Advocates push for limits on Massachusetts’s use of solitary confinement

By Shira Schoenberg
June 17, 2016

A growing group of advocates is pushing for changes to Massachusetts’s solitary confinement policies, as several bills move slowly through the legislative process.

The Pioneer Institute think tank joined the call recently with a new policy brief arguing that Massachusetts should restrict the use of solitary confinement, provide regular mental health assessments to inmates in solitary confinement, and be more transparent when the practice is used.

Advocates who have worked on the issue for years say solitary confinement is psychologically harmful and can lead to or exacerbate mental illness and suicide. They say Massachusetts’s practices are too harsh.

Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said Massachusetts is one of only a handful of states that can keep a prisoner in solitary confinement for up to 10 years. Until a recent lawsuit, prisoners who caused problems in solitary confinement could be denied credit for time they spent there, lengthening their sentences. She noted that a United Nations expert on torture has called for a ban on solitary confinements longer than 15 days.

“The negative effects of long-term solitary confinement are devastating,” Walker said. “People suffer tremendously and are permanently damaged.”

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