After decades of its overuse in prisons and jails, the tide appears to be turning on restrictive housing. One of the most troubling practices in U.S. prisons and jails, it is generally defined as holding someone in a cell, typically for 22 to 24 hours a day, with minimal human interaction or sensory stimuli. In recent years, this practice has been the subject of increased scrutiny from researchers, advocates, policymakers, media, and corrections agencies.

A person is held in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day, with minimal human interaction or sensory stimuli.

Since the 1980s, the increase in restrictive housing has mirrored the exponential rise of incarceration. Originally intended to manage people who committed violence within jails and prisons, restrictive housing has become a common tool for responding to all levels of rule violations, from minor to serious; managing challenging populations; and housing people considered vulnerable.Angela Browne, Alissa Cambier, and Suzanne Agha, “Prisons Within Prisons: The Use of Segregation in the United States,” Federal Sentencing Reporter 24, no. 1 (2011), 46–49. In short, just as systems have come to rely too heavily on incarceration, departments of corrections now rely too much on restrictive housing. And, as in other parts of the justice system, restrictive housing often affects disproportionate numbers of young people, people living with mental illness, and people of color.Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Yale Law School, Time-In-Cell: The ASCA-Liman 2014 National Survey of Administrative Segregation in Prison (New Haven, CT: Yale Law School, 2015), 4; and Allen J. Beck, Use of Restrictive Housing in U.S. Prisons and Jails, 2011–2012 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2015, NCJ 249209).

But these problems can be solved. In light of growing evidence that restrictive housing may harm people without improving safety in facilities, a number of departments of corrections are taking steps to reduce their reliance on this type of housing.

See updates on reforms that five corrections departments have recently implemented and the effects these reforms are having on their use of restrictive housing.

Impacts of Restrictive Housing

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Rethinking Restrictive Housing

  1. In August 2016, the Standards Committee of the American Correctional Association—a professional association and accrediting organization for corrections—voted to pass comprehensive standards regulating the use of restrictive housing.

    American Correctional Association, “Restrictive Housing Performance Based Standards” (2016)

  2. In 2012, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) teamed up with the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School to survey directors of state and federal correctional systems on their policies regarding administrative segregation. The results of that survey were published in the report Administrative Segregation, Degrees of Isolation, and Incarceration: A National Overview of State and Federal Correctional Policies. The study was updated in 2015 with Time-in-Cell: The Liman-ASCA 2014 National Survey of Administrative Segregation in Prison and followed by a 2016 report, Aiming to Reduce Time-In-Cell: Reports from Correctional Systems on the Number of Prisoners in Restricted Housing and on the Potential of Policy Changes to Bring About Reforms. Additionally, in 2013, ASCA issued Restrictive Housing Status Policy Guidelines.

  3. In April 2016, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care adopted a strong position statement calling for, among other things, the elimination of restrictive housing longer than 15 consecutive days and the exclusion of juveniles, pregnant women, and people with mental illness from restrictive housing.

    National Commission on Correctional Health Care, “Position Statement: Solitary Confinement (Isolation)

  4. The U.S. Department of Justice published a comprehensive report in 2016 that called for far-reaching revisions to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ restrictive housing practices. It also outlined a number of principles to guide state and local jurisdictions seeking to make similar changes.

    U.S. Department of Justice, Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing: Final Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 2016).

  5. The National Institute of Justice issued a 2016 report that questions whether restrictive housing achieves the intended goals of maintaining safety and order.

    Natasha Frost and Carlos E. Monteiro, “Administrative Segregation in U.S. Prisons” (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, March 2016, NCJ 249749R.M), citing Ryan Labrecque, “The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Institutional Misconduct: A Longitudinal Evaluation” (PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2015), p. 23. 

  6. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as “the Nelson Mandela Rules”) in 2015. The rules prohibit restrictive housing that is indefinite or prolonged (defined as the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact for a period longer than 15 consecutive days). They also support restrictions on its use for juveniles, pregnant women, and people with disabilities or mental illness. Although not legally-binding, the Mandela Rules represent widely accepted international principles on the treatment of incarcerated people.

    Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), General Assembly Resolution 70/175, U.N. Doc. A/Res/70/175 (2015), Rules 43-45.

Against this backdrop, a growing number of corrections leaders want to change their systems’ approach to restrictive housing, in order to improve the safety and well-being of those who live and work in their facilities; make better use of resources; respond to interest from external stakeholders; and ultimately enhance public safety in the communities to which incarcerated people will return.See U.S. Department of Justice, 2016, pages 74-78, for descriptions of states and counties that have actively sought to reform their restrictive housing practices, including Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Virginia, and Hampden County, Massachusetts; see also ASCA and the Liman Program, Time-In-Cell, 2015, 58. In a 2014 survey, administrators from 40 state corrections departments reported that they had recently reviewed their restrictive housing policies; by 2016, many of those jurisdictions had begun reforms to reduce their reliance on this practice.Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Yale Law School, Aiming to Reduce Time-In-Cell: Reports from Correctional Systems on the Numbers of Prisoners in Restricted Housing and on the Potential of Policy Changes to Bring About Reforms (New Haven, CT: Yale Law School, 2016).

But the task is a challenging one. Jails and prisons are complex environments, and many forces are at play in changing their policies, practices, and cultures. Correctional staff have become so reliant on restrictive housing that in many jails and prisons it has become a part of everyday life and institutional culture; any attempts to reduce its use must therefore be carefully and strategically implemented.  What’s more, to solve a problem one must first define and understand it—yet in many jurisdictions, antiquated records systems and lack of data make it difficult to assess how restrictive housing is being used.

Types of Restrictive Housing

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Why Reduce Restrictive Housing?

In 2015, Vera expanded its efforts to support departments of corrections in tackling the use of restrictive housing by launching the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Through this initiative, Vera partnered with five local and state corrections agencies to assess their policies and practices, analyze related outcomes, and provide recommendations for safely reducing the use of restrictive housing in their jails or prisons.

While Vera tailored its recommendations to each agency’s needs, many of these recommendations could be helpful in addressing the use of restrictive housing across the country. 

Vera recommends that jails and prisons use restrictive housing only

  • as a last resort; 
  • as a response to the most serious and threatening behavior; 
  • for the shortest time possible; and 
  • with the least-restrictive conditions possible. 

