The Smart on Crime Coalition is a gathering of organizations from across the political spectrum–from the ACLU to the Heritage Foundation–which issues policy recommendations for criminal justice reform at the federal level. “Due to the undeniable human costs and the overwhelming fiscal costs,” its website states, “Americans from diverse political perspectives–particularly professionals with experience in all aspects of the criminal justice system–recognize that the system fails too many, costs too much, and helps too few.”

The coalition’s new report is Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress, which provides the 112th Congress and the Obama administration with analysis of the problems plaguing our state and federal criminal justice systems and a series of recommendations to address these failures.” These “Recommendations For Improving The Prison System” include implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act, addressing problems created by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, building transparency and accountability in corrections, and increasing effective rehabilitation. They also include a sharp criticism of solitary confinement. The following is a summary of Smart on Crime’s recommendations on the subject of what it refers to as “isolated confinement.” (H/T to the excellent Prison Law Blog for alerting us to this report.) 

Over-reliance on the Use of Harmful Long-Term Isolated Confinement

Isolated Confinement is Overused and Harmful

The monetary cost of using isolated confinement, coupled with the human cost of increased physiological and psychological suffering, far outweighs any purported benefits.  In order to build a fair, effective and humane criminal justice system, we must work to curb the use and misuse of isolated confinement.

Reduce the Use of Long-term Isolation and Design Effective Alternatives


Congress should introduce a bill limiting the use of long-term isolated confinement in BOP facilities.  That bill should incorporate by reference Chapter 23 of the ABA Treatment of Prisoners Standards related to long-term isolated confinement, and require compliance with these standards.  The bill should also require re-socialization for prisoners subject to such isolated confinement before they are released back into the community. This will protect public safety and assist individuals subject to isolation in reintegrating successfully into society.  Such “de-briefings” should take place in phases, starting at least six months before the end of their sentence.  All prisoners held in isolated confinement-like housing should be included in this re-socialization process.  De-briefing programs should include clinical staff, social workers, and education staff to provide counseling and life skills to prepare prisoners for release to the community. 


The Government Accountability Office should conduct a study of the effectiveness and availability of mental health care for prisoners in long-term isolated confinement.  The study should specifically evaluate the numbers of mentally ill prisoners confined in segregated housing as defined by ABA Treatment of Prisoners Standard 23-1.0(o); the clinical treatment being provided to those mentally ill prisoners; whether or not there are policies and protocols in place and being used to ensure that the mentally ill in BOP are not housed in segregation housing; and the length of stay for mentally ill prisoners in segregated housing.

BOP should adopt policies and practices for its use of long-term isolation consistent with the standards established by the ABA’s Treatment of Prison Standards, including:

* Adopting procedures to evaluate whether segregation is warranted prior to placing or retaining a prisoner in isolated confinement;

* Placing limits on disciplinary segregation.  In general stays should be brief and should rarely exceed one year.  Longer-term segregation should be imposed only if the prisoner poses a continuing and serious threat.

* Segregation for protective reasons should take place in the least restrictive setting possible;

* Decreasing extreme isolation by allowing for in-cell programming, supervised out-of-cell exercise time, face-to-face interaction with staff, access to television or radio, phone calls, correspondence, and reading material;

* Decreasing sensory deprivation by limiting the use of auditory isolation, deprivation of light and reasonable darkness, and punitive diets;

* Allowing prisoners to gradually gain more privileges and be subjected to fewer restrictions, even if they continue to require physical separation;

* Refraining from placing prisoners with serious mental illness in what is an anti-therapeutic environment.  Instead maintain appropriate secure mental-health housing for such prisoners; and

* Monitoring prisoners in segregation for mental-health deterioration and dealing with deterioration appropriately if it occurs.


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