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Achieving transformative change in U.S. prisons and jails starts with focusing all correctional practices on human dignity. The use of restrictive housing, also called segregation or solitary confinement, presents a major barrier to this change. Restrictive housing—where people are held in a cell for 22 to 24 hours per day under restrictive conditions, with minimal (if any) programming, social interaction, or outdoor access—has become the standard response to a variety of problems far beyond what it was intended to address. Restrictive housing is used in many prisons and jails to discipline people for violating rules, to protect vulnerable populations, and to address administrative challenges.

To begin the path towards reform, correction agencies must critically assess the underlying issues at all levels that drive the use of restrictive housing. To end this practice, agencies must implement systemwide policies and practices that honor the dignity, health, and safety of all those who live and work in correctional facilities.

To help jurisdictions in this process, the Vera Institute of Justice’s (Vera) “Safe Prisons, Safe Communities: From Isolation to Dignity and Wellness Behind Bars” team developed this assessment tool. This Restrictive Housing Assessment Tool allows state and local correctional departments and correctional facility leaders to assess the policies and practices related to the use of restrictive housing in their jurisdiction. The tool then provides recommendations for practical steps their system should take to move toward the elimination of restrictive housing. It can also be used by advocates, legislators, and policymakers as a guide to inform information requests, legislative priorities, and opportunities for reform in their city, county, or state.

Over the past 10 years, Vera has assessed how 16 state and local correctional agencies use restrictive housing and provided guidance on how to implement safe alternatives and transform confinement conditions. These years of work and collaboration with correctional staff and leaders, incarcerated people, and external stakeholders, coupled with significant research and progress within the field, has provided a wealth of knowledge on how to reform the use of this practice in a way that improves the lives of people who work and live in these institutions.

This Restrictive Housing Assessment Tool allows correctional departments and key system stakeholders to conduct their own assessments and create a plan to work towards a restrictive housing population of zero.

In creating this tool, Vera hopes to support continued efforts around the country to safely reduce and end the use of restrictive housing as we know it. The tool also aims to promote collaboration and partnership between corrections administrators and community stakeholders to develop accountability and promote sustainable, widespread system reform.

How it works

The tool presents users with a series of detailed questions about all aspects of operations in a correctional system that can contribute to restrictive housing use. After users complete the questionnaire, the tool generates a set of recommendations tailored to the system, including critical next steps and resources to help with implementation. These recommendations will help systems reduce, and ultimately end, their use of restrictive housing by providing practical interim steps that systems can take to move toward that goal.