wallet, should not be our first resort for punishment. The Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2019 will ensure the finest methods are being utilized in our jails and prisons so that inmates are treated humanely and given the best chance to return to society as healthy, productive, and law-abiding citizens.”

Solitary confinement’s defenders argue that it’s necessary to ensure the safety of prison personnel and other prisoners. At Pelican State Prison in California, prison officials say that solitary is needed to isolate gang leaders from other prisoners.

Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Corrections Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), defended solitary confinement in a 2012 New York Post op-ed

“Inmates continue to perpetrate violence even after they’ve lost their freedom and are living behind prison walls. So correction staff face a dual challenge: 1) provide safety and security to both inmates and fellow staff, while 2) also implementing programs designed to rehabilitate inmates so that they live as law-abiding citizens once they return to society. Critics… either don’t have experience inside the correctional system, or wrongly assume disciplinary confinement is used arbitrarily… [D]isciplinary confinement… is a critical tool for ensuring this stability and safety inside a correctional facility — both for other inmates and the staff working there… [It] bears no resemblance to the Hollywood stereotypes that perpetrate a myth of inhumane treatment. Inmates are closely monitored through constant rounds made by correction officers, security staff, prison management, mental-health staff, medical personnel, the inmate- grievance coordinator and other staff. They are allowed reading and legal materials. In some cases, inmates can participate in limited programs, earn privileges or reduce their time in disciplinary confinement. Some are even housed in two-man cells. And they get time to exercise; some with substance-abuse problems can participate in treatment programs. Make no mistake — disciplinary confinement is a punishment for violating the code of conduct inside the prison walls. It’s the only mechanism now in place for removing an inmate from the general population for the protection of staff, other inmates or sometimes even the inmate himself.”

This legislation has one cosponsor, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had 40 Democratic cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote. When Rep. Richmond introduced this bill in the 113th Congress in 2014, it was supported by Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.


Of NoteIn 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) census showed 81,622 people in “restricted housing,” also known as solitary confinement, in state and federal prisons. In recent years, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and the Liman Center at Yale Law School have worked together to gather more accurate, up-to-date information. In an October 2018 report, the ASCA and Liman Center counted 61,000 people in solitary — a 7,000 person decrease from its 2016 report of 68,000.

In 2014, Damon Thibodeaux, who DNA testing exonerated for his 1997 conviction for murder and sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his 15 years of solitary confinement on Angola Prison’s death row: 

"I spent my years at Angola, while my lawyers fought to prove my innocence, in a cell that measured about 8 feet by 10 feet. It had three solid walls all painted white, a cell door, a sink, a toilet, a desk and seat attached to a wall, and an iron bunk with a thin mattress. These four walls are your life. Being in that environment for 23 hours a day will slowly kill you… Humans cannot survive without food and water. They can't survive without sleep. But they also can't survive without hope. Years on end in solitary, particularly on death row, will drain that hope from anyone. Because in solitary, there's nothing to live for.”

Gabriel Reyes, one of a group of Pelican Bay State Prison inmates (including some in solitary confinement for as many as 28 years) is pursuing a class action against the state of California over its use of solitary confinement in Ashker v. Brown, called solitary confinement a “living tomb” in 2014: 

“Unless you have lived it, you cannot imagine what it feels like to be by yourself, between four cold walls, with little concept of time, no one to confide in, and only a pillow for comfort - for years on end. It is a living tomb.”

Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman punishment, has stated that spending more than fifteen days in solitary confinement can lead to permanent harmful psychological effects. He’s also said that these effects may amount to torture.

In January 2016, President Barack Obama announced his decision to ban solitary confinement for youthful offenders and expand treatment for the mentally ill behind bars in a Washington Post op-ed. 


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / StephanHoerold)

AKA

Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2019

Official Title

To develop and implement national standards for the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities, and for other purposes.

