Vera Selects Five Corrections Departments for Initiative Aimed at Reducing the Use of Solitary Confinement

NEW YORK – The Vera Institute of Justice announced today that it has selected five state and local corrections departments to participate in its Safe Alternatives to Segregation (SAS) initiative aimed at reducing their use of solitary confinement and other forms of segregated prisoner housing. The state corrections departments in Nebraska, Oregon, and North Carolina, and local departments in New York City and Middlesex County, New Jersey were chosen after a competitive bidding process.

The purpose of segregated housing is to isolate inmates deemed threats to the safety and security of facilities. But over the past three decades, departments of corrections have increasingly used it to punish disruptive but nonviolent behavior, protect vulnerable inmates, or temporarily house inmates awaiting the completion of a facility transfer. Individuals are held in segregation for days, years, and in some instances, decades.

A growing body of evidence suggests that segregation is counterproductive to facility and public safety. According to one report, nearly every study of segregation’s effects conducted over the past 150 years has concluded that subjecting an individual to more than 10 days of involuntary segregation negatively impacts his or her emotional, cognitive, social, and physical well-being. Segregation is also expensive, as isolated housing can cost tens of thousands of dollars more per inmate than general population housing.

“The human cost of the overuse and misuse of solitary confinement and other forms of restrictive housing—to say nothing of the financial strain and logistical challenges they present—is far too high to not explore potential alternatives,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “The enthusiastic response from applicants for this initiative proves that corrections officials are eager for new approaches to protecting the safety of inmates and staff, and we look forward to working closely with these selected sites.”

The two-year initiative, which began earlier this month and is conducted in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, aims to:

  • provide technical assistance to selected states and counties in order to reduce their use of segregation by developing, demonstrating, and evaluating alternatives;
  • raise awareness across correctional institutions nationwide—prisons and jails—of alternatives to segregation and nurture a professional learning community by developing an online SAS resource center to provide information to the field, producing practitioner-focused guides to implementing alternative practices, and holding annual convenings of representatives from the selected sites and an advisory council of expert practitioners and researchers; and
  • inform the national conversation about the proper use of segregation through data-driven analyses of existing practices and by documenting and disseminating best and promising practices for use by jurisdictions nationwide.

This new initiative expands on Vera’s Segregation Reduction Project, which since 2010 has worked with state and local departments of corrections in states such Washington, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania to reduce their reliance on segregation.

More information about the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative can be found on Vera’s website.


Statements from Selected Sites

“I commend the administration and staff, especially Warden Mark Cranston, of the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center for their achievement in becoming part of Vera’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation initiative. Our work with Vera will enhance our ongoing efforts to operate a safe and secure jail while providing inmates the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. This collaboration will lead to a more thoughtful approach in the way that we manage the inmate population.”

- H. James Polos, Middlesex County freeholder and chair of the county’s public safety and health committee 

“Nebraska’s selection as one of five states for the Vera Institute’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation initiative will ensure the state’s Department of Correctional Services’ restrictive housing reforms are focused, effective, and research based. The department is excited about getting the project underway, and looking forward to the results enjoyed by other state correctional systems.”

- Scott Frakes, director, Nebraska Department of Corrections

“We are honored to be chosen to participate in the Vera Institute’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation initiative, supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Our selection speaks to our progress as DOC works to promote a culture of safety at all our facilities. DOC is committed to reducing the use of segregation and to facilitating rehabilitation. We ended punitive segregation for adolescent inmates last December, and we are working toward ending punitive segregation for 18- to 21-year-olds by next January. These reforms will promote better behavior, psychological health, and emotional well-being among our inmates and help to create safer jails for staff and inmates alike. The SAS program and the technical assistance of the renowned Vera Institute will help DOC move these initiatives forward using best practice and help New York City return to its place at the forefront of the corrections field.”

- Joe Ponte, commissioner, New York City Department of Correction

“This is an opportunity for North Carolina to further examine and improve our restrictive housing policies and to develop new approaches to managing inmate behavior that will lead to positive outcomes. Intensive programming and mental health treatment will be key components to how we approach restrictive housing in the future.”

- W. David Guice, commissioner of adult correction and juvenile justice, North Carolina Department of Public Safety

“The Oregon Department of Corrections recognizes that segregation is an important management tool, yet it should be a last resort and a productive form of confinement. We are pleased to receive this technical assistance from Vera, and look forward to advancing our safe and effective solutions to managing all special populations of our adults in custody.”

-Colette S. Peters, director, Oregon Department of Corrections