Vera used a competitive application process to select five corrections departments willing to address this difficult issue head-on. By reducing their use of restrictive housing, these partner sites hope to promote a culture of safety in their facilities and improve the well-being of people who live and work there.Vera Institute of Justice, “Vera Selects Five Corrections Departments for Initiative Aimed at Reducing the Use of Solitary Confinement,” press release, March 24, 2015.

Five Partner Sites Committed to Change

The five correctional agencies Vera partnered with are diverse geographically, operationally, and in terms of their size and use of restrictive housing. They include three state prison systems from around the country, one large metropolitan jail system, and one smaller local jail.

See the map below to learn about each site. The summaries describe the sites as they were when Vera encountered them at the start of the SAS Initiative in early 2015. Since this time, each agency has taken steps to address its use of restrictive housing, so the figures presented below should be considered as a baseline against which the impact of current and future efforts can be measured. See site updates for more information on each site’s reforms.

Rethinking Restrictive Housing

Five Partner Sites Committed to Change

The five correctional agencies Vera partnered with are diverse geographically, operationally, and in terms of their size and use of restrictive housing. They include three state prison systems from around the country, one large metropolitan jail system, and one smaller local jail.

See the map below to learn about each site. The summaries describe the sites as they were when Vera encountered them at the start of the SAS Initiative in early 2015. Since this time, each agency has taken steps to address its use of restrictive housing, so the figures presented below should be considered as a baseline against which the impact of current and future efforts can be measured. See Site Updates for more information on each site’s reforms.

Methodology

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Conducting this work in five very different jurisdictions has given Vera an unparalleled opportunity to describe how restrictive housing is used in a cross-section of U.S. prisons and jails. Vera found significant variations among these locations, but also many commonalities. This report provides highlights of Vera’s findings about how the systems use restrictive housing, and summarizes Vera’s common recommendations for changes in policy and practice to safely reduce that use.

This report offers a high-level overview of the project. Vera also produced detailed technical reports for each site, which interested readers should consult for further information about a specific jurisdiction.

Vera identified common themes in agencies’ use of restrictive housing. This section presents key findings related to some or all of the partner sites—though not all of the findings discussed here are relevant to all jurisdictions. Various exampleshttps://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/rethinking-restrictive-housing/legacy_downloads/rethinking-restrictive-housing-report.pdf from the jurisdictions illustrate each point.A more detailed picture of each department can be found in the technical reports provided to each site. In particular, the use of protective custody varied widely among Vera’s partners and is addressed in each site’s technical report.

It is important to note that the data presented below refer to the period before the SAS Initiative started and therefore do not reflect changes agencies have made to their policies and practices since then. 

Conditions in Restrictive Housing

  1. Although cell size, recreational areas, and other characteristics of restrictive housing units varied, incarcerated people in these units were typically held in stark, isolated environments with little sensory stimulation or social interaction. Many cells were small and sparsely furnished, and some had no windows or natural light. Opportunities for therapeutic programming or any form of productive activity were scarce.

    In the most-restrictive housing, people were held in their cells for around 23 hours a day. They received up to one hour of out-of-cell recreation, often held in a small caged area or a bare concrete space, sometimes with limited access to fresh air and direct sunlight. In some systems, barred indoor enclosures were used for recreation at times.

Disciplinary Segregation

  1. All sites frequently used restrictive housing to respond to nonviolent infractions (see Table 1, below): 

    • In Nebraska, North Carolina, and Oregon, the most common infractions resulting in disciplinary segregation were low-level nonviolent offenses, and “disobeying an order” was the most common infraction (see Table 1 below). 
    • In Nebraska, “disobeying an order” accounted for 28 percent of such sentences. 
    • In North Carolina, none of the top 10 infractions resulting in segregation sanctions were among the most serious charges (as determined by the Department of Public Safety).
    • In Oregon, 58 percent of disciplinary segregation sentences were for nonviolent infractions.
    • In New York City, a higher proportion of segregation sentences were given in response to violent infractions; even there, however, disobeying an order was still the fifth-most-common charge to receive a restrictive housing sentence.

    Segregation sentences ranged from a couple of days to several months—though in some jurisdictions, a person charged with multiple rule violations may have been required to serve multiple sentences back-to-back. Some people were released to the general population at the end of their assigned sentence and some were released earlier, but others were transferred to other forms of restrictive housing upon completing the sanction, thus extending their stay in restrictive conditions.

    It should be noted that since Vera conducted these analyses, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has significantly altered its policies governing disciplinary practices and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has ended its use of disciplinary segregation altogether.

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    Punishment of misbehavior was a substantial driver of the restrictive housing populations at Vera’s partner sites. The charts below show the percentages of people in restrictive housing for disciplinary reasons in three jurisdictions, either serving time in these units in response to an infraction or awaiting a disciplinary hearing.

    Many people who end up in restive housing enter through disciplinary segregation before being transferred to administrative segregation or another form of restrictive housing. For example, approximately 90 percent of incarcerated people in Oregon who spent time in any type of restrictive housing first entered through the disciplinary unit. 

    Overall, the number of people who serve time in disciplinary segregation can be high: in Nebraska, for example, 44 percent of all incarcerated people had, at some point during their time in prison, been placed in restrictive housing for disciplinary reasons (as punishment for an infraction or pending an investigation).

  1. This finding is difficult to quantify using administrative data. Still, at many of the facilities Vera visited, staff and incarcerated people reported that they believed people sometimes violated rules with the express purpose of being placed in restrictive housing because they feared for their safety in the general population. The reasons cited for these concerns included belonging to a vulnerable group (such as young people), being targeted by gang members, and a general fear of violence. Perceptions of threat and insecurity therefore appear to increase the number of infractions committed and the number of people in restrictive housing.

Administrative Segregation

The type of restrictive housing commonly referred to as administrative segregation can be used for multiple purposes, including managing someone who is considered a threat to safety and security or holding someone temporarily while certain administrative processes are completed. This report focuses on one use of this housing that Vera found contributed substantially to the population in restrictive housing across partner sites: indefinite administrative segregation to manage people staff considered dangerous or disruptive.

