State prison officials are reducing the number of offenders in solitary confinement — once among the fastest-growing conditions of detention — as budget pressures, legal challenges and concerns about the punishment's effectiveness