    Yes, please look into solitary confinement. Please look into mass incarceration in the USA and put an end to the privatization of the prison system !
    Like (67)
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    Share
    No. Stop coddling violators of a civilized societies rules. You don’t need to treat them inhumanly but show them you don’t want to violate these rules again.
    Like (13)
    Follow
    Share
    Yes, solitary confinement has been shown to have a negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners. If we really believe in reform and rehabilitation, then we must stop using solitary confinement on prisoners, especially those who may be eligible for parole at some point. I think this is a cruel practice that does not fit in with purported American values.
    Like (47)
    Follow
    Share
    Solitary confinement is a cruel and unusual form of punishment that may qualify as torture. It’s currently overused in U.S. prisons, and it’s important for Congress step in to legislate on this issue in the absence of a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
    Like (28)
    Follow
    Share
    There are two sides to this question which lead me to accept the notions of greatly limiting solitary confinement while still using it as a limited tool for specific problems. First, it is wrong to use solitary confinement as an ongoing punishment- it is more dehumanizing than the cattle farm treatment of, in particular, violent offenders. It has the potential to undermine any rehabilitation efforts and just continue to 'harden' convicts. In particular, "Lifer's" scare the hell out of prison guards since they have nothing to lose and do not necessarily respond to lose-of-privilege threats. The threat of solitary confinement can help here. The problem is that solitary confinement cannot be permitted to be used out of convenience or because a guard has issues with a particular inmate. It is demeaning, dehumanizing and cruel and should only be administered when absolutely necessary.
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    This is fundamentally the question of whether our penal system should be rehabilitative or punitive. The system needs some more basic overhauls so address those inequalities first.
    Like (17)
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    Yes. Get data on this inhumane form of punishment. Temporary isolation to gain control and manage aberrant behavior is a necessary safety measure. But long term solitary confinement serves no rehabilitative purpose. Its inhumane and counterproductive.
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    Yes. Solitary confinement should be understood for the damage it creates-we must strive always for humane conditions for all people.
    Like (14)
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    Wow, something that might actually do some good. Am I dreaming or did this really happen?
    Like (12)
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    Those prisoners put themselves in their and when they don’t comply they must be punished, solitary confinement does that. I fully support this. I have never been arrested or in prison for reasons like this and am proud of the fact. Don’t break the laws and you have nothing to fear.
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    I believe much of the way prisons handle prisoners does not benefit either. But it’s used for a punishment only. If prisoners are going to be released back into society it’s a win/win to rehabilitate. If they are not their lives can still be changed, for the better, by changing their thinking. There are some prisons that have started rehabilitation and even mindfulness training. If you are not motivated by a good heart then be motivated by the fact it will save us money in the long run.
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    Inmates continue to perpetrate violence even after they’ve lost their freedom and are living behind prison walls!!! So correction staff face a dual challenge: 1) Provide safety and security to both inmates and fellow staff!!! 2) Implementing programs designed to rehabilitate inmates so that they live as law abiding citizens once they return to society!!! Critics either don’t have experience inside the correctional system, or wrongly assume disciplinary confinement is used arbitrarily!!! Disciplinary confinement is a critical tool for ensuring this stability and safety inside a correctional facility both for other inmates and the staff working there!!! It bears no resemblance to the Hollywood stereotypes that perpetrate a myth of inhumane treatment!!!! Inmates are closely monitored through constant rounds made by correction officers, security staff, prison management, mental-health staff, medical personnel, the inmate grievance coordinator and other staff!!!! They are allowed reading and legal materials!!! In some cases, inmates can participate in limited programs, earn privileges or reduce their time in disciplinary confinement!!! Some are even housed in two man cells!!! They get time to exercise and some with substance abuse problems can participate in treatment programs!!! Make no mistake disciplinary confinement is a punishment for violating the code of conduct inside the prison walls!!! It’s the only mechanism now in place for removing an inmate from the general population for the protection of staff, other inmates or sometimes even the inmate himself!!!
    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
    This can’t be serious. If a prisoner is acting out, being violent towards others, running a drug ring inside the prison, there must be some sort of serious consequences for their actions. I get so sick of hearing about human rights when it comes to prisoners. Most are there because they did something to strip them of their rights. Now days every time you turn around you are hearing about prisoners rights being violated, you here about politicians wanting to give prisoners the right to vote. They can serve their time under harsh conditions that hopefully will want to make them not go back there. When they are finished serving their time they can petition to have their rights restored. Why don’t Congress spend more time doing things to better our country? To strengthen our country? Instead of digging the hole we are in deeper.
    Like (6)
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    I’m sure these studies and many other studies on this issue have been done, the problem is they fell on deaf ears and the privatized prison system is blocking it.
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    Perhaps the US should work on not being the number one country with the largest known incarcerated population in the world. The US should also abolish the private for profit prison system.
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    Solitary confinement is a form of torture. While it maybe be necessary to separate people from general population, there are other ways to manage that without resorting to denying a human being’s basic, hard wired need for social interaction. Even those whom authorities identify as “psychopaths” and who get no apparent benefit from being connected to the rest of humanity in a primary fashion should not be deprived of that contact, on the basis of assumptions about their external environment and gratification. Even if it were possible to justify this activity on the short term, the maintenance of 23.5/7 isolation - which, to my understanding is SOP for people on Death Row, for years and even decades is a violation of 8th Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment”. In cultures in which ostracism was once a form of censure and punishment, the exclusion extended only to that specific community, not all communities. My personal opinion is that it’s only true use is in a premeditated and organized effort to make a person insane.
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    There’s already been a number of studies that show that solitary confinement is inhumane. It should be illegal in a modern civilized state.
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    Anything that looks into prison operations is a good thing. Mass incarceration is at an all time high in this country due to private prison systems.
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    Those who are in it belong there ! They are the worst of the worst ! WHY DO PEOPLE WANT TO MAKE PRISON LIFE INTO A VACATION RESORT? ITS CALLED PUNISHMENT
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    No, because regardless of the study results, there currently is not enough political trust between either party and the voters to view the reports findings with an open mind. At this juncture, the process would be a waste of money and time, which would better used to rebuild trust/systems.
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