  1. In North Carolina, for example, more than 1,200 people were being held in indefinite administrative segregation at the time of Vera’s initial assessment. For these individuals, as in other jurisdictions, release from restrictive housing was granted only when their cases were reviewed by a staff member or committee and they were judged ready to return to the general population.

    Vera found that such reviews were conducted infrequently. In Oregon, for example, people who were incarcerated typically spent between 60 and 150 days (approximately five months) in the Intensive Management Unit—a form of administrative segregation—before their first review.

    In many jurisdictions, the criteria used to make release decisions were unclear. People were often required to demonstrate that they did not pose a threat to the safety of others in order to be granted release from segregation—for example, by participating in programming or interacting with other incarcerated people and staff. But such opportunities were rare; most agencies offered little in the way of meaningful programming or congregate activity in which the incarcerated person could demonstrate positive behavior. Further, the harmful effects that isolation can have on a person’s mental well-being and behavior may have made it increasingly difficult for people to “earn” their release from administrative segregation through good behavior. Grassian, 2006, 325. Opportunities to engage in therapeutic programming were often limited to in-cell workbooks or absent entirely. 

    These factors contributed to long stays in administrative segregation. In addition, people were sometimes transferred directly to administrative segregation from disciplinary segregation or other types of restrictive housing, leading to even longer continuous periods in such settings. 

    restrictive-housing-figures-04.jpg#asset:19616


Specific Populations

In addition to understanding the reasons people are placed in restrictive housing, it is also important to look at who is placed there. Doing so helps identify groups that are disproportionately affected by a system’s policies and practices, as well as populations that may have unmet needs. More research is needed about groups of people who are likelier to be held in restrictive housing and why.Benjamin Steiner and Calli M. Cain, “The Relationship Between Inmate Misconduct, Institutional Violence, and Administrative Segregation: A Systematic Review of the Evidence,” in Restrictive Housing in the U.S.: Issues, Challenges, and Directions (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2016, NCJ 250315).

Echoing disparities seen throughout the criminal justice system, Vera’s analysis found that people with mental health needs, young men, and people of color were more likely to be held in restrictive housing than other incarcerated people.

  1. Identifying how frequently people with mental illness are sent to restrictive housing can be difficult; some data systems do not record incarcerated people’s mental health status, and systems that do may include only limited information. During the initiative, data on mental health needs of people in Nebraska prisons or the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center were unavailable. This lack of clear, precise data makes assessment of a system difficult. It also presents challenges for the unit officers who are responsible for people who are incarcerated, and for the disciplinary hearing officers who try to appropriately respond to or adjudicate their behavior. Still, Vera’s assessment suggests that people with mental health needs were often placed in restrictive housing.

    In Oregon, for example, the majority (61 percent) of people in disciplinary segregation units were identified as having mental health needs ranging from mild to severe.By administrative rule in Oregon, people with severe mental health needs are not sanctioned to stays in disciplinary segregation units beyond 30 days. Facilities are required to divert people with severe mental health needs to other environments at or before the 30-day mark.

    restrictive-housing-figures-06.jpg#asset:19619


    In North Carolina, incarcerated people are classified using a mental health scale from 1 (no mental health needs) to 5 (most-significant mental health needs). As Figure 4 shows, 41 percent of people with the most serious health needs (designated “M5”) were in segregation in June 2015. 

    restrictive-housing-figures-07.jpg#asset:19620


  1. Overall, people of color at Vera’s partner sites had higher rates of contact with restrictive housing than white people did—especially with the most severe types of this housing—and were underrepresented in more treatment-oriented forms of restrictive housing and other less-stringent alternatives.Pathways to restrictive housing are complex and many factors and decision points contribute to someone being placed there. Vera’s analysis describes the outcomes of the use of restrictive housing; it does not assess the determinants for those outcomes or make inferences about causality.

    Figure 5 shows, for example, that in Nebraska prisons, a combined group of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and Native Americans had the highest rates of contact with restrictive housing, with 17 percent in the most-restrictive settings as compared to 9 percent of white people.Vera used the racial and ethnic categories that existed in the administrative data provided by each site. In addition, only 4 percent of black people were in the less-stringent forms of restrictive housing (the majority of which was considered “protective custody”), as compared to 9 percent of white people. 

    restrictive-housing-figures-08.jpg#asset:19621


    Similarly, in New York City, black people were admitted to punitive segregation at 5.7 times the rate that white people were; however, they were less likely to be admitted to units designed as alternatives to restrictive housing for people with severe mental illnesses who had committed infractions, entering those units at 0.6 times the rate that white people did. 

  1. Youth and younger adults were more likely than older people to be placed in restrictive housing.

    • In North Carolina, 8 percent of adults age 26 or older were held in restrictive housing, while 17 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 25) and nearly a third (32 percent) of youth age 17 or under were in restrictive housing (see Figure 6). 
      • Note: North Carolina has since ended the use of restrictive housing for those under 18. (Similarly, New York City has eliminated the use of disciplinary segregation for people who are 21 or younger.)

    restrictive-housing-figures-09.jpg#asset:19623


    • Nebraska showed a similar trend, with only 6 percent of adults age 25 and over in restrictive housing, compared to 13 percent of people under age 25 (see Figure 7).

    restrictive-housing-figures-10.jpg#asset:19624


    • In Oregon, people ages 18 to 25 represented 11 percent of the total prison population but 30 percent of those held in disciplinary segregation. By contrast, people ages 41 and older made up 44 percent of the prison population but just 15 percent of those in disciplinary segregation.
  1. In all five jurisdictions, women were placed in restrictive housing at a lower rate and for shorter periods, on average, than men were. But in Oregon and North Carolina, where mental health information about women in the prison systems was available, the level of mental health needs among these women was high.  

    • In North Carolina, 5 percent of women were in some form of restrictive housing. These women had higher rates of serious mental health needs, with 38 percent requiring some level of psychiatric treatment, as compared to 18 percent of women in the general population.
    • In Oregon, 84 percent of women in restrictive housing had been diagnosed with a mental illness that required treatment, compared to 53 percent of the total female population. And 27 percent of those in restrictive housing were assigned the department’s highest indicator of mental health need, while this was true for 11 percent of women in the general population.

Release from Restrictive Housing to the Community

  1. This practice moves people from an environment of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation into one requiring autonomy and complex social interactions, which likely increases the difficulty of an already-challenging transition.

