[Pnews] New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico Prisons and Jails

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 11 10:57:53 EST 2013

  New Report Criticizes Use of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico
  Prisons and Jails

November 9, 2013 By Lisa Dawson 

An important new report and accompanying press release 
<http://solitarywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/FOR-IMMEDIATE-RELEASE-NMCLP-and-ACLU-NM-Release-Report-on-Overuse-of-Solitary-in-NM-Prisons-and-Jails.pdf> issued 
by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the ACLU of New 
Mexico (ACLU-NM) finds that solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons 
and jails is both "overused" and understated.

The report further states that the use of isolation, as practiced by 
the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD), violates the human rights 
of those subjected to it by isolating people suffering from serious 
mental illness and permitting the use of prolonged segregation. Findings 
of the study are based on a year-long investigation into the use of 
solitary confinement in the state's correctional facilities. According 
to the release:

    Solitary confinement means detaining a prisoner in 23-hour-a-day
    lockdown in small cells, where the person is banned from most
    out-of-cell activities and social interaction. The investigation
    found that both state prisons and county jails hold hundreds people
    in solitary at any one time around the state. The average length of
    stay of solitary in the prisons is almost 3 years. In the jails, it
    can last for months, or even years at a time.

"Inside the Box: The Real Costs of Solitary Confinement in New Mexico's 
Prisons and Jails 
states that New Mexico houses approximately 16 percent of its total 
prison population in some form of solitary confinement, also noting the 
substantial increase in the cost associated with holding a prisoner in 
solitary as opposed to that for a prisoner held in the general 
population. "While it costs more money to detain prisoners in isolation 
than in the general population, it does not improve public safety or 
reduce prison violence." The report also elaborates on the detrimental 
effects inflicted on people subjected to the practice:

    [I]mposing extreme isolation on prisoners, without allowing for
    social interaction, education and opportunities for rehabilitation,
    can have dire consequences. Countless studies have shown that
    otherwise mentally stable people can experience severely adverse
    effects from even short periods of enforced isolation. Symptoms can
    include social withdrawal, panic attacks, irrational anger, loss of
    impulse control, paranoia, severe depression, and hallucinations.
    The effect on children and those already suffering from mental
    illnesses can be particularly devastating.

Mentioned throughout the study was the challenge associated with 
obtaining clear information on New Mexico's use of solitary confinement, 
a problem largely attributable to reporting by NMCD that "lacks adequate 
transparency at both the state and local level." The release states:

    "The amount of information we were able to gather is dwarfed by the
    amount of information we still lack," said Steven Robert Allen,
    Director of Public Policy at the ACLU of New Mexico. "New Mexico
    desperately needs to implement uniform transparency requirements to
    fully reveal how and why solitary confinement is being used in our
    prisons and jails."

Not surprisingly, the report further elaborates on the paucity of data 
available on the state's use of segregation:

    This research project illuminated just how difficult it is to
    acquire clear data on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico.
    For example, it was impossible to determine with any degree of
    certainty either the percentage or raw numbers of prisoners held in
    solitary confinement in New Mexico jails because this data simply is
    not compiled in an accessible, uniform manner.

Solitary Watch reports on the obstacles encountered by journalists in 
reporting on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons here 
<http://solitarywatch.com/2013/03/05/fortresses-of-solitude-journalists-barred-from-prison-isolation-units/> and 
Based on their findings, the NMCLP and ACLU-NM identify key areas in 
need of urgent reform, proposing that the NMCD implement the following 
measures (each of which are expanded upon in detail in the report):

    . Increase transparency and oversight of the use of solitary confinement
    . Limit the length of solitary confinement to no more than 30 days
    . Mandate that all prisoners be provided with mental, physical and
    social stimulation
    . Ban the use of solitary confinement on the mentally ill
    . Ban the use of solitary confinement on children

NMCLP and the ACLU make a point to commend NMCD for its willingness to 
cooperate with their investigation, and for efforts at reform already 

    NMCD is now looking at new ways to reduce the use of solitary
    confinement in its facilities. In June 2012, NMCD invited the Vera
    Institute of Justice (www.vera.org) to conduct a comprehensive
    assessment on its use of solitary confinement at state detention
    facilities. This process will hopefully lead to a sensible reduction
    in the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons with
    corresponding taxpayer savings and an increase in prison and public

    "We got in the habit of making it to easy to lock down prisoners,"
    says Jerry Roark, NMCD Director of Adult Prisons. "Right now, we
    have way to many non-predatory prisoners in segregation. We need to
    change that, and we're working on it."

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863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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