People incarcerated at Washington state correctional facilities will no longer be subjected to disciplinary segregation — being put in solitary confinement as a punishment — after state officials determined it is not effective.
The state Department of Corrections made the announcement on Thursday, although the new practice has been in effect for the past two weeks, according to a news release.
“This is indeed a historic moment in the department,” said DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange. “This is definitely a key step in becoming a human-centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change.
“The science is clear on this, and the science says stop doing it,” Strange said, adding that the practice has not been effective at deterring negative behavior.
The DOC refers to the practice as “disciplinary segregation,” and says the term “solitary confinement” is archaic and does not reflect the fact that incarcerated individuals receive programming and other benefits.
The agency made the change after collecting data on the practice of isolating incarcerated people for punishment. It found that of the 2,500 incidents where people were subjected to disciplinary segregation from Sept. 1, 2019 through Aug. 31, 2020, the majority — 57% — were disciplined for nonviolent infractions.
People who received disciplinary segregation on average spent from 11 days to 16 days in isolation. Many had already been subjected to administrative segregation, which involves isolating a person for the safety of themselves or others, while their disciplinary hearing was pending. Since most received credit for that time served in administrative segregation — which will remain in effect — the actual time spent in disciplinary segregation was relatively short, the DOC said.
“DOC is committed to safe and humane practices, where we address violent behavior when necessary, but do not use segregation as a form of punishment,” said Sean Murphy, the department’s deputy secretary.
Gov. Jay Inslee said the DOC’s decision “is the right thing to do.”