    Reentering the community from prison or jail is often a difficult process—psychologically, emotionally, and in practical terms, especially in regards to securing housing, health care, and employment. Nevertheless, this is a practice that Vera regularly observed, often without adequate re-entry programming and preparation for release:

    • In Oregon, for example, Vera identified 348 people who were released directly to the community from restrictive housing during an 18-month period, after spending an average of almost five months in such housing immediately prior to their release. 
    • In North Carolina in 2015, 1,892 people were released from restrictive housing directly to the community—that’s roughly 35 people every week. Among them, 15 percent had spent more than six months in such housing immediately prior to their release.

Vera’s recommendations are based on the assessment of each corrections system, as well as on many years of experience working to reduce restrictive housing and on emerging best practices identified in other U.S. jurisdictions.Vera also drew on the guiding principles on restrictive housing established by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016, and policy statements from associations of corrections, medical, and health professionals. Some changes are relatively easy to make, while others are more challenging and may require additional resources, especially in staffing.

Vera’s recommendations varied in response to the specific needs and challenges of each jurisdiction. There were, however, a number of common recommendations, discussed below.

The overall aim of these recommendations is to do the following: 

  • Reduce the flow of people into restrictive housing. 
  • Exclude certain vulnerable groups from restrictive housing. 
  • Shorten the length of time people spend in restrictive housing. 
  • Improve conditions in restrictive housing. 
  • Assist people in transitioning to a facility’s general population—and whenever possible, avoid releasing them directly from restrictive housing to the community. 

Conditions in Restrictive Housing

Although sometimes correctional agencies need to be able to separate people temporarily from the general jail or prison population, that should not entail excessively restrictive and isolating conditions.

  1. In particular, Vera recommended that agencies do the following:

    • Maximize out-of-cell time. This includes providing meaningful opportunities for indoor and outdoor recreation, with ample room and equipment for exercise; therapeutic programming; education; and other activities, ideally with others who are incarcerated. 
    • Adopt strategies that reduce sensory deprivation and isolation and increase opportunities for physical activity and mental stimulation. A basic way to begin is by examining the physical spaces of restrictive housing cells, units, and recreation areas and making modifications to increase their size and natural light and decrease isolation. People should have opportunities for productive in-cell activities in addition to out-of-cell activities. This could include delivering programming and activities through written materials, televisions, MP3 players, or tablets. Increasing access to telephone calls and visits with family and other supportive people can also reduce isolation. (See “Innovative programming in restrictive housing” on page 29.) 
    • Increase access to medical, mental health, and program staff. Interactions should be frequent and face-to-face — and outside of cells whenever possible, rather than through a cell door. 

Innovative Programming

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Disciplinary Segregation

    • Substantially reduce the number of infractions that can result in disciplinary segregation. Only the most serious violent infractions—such as assault—should be eligible for such a severe sanction.
    • Maximize the use of other disciplinary sanctions, such as verbal reprimands, loss of privileges, work duty, or restrictions to cell.

      Agencies should develop more alternative sanctions and encourage their staff to use them more often. It may help to create a “graduated response matrix” that provides guidelines as to which sanctions staff can use in response to which types of behavior and that emphasizes alternatives to restrictive housing.

      Instead of the formal disciplinary process, agencies could also allow corrections officers to respond swiftly to less-serious infractions on the unit through the use of predefined proportionate sanctions. This approach is supported by decades of research, largely in community corrections, demonstrating that “swift and certain” responses to behavior are more effective than more severe, delayed punishments.Amy L. Solomon, Jenny W. L. Osborne, Laura Winterfield, and Brian Elderbroom, Putting Public Safety First: 13 Parole Supervision Strategies to Enhance Reentry Outcomes (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center, 2008), 13. Valerie Wright, Deterrence in Criminal Justice: Evaluating Certainty vs. Severity of Punishment (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2010); Mark A.R. Kleiman and Angela Hawken, “Fixing the Parole System,” Issues in Science and Technology 24, no. 4 (2008); and Swift Certain & Fair.
    • Train corrections officers to use communication and de-escalation techniques to resolve conflicts and address minor infractions, without resorting to a formal disciplinary process. 

      Punitive responses to infractions often do little to identify or resolve the issues underlying problematic behavior. Training staff to use communication skills to respond to minor infractions and help prevent other rule violations allows for a more supportive and solution-oriented response. Research on community corrections shows that outcomes may improve and recidivism may decrease when officers recognize the dignity of the people they supervise and those relationships are based on mutual respect.Alison Shames and Ram Subramanian, “Doing the Right Thing: The Evolving Role of Human Dignity in American Sentencing and Corrections,” Federal Sentencing Reporter 27, no. 1, (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2014), 9-18.
    • Reduce the maximum amount of time an incarcerated person can be held in disciplinary segregation. Throughout the country, numerous states have been reducing their maximum segregation sanctions. Some states have reduced their maximum to 30 days; Colorado recently announced that no one will be held in segregation for more than 15 days.For example, see Washington State, Colorado, and Delaware. Dan Pacholke and Sandy Felkey Mullins, More than Emptying Beds: A Systems Approach to Segregation Reform (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2016); Rick Raemisch and Kellie Wasko, Open the Door: Segregation Reforms in Colorado (Colorado Springs, CO: Colorado Department of Corrections, 2015); Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. v. Coupe, No. 15-688 (D.D.E. Sept. 1, 2016); and Rick Raemisch, “Why We Ended Long-Term Solitary Confinement in Colorado,” The New York Times, October 12, 2017.
  1. Vera recommended that the sites introduce or expand policies, programs, and activities to promote well-being, safety, and positive behavior in the general population:

    • Expand programming, education, pro-social activities, and positive incentives in the facility’s general population.

      This could help reduce idleness, alleviate tension and stress, provide incentives for positive behavior, and address mental health, substance use, and behavioral issues. These positive effects may lower the incidence of misbehavior and violence. 
    • Develop strategies to reduce the number of people who commit rule violations in order to go to disciplinary segregation because they fear living in the general population.

      Agencies should provide supports to those in their facilities’ general population who are vulnerable to victimization (such as youth, people new to incarceration, those with mental health needs, elderly people, and those who have developmental, intellectual, or physical disabilities).

