‘Spiritually and mentally harmed’: Advocates push for limit on solitary confinement

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Advocates are renewing their push for prison reforms, particularly the amount of time inmates can be held in what’s commonly called solitary confinement.

Joseph Shepard was among those rallying at the State House Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation that would, among other things, cap restrictive housing at 15 days. Shepard said he’s served time at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) and was held in solitary.

“I’m permanently, physically, spiritually and mentally harmed,” he said.

J.R. Ventura, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) said there has to be consequences for inmates who misbehave behind bars, but noted there are a multitude of ways inmates can be punished, including but not limited to, disciplinary confinement.

“We have been on the record numerous times regarding this issue; the Rhode Island Department of Corrections does not have solitary confinement,” he said.

RIDOC uses the term “restrictive housing,” which Ventura said encompasses more than just segregation.

This is not the first time lawmakers have considered the 15-day maximum for segregation. Back in 2016, then-director of RIDOC, A.T. Wall, said he opposed any changes to the law.

At a committee hearing for the House version of the bill in March of this year, Kathleen Kelly, Administrator of Legal Support Services for RIDOC, called the proposal “misguided” and “costly,” saying it would amount to an unfunded mandate.

She said roughly 3% of the prison population (about 80 inmates) is held in restrictive housing each quarter, most for less than 30 days.

Currently, RIDOC only holds the most egregious offenders for more than 31 days, with a maximum of one year in segregation, a change that was made in 2017. Inmates in restrictive housing are sometimes held in their cells for a full 24 hours a day.

Shepard said it’s no way to rehabilitate someone.

“If you really want Rhode Island to be a better, productive, safer place for you, for your family, for your children, for your friends, then support this bill,” he said.

Neither the Senate or House version of the bill has been scheduled for a vote.

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