Limiting Prolonged Solitary Confinement with State Legislation
If you are interested in a starting a legislative campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in your state, you may find these examples helpful. As you will see, each state faces a different set of circumstances that will shape the legislation that is introduced and/or enacted.
This model legislation was developed by the ACLU with input from NRCAT and other groups. This document is designed to be used as a tool for state initiatives, but please note that some provisions may not be relevant or feasible in your state. Please adapt this document to meet the specific needs and political circumstances in your state.
The original legislation, (SB176), introduced in late February 2011, would have prevented the placement of prisoners with serious mental illness into solitary confinement and required that prisoners in solitary confinement reintegrate into the general prison population at least six months prior to their release date. However, the original language was amended and stripped of some important provisions. This final version of SB176 did pass the Senate and the House and was signed by the Governor in June 2011.
In January 2010, a bill introduced in the Maine legislature would have reduced the amount of time that most prisoners spend in solitary confinement and would have prohibited the placement of prisoners with mental illness into solitary confinement. Although that bill did not pass, the Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a “resolve” that required the Department of Corrections to review its use of solitary confinement and report the findings back to the Legislature. Accordingly, in March 2011, the Maine Department of Corrections did return a report that included many recommendations to improve due process and other policies related to the use of solitary confinement. The full text of the resolve and the March report produced by the Department of Corrections is available here.
New Mexico passed this “memorial” in 2011, which establishes an interim committee to convene a working group to gather information about the use of solitary confinement, its impact on prisoners, and its effectiveness in reducing prison issues and costs. The working group, which explicitly includes representation from advocacy organizations, will produce an initial report of its findings and recommendations by October 2012, and a final report will be presented to the appropriate interim legislative committee by October 2013.
The Governor of New York signed bill A09342 into law in 2008. The law requires that the Department of Corrections remove prisoners with serious mental illness from solitary confinement whenever possible and establishes mental health treatment units for the care of such prisoners. The Department must provide documentation when a prisoner with serious mental illness is kept in solitary confinement, explaining the security or other concerns preventing the release of such prisoners from solitary confinement. Additionally, such prisoners must be treated with a heightened standard of care and be periodically reassessed to determine whether a less restrictive setting may be appropriate.
This bill (HB3764) would have directed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to submit an annual report to the Legislature on the use of solitary confinement and to establish a plan to improve the conditions of confinement for those prisoners held in administrative segregation. The bill did pass out of committee but never made it to a floor vote during the 2011 session.