      One option is to create mission-specific housing units that mix compatible vulnerable populations in a setting that is similar to the general population in terms of privileges and out-of-cell time, but is made safer through higher levels of staffing. Implementing violence-prevention strategies—such as ones based on the “Operation Ceasefire” deterrence model used in the community—may also help reduce violence and make general population housing areas safer.Communities have experimented with group violence intervention strategies dating back to Operation Ceasefire, a gun violence– reduction effort launched in Boston in the 1990s. This approach has since been replicated in other communities and has been shown to reduce violence significantly. Unlike suppression and containment models—traditionally used by law enforcement and correctional agencies to punish individuals for singular offenses—the Ceasefire model is based on principles of deterrence and recognizes that many serious offenses are motivated by group dynamics. See National Network for Safe Communities, “Prison Violence Intervention,”; and Bernie Warner, Dan Pacholke, and Carly Kujath, Operation Place Safety: First Year in Review(June 1, 2014).

Administrative Segregation

    • Include procedural safeguards in the process for placing people in administrative segregation—such as a hearing and review by a multidisciplinary team that includes a variety of program, mental health, and security staff—to ensure that segregation is used:

      1. only as a last resort, when people cannot be housed in the general population because they pose a serious threat to the safety of others; and

      2. only when a less-restrictive setting is not sufficient.
    • Ensure that the status of each individual in administrative segregation is reviewed frequently by a multidisciplinary team, with the goal of returning people safely to a less-restrictive setting as soon as possible.
    • Provide programming and treatment in segregation, including interventions to address the behaviors that may have resulted in a person’s placement there.

      Facilities should provide instructor-led programming in a secure classroom setting. Staff should help develop clear behavioral plans for everyone in administrative segregation, with the aim of creating a road map to guide people’s return to less-restrictive housing. Individuals should also have regular opportunities to demonstrate that they can reside safely in a less-restrictive setting.
    • Create a structured reentry process or “step-down” program—with progressively increasing levels of out-of-cell time, group activities, and privileges—to address behavioral issues, provide incentives for positive behavior, and prepare people to transition to the general population as soon as possible.

      The broad goal of step-down units and transitional programs is to help people successfully reenter general population housing, and ultimately the community, after a stay in restrictive housing. These units and programs may be structured differently, but most include graduated levels of out-of-cell time and group activity. One approach that many agencies have taken is creating a phase or level system that allows incarcerated people to gradually earn privileges as they move through the program.

Specific Populations

Certain groups of people—such as youth, women, people with mental illness, and people of color—may have different pathways into restrictive housing, be likelier to end up there, or be more vulnerable to its negative effects than others are. It is important to develop targeted strategies to address people’s underlying needs and reduce the use of restrictive housing for these populations.

  1. To this end, Vera recommended that agencies adopt the following strategies: 

    • Use alternative disciplinary sanctions and other less-stringent forms of housing for members of vulnerable populations. For example, agencies should establish secure therapeutic housing units for people who have serious mental health needs and also require heightened security.
    • Establish developmentally responsive policies, practices, and programming for youth and young adults.
    • Train staff to better understand and work with members of special populations.
    • Ensure that people placed in protective custody units or other specialized housing are not in restrictive housing-like conditions. These units should mirror the general population to the extent possible in terms of out-of-cell time, privileges, and programming.
    • Adhere to gender-responsive policies and practices and make sure that incarcerated women benefit from improvements and alternatives to restrictive housing to the same extent as those devised for men.“Gender-responsiveness” can be defined as “creating an environment…that reflects an understanding of the realities of women’s lives and addresses the issues of the women.” Barbara Bloom, Barbara Owen, and Stephanie Covington, Gender- Responsive Strategies: Research, Practice, and Guiding Principles for Women Offenders (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections: June 2003), page v, citing Barbara Bloom and Stephanie Covington, “Gendered Justice: Programming for Women in Correctional Settings,” Paper presented to the American Society of Criminology (San Francisco: November 2000), 11.
    • Create a multidisciplinary committee to study disproportionate contact with restrictive housing among people of color. Such a committee could help agencies better understand the issue, set goals, recommend changes to practices or policies, oversee implementation of any changes, and conduct periodic reviews of data and practice.
    • Monitor the impact of policy changes closely to ensure that they improve—and do not perpetuate or worsen—current rates of disproportionate contact with restrictive housing among people of color. 

Release from Restrictive Housing to the Community

    • Prioritize people who are within several months of release for step-down programs or other structured reentry processes, to help them transition out of restrictive housing as soon as possible and within a meaningful time before release, allowing for appropriate resocialization and reentry planning.
    • Use alternative disciplinary sanctions and housing other than administrative segregation (such as units with increased supervision but that are less isolating) for any individual who will soon be released to the community.

Systemwide Strategies

The overuse of restrictive housing in U.S. jails and prisons cannot be seen as an isolated problem. It reflects systemic challenges facing corrections departments relating to the well-being of people who are incarcerated and of staff, and to the resources available to meet their needs. Agencies cannot address restrictive housing solely by examining their use of these types of units. They will also need to improve conditions of confinement for the general population to improve the well-being, safety, and conduct of incarcerated people broadly, thereby reducing the demand for typical restrictive housing options.

    • Increase programming, mental health treatment, education and vocational classes, and other pro-social activities.
    • Continue and expand efforts to support and train staff, including strategies to address high levels of staff vacancies, turnover, and burnout; improve staff wellness; increase training on communication, de-escalation skills, and mental health and crisis intervention; and seek staff input when designing and implementing policy changes. 
    • Develop robust systems for collecting and reporting data on the use of restrictive housing and other relevant measures, such as outcomes of the disciplinary process.

      Such data should be used to measure the impact of policy changes, identify areas in which the desired outcomes are not being achieved, and ensure that all people benefit from the improvements (including populations such as youth, women, and people of color). 
    • Incentivize and reward positive behavior, rather than only responding to negative, unwanted behavior.

      Research suggests that the most effective way to modify people’s behavior is to provide a framework that acknowledges and rewards their positive behaviors, rather than focusing solely on responding to unwanted behaviors like rule violations.See Paul Gendreau, “The Principles of Effective Intervention with Offenders,” in Choosing Correctional Options That Work, edited by Alan T. Harland (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996), 117-130, and Eric J. Wodahl, Brett Garland, Scott E. Culhane, and William P. McCarty, “Utilizing Behavioral Interventions to Improve Supervision Outcomes in Community-Based Corrections,” Criminal Justice and Behavior 38, no. 4 (2011), 386-405

      For example, research on the effectiveness of community supervision suggests that people’s compliance with rules is optimized when supervising officers reward four positive behaviors for each negative behavior they sanction.Gendreau, 1996; and Wodahl et al., 2011.These rewards need not be large—and may be as small as verbal recognition of an achievement. As with punishments, the same research found that the consistency of the response was more important than its magnitude.

      For many officers, this increased emphasis on rewarding positive behaviors required a significant change in how they understood their work. Staff should be trained to respond to incarcerated people’s positive behavior, using clearly structured policies that define the types of rewards officers can give in response to specific behaviors. Explicit policies such as this also set clear expectations for people who are incarcerated. Encouraging positive behavior and rule compliance in this way might decrease the problematic behaviors that have too often driven the use of restrictive housing.

At the start of the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative, Vera encountered five vastly different corrections systems at various stages in the process of reducing their use of restrictive housing. Many were already planning and implementing alternative strategies to ensure safety and security and promote pro-social behavior. Through a careful analysis of data and policies and in-depth conversations with incarcerated people and corrections staff, Vera was able to create a detailed picture of how such housing was being used and recommend strategies to safely reduce its use. This would not have been possible without the commitment, transparency, and critical and innovative thinking that Vera’s partners demonstrated.

For too long, restrictive housing has been a deeply hidden issue. The five partner sites are commended for opening their doors to Vera and for welcoming assistance as they tackle this urgent issue. 

For too long, restrictive housing has been a deeply hidden issue. The five partner sites are commended for opening their doors to Vera and for welcoming assistance as they tackle this urgent issue. 

These agencies are now embarking on the critical work of implementing recommendations and have all actively made changes to their systems. For example, they have taken steps to limit or end the use of restrictive housing for certain populations or in specific situations, and introduced changes to shorten the time people spend in restrictive housing. See the section below for details on each jurisdiction’s reforms.

In enacting substantial changes to their policies and practices, these corrections agencies are affirming their dedication to providing accountable, safe, and secure administration of jails and prisons, while respecting the dignity and worth of those in their care and the staff who are responsible for providing it. As these sites continue to build on the progress they have made, their examples will provide motivation and practical ideas for other jurisdictions willing to rethink their use of restrictive housing.

Since the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative assessment process concluded, the five partner sites have continued the significant task of implementing strategies to reduce their use of restrictive housing, many of which stem from the recommendations of the Vera Institute of Justice. Here are highlights of the changes each agency reports it has made in recent years. Vera looks forward to seeing these agencies go even further in the coming years and achieve even greater reductions.

Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, New Jersey

The Middlesex County Adult Correction Center (MCACC) reports enacting numerous reforms to reduce its reliance on restrictive housing while managing the constantly changing incarcerated population and addressing people’s diverse needs. These reforms include the following:

  • Making conditions of confinement in the intake unit less restrictive. Unlike previous practice, new arrivals to the facility are no longer automatically held in conditions similar to those in restrictive housing while going through the intake process. Instead, they experience conditions much more like those of the general population; in particular, they are allowed out of their cells for approximately six hours each day.
  • Restructuring disciplinary hearings. These hearings are now chaired by a senior psychiatric social worker from outside the facility, who is able to act as an impartial arbiter.
  • Convening weekly interdisciplinary restrictive housing meetings. These regular meetings bring together senior facility staff, classification and intelligence staff, and mental health staff to discuss the status of people in restrictive housing and their individualized case plans, in order to ensure they can successfully transition to less-restrictive housing as soon as possible. 
  • Creating specialized units as alternatives to restrictive housing. To more appropriately house specific populations that previously would often have been held in restrictive housing, MCACC created several specialized units where individuals are separate from the general population (GP), but have the same out-of-cell time as people in GP and are allowed congregate activity and some programming on the unit. These include a Maximum Control Unit (for people in custody due to murder charges, with high bail amounts), an Administrative Special Handling Unit (for individuals charged with offenses, such as a sex offense, that may put them at risk of harm in GP), and a Precautionary Supervision Unit (for other people requiring protective custody). 

MCACC has already seen positive outcomes from these changes:

  • MCACC administrators report that their average daily population in restrictive housing decreased by about 50 percent, from roughly 50 to 60 people in 2015 to 25 people in early 2018. The facility saw a record low of 13 people in restrictive housing on April 27, 2018. The proportion of the total jail population that is in restrictive housing on an average day has decreased from around 6 percent to approximately 3 percent. 
  • Reforms to the disciplinary process have led to a drastic reduction, by more than 50 percent, in the average length of stay in “disciplinary detention” (also known as punitive segregation or disciplinary segregation). MCACC reports that the average stay in this type of restrictive housing has dropped from about 12 days to just under five days. What’s more, the number of people sent to disciplinary detention has decreased by 41 percent.

Nebraska

Since 2015, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) has dramatically changed how it uses restrictive housing: 

  • In 2016, NDCS eliminated the use of disciplinary segregation as a punishment for rule violations, a rare step. Instead, restrictive housing is now used only to “manage risk” based on an assessment of the risk an individual poses to the safety of others or the security of the institution.NDCS, “Administrative Regulation 210.01: Restrictive Housing” (effective July 1, 2016).
  • Nebraska now has just two types of restrictive housing—immediate segregation and longer term restrictive housing (LTRH). 
    • Immediate segregation can be used in response to certain incidents of violence or threats; it provides time for NDCS to assess the risk someone poses to safety and security and whether the next step should be return to general population, placement in alternative housing, or referral for placement in LTRH. 
    • A high-level Central Office Multi-Disciplinary Review Team must approve every person who is assigned to LTRH, and it reviews everyone in such housing at least every 90 days to determine whether transfer to a less-restrictive setting is safely possible and ensure no one stays there longer than is necessary.

In addition to these policy changes, NDCS reports that it has continued to make reforms:

  • Providing programming and congregate activity to people in restrictive housing. This includes self-study coursework in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Omaha; risk-reducing programming that is provided outside of cells while people are restrained in programming chairs; and a peer support initiative that allows people in a prison’s general population to provide support to those who are in restrictive housing.
  • Increasing staff training. The department now provides specialized training for staff assigned to work in restrictive housing; additional training for all new NDCS staff will begin in July 2018.
  • Moving most people needing protective custody out of segregation. People who need protective custody are now generally housed in protective management units as an alternative to placement in restrictive housing. Such units provide programming, group recreation, at least four hours of out-of-cell time per day, and other privileges that make them more like general population housing.
  • Creating a de-escalation room at the women’s facility. NDCS reports that they have created a de-escalation room at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women. (For more about de-escalation rooms, see “Innovative programming in restrictive housing.”)
  • Implementing an electronic data system. This will increase the department’s ability to monitor and track its use of restrictive housing.

Nebraska has begun seeing the positive results of its reforms:

  • The average daily population in restrictive housing decreased by 11 percent, from 389 in fiscal year 2016 to 347 in fiscal year 2017.
  • The number of people released from restrictive housing directly to the community has dropped significantly. In fiscal year 2014, 78 people who were released from NDCS custody were released directly from restrictive housing. This figure has decreased every year since then; 22 people were directly released in fiscal year 2017.
  • Use of alternatives to restrictive housing placement. NDCS reports that in fiscal year 2017, facilities documented over 4,000 incidents that required an assessment of an incarcerated person’s risk and included the potential for placing them in immediate segregation. Of those, 1,750 incidents were resolved with “alternate placements,” which occur when staff move an incarcerated person to a new cell, housing unit, or other alternative rather than putting him or her in restrictive housing.

New York City

Over the past few years, the New York City Department of Correction (NYC DOC) has substantially reduced its use of punitive (disciplinary) segregation, using strategies such as the following:

  • Reducing the number of disciplinary infractions for which punitive segregation is a sanction. Punitive segregation can now only be given in response to Grade I or Grade II infractions; Grade III infractions are not eligible.
    • Placement in “Punitive Segregation I” (PS I), which resembles typical restrictive housing with 23 hours in-cell per day, is limited to violent Grade I infractions. 
    • People who commit nonviolent Grade I infractions or Grade II infractions can be sanctioned to “Punitive Segregation II” (PS II), where they spend at least seven hours outside their cells per day.
  • Limiting the amount of time people can spend in punitive segregation. No one can be placed in PS I or PS II for more than 30 consecutive days, and no one can serve more than 60 days total during a six-month period without specific approval from the Chief of Department, something that happens rarely, according to the DOC.
  • Developing and promoting alternative ways to manage behavior.
    • The DOC employs incentive-based management systems to promote desired behavior. For example, in certain units, positive behavior is rewarded with new board games, movie nights, or similar incentives.
    • In addition, staff have been provided expanded training to prevent and resolve conflicts, focusing on de-escalation, conflict resolution, and working with special populations.
  • Eliminating punitive segregation as a sanction for certain special populations, including people with serious mental illness (SMI), youth under age 18, young adults ages 18 to 21, and women. These changes were enacted in 2013, 2014, 2016, and as of 2018, respectively.

The department is creating “a more diverse portfolio of responses to negative behavior and units that integrate programmatic behavioral modification” as well as units with more clinical approaches.NYC DOC, March 28, 2018, e-mail correspondence.

  • Clinical Alternatives to Punitive Segregation (CAPS) units offer a clinically appropriate alternative to restrictive housing for people with serious mental illness who commit serious disciplinary infractions. These units, which were created after punitive segregation was abolished for this population, provide residents with in-patient levels of mental health care and therapeutic programming, including group programming. As of spring 2018, NYC DOC had three CAPS units.
  • The Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness (PACE) was developed to reduce violent behavior by individuals with serious mental illness. It aims to achieve this by providing preventive care in the form of enhanced mental health supports to individuals before they commit serious infractions. As of spring 2018, the department had established six PACE units.
  • NYC DOC created additional alternative housing units to address various behavioral needs. These include Second Chance units, the Transitional Restorative Unit, the Secure Unit, and Enhanced Supervision Housing (ESH); such units seek to address the underlying causes of negative behavior and to incentivize positive behavior, and they provide “close supervision, targeted programming, and interdisciplinary teams to support individualized plans.”NYC DOC, March 28, 2018, e-mail correspondence. For example, ESH units are “enhanced through evidence-based programming including dialectical behavior therapy, interactive journaling, tablet-assisted programming, anger management,” and programming led by “credible messenger[s].” People’s cases are reviewed every 30 days for progression to the next level or the jail’s general population.

New York City reports that its reforms have already shown promising, measurable results:NYC DOC, March 28, 2018, e-mail correspondence. For example, ESH units are “enhanced through evidence-based programming including dialectical behavior therapy, interactive journaling, tablet-assisted programming, anger management,” and programming led by “credible messenger[s].” People’s cases are reviewed every 30 days for progression to the next level or the jail’s general population.

  • The average daily population in punitive segregation has been reduced by over 85 percent, from 671 people in 2009 to 95 individuals on March 7, 2018, according to the department. This brings the total segregation population in NYC DOC on any given day down to 1 percent (from 5 percent) of the total jail population.
  • NYC DOC also reports that its efforts to address people’s needs through specialized housing units has contributed to better management of behavior and reduced violence. For example, the department noted that on average, use of force rates decreased while individuals were in CAPS, compared to prior to their entry. And the average rate of fights for incarcerated people in each of the department’s alternatives to segregation units was lower than their average rates of fights prior to placement in those units.

North Carolina

In 2016, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) eliminated the use of highly restrictive housing (where people are confined to their cells for 22-24 hours per day) for anyone younger than 18. This is a population that Vera found was in this type of housing at a higher rate than people age 18 or above. DPS used multiple strategies to effect this change:

  • Using alternative sanctions. Instead of disciplinary segregation, youth younger than 18 are given other sanctions, such as loss of canteen or other privileges.
  • Providing alternate housing and more activities. Youth who need to be separated are placed in “modified housing” (MODH), which is more restrictive than general population but less so than restrictive housing. Young people in MODH have at least three hours out-of-cell time per day by policy, though they reportedly receive much more time outside their cells in practice. Youth come out in small groups for recreation and dayroom time and to go to the gym. In addition, a teacher provides classes on the unit to help prevent students from falling behind in their education.
  • Increasing staff training. DPS staff who work with youth are now trained in motivational interviewing and crisis intervention.

North Carolina created Therapeutic Diversion Units (TDUs), a program to remove people with serious mental illness from long-term, highly restrictive housing and to divert them from being sent to such housing in the first place. TDUs are intended to serve as a therapeutic alternative to highly restrictive housing, using strategies including the following:

  • Providing increased out-of-cell time and mental health programming and treatment. People in TDUs spend at least 20 hours outside their cells per week (10 hours of structured therapeutic activities and 10 of unstructured time), though DPS reports that it is often closer to 30 to 40 hours per week. Through a phased approach, people are gradually allowed out of their cells unrestrained, then in small groups, and eventually in larger groups. Evidence-based programming and individual and group therapy are provided.
  • Increasing staffing levels. TDUs have more staff than a typical unit, and custody staff reportedly work side-by-side with mental health staff to foster the units’ therapeutic environment.

In addition, DPS has created a “step-down” program, the Rehabilitative Diversion Unit (RDU). It aims to help people safely transition out of restrictive housing and back into the general population using the following approach: 

  • Moving incarcerated people from long-term restrictive housing to the RDU. 
  • Transferring some people to the RDU soon after their placements in restrictive housing. This can help avoid keeping them in restrictive housing for longer periods of time.
  • Providing programming and treatment to address mental illness and other factors.
  • Allowing gradually increasing out-of-cell time, privileges, and group activity. 

North Carolina’s RDU and TDUs have already served hundreds of incarcerated people:

  • 650 people were placed in the RDU program in its first two years.
    • 109 people in 2017, and an additional 64 people in January through March 2018, graduated from the RDU and were successfully reintegrated back into general population.
  • DPS created TDUs at six facilities around the state, including a women’s prison and the youth facility, between 2016 and early 2018. 
  • There were 417 admissions and 179 completions of the TDU program in the first 18 months TDUs existed.The number of people admitted to TDUs may be somewhat smaller than this figure reflects, given that an individual could have been admitted to such a unit more than once. People who finished received an average of five months of treatment in a TDU.

In addition, between May 2015 and April 2018, DPS reports the number of people in restrictive housing decreased by 27 percent, from 3,412 to 2,480:

  • In April 2018, there were 800 fewer people in disciplinary segregation than in May of 2015 (574 people vs. 1,374 people), a decrease of almost 60 percent.
  • During that same time, the population in other types of restrictive housing (called control housing and administrative segregation) decreased by 6.5 percent, or 132 people—from 2,038 to 1,906.

Oregon

The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) reports that in 2017 it took numerous steps to improve conditions of confinement and provide group programming in restrictive housing. These reforms include the following:

  • Providing people in long-term restrictive housing with some opportunities for congregate activity and programming. ODOC is piloting an Administrative Segregation Intervention Program developed by the University of Cincinnati in its Intensive Management Unit (IMU), a form of high-security housing for people whose behavior is deemed to pose a significant threat to facility safety and security. The instructor-led, out-of-cell program uses cognitive behavioral therapy to address behaviors that led to a person’s placement in IMU, with the goal of preparing them for an eventual transition to less-restrictive housing.
  • Providing programming in disciplinary segregation. The department has begun providing people in disciplinary segregation units at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution with instructor-facilitated, out-of-cell programming as well as in-cell programming packets.

Oregon is working to improve the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU), an intensive behavioral management unit for people with serious mental illness. The director of ODOC has reported that the department has taken the following steps, among others:

  • Employing more mental health staff. ODOC has more than doubled the number of qualified mental health professional positions assigned to the BHU, from four to nine full-time staff members.
  • Increasing and improving the BMU’s physical space. Oregon is constructing a building that will provide additional rooms for therapy and group programs, creating another yard to increase outdoor recreation opportunities, and establishing a mindfulness room (similar to the state’s “Blue Room”)—all scheduled to be available in 2018. (For more about blue rooms, see “Innovative programming in restrictive housing.”)

The department is also pursuing systemwide strategies to decrease the number of people who enter restrictive housing, particularly for disciplinary reasons, and to shorten the time they spend there:

  • Increasing staff training. In 2017, ODOC provided eight hours of training on gender identity and gender differences to all staff. In 2018, the department plans to offer all staff 26 hours of crisis intervention training (which covers mental health issues, crisis response, and communication skills).
  • Encouraging positive behavior in general population. Oregon is assessing its incentive level process and adding more incentives to further encourage and reward positive behavior (and avoid negative behaviors that may lead to placement in restrictive housing).
  • Creating additional “Blue Rooms.” One facility, Snake River Correctional Institution, currently has a Blue Room—a space where incarcerated people can watch videos of nature imagery in order to promote de-escalation and well-being. The department plans to create similar rooms in four more facilities.
  • Reducing the amount of segregation given as sanctions for infractions. Oregon reports that disciplinary hearings officers now employ a more progressive approach to discipline, considering an infraction’s seriousness and the individual’s disciplinary history when deciding whether to recommend disciplinary segregation and the length of a segregation sanction to impose. They are also more frequently suspending segregation sanctions, allowing people to remain in general population and, if they remain infraction-free for a certain period of time, removing their disciplinary segregation sanction.
  • Removing all “mandatory minimum” disciplinary segregation sanctions. This allows staff more discretion in sanctioning misconduct. They are now able to use alternative sanctions, instead of segregation, and there is no longer a minimum amount of time someone must be sent to segregation for certain infractions.
  • Allowing people to earn time off their disciplinary segregation sanction. Staff now review incarcerated people in disciplinary segregation units weekly and recommend that some be released early, based on positive behavior and programming needs.

ODOC is seeing the results of its reform efforts. The department reports the following:

  • The population in restrictive housing decreased from 8.8 percent to 7.7 percent of the total prison population in a one-year period, between the fourth quarter of 2016 and the fourth quarter of 2017. ODOC attributes this decline to multiple reforms, including the reduced use of disciplinary segregation and increased use of alternatives to restrictive housing.
  • As of March 1, 2018, the system had 300 empty beds in its restrictive housing units. The department reports it is actively developing plans to repurpose some of these beds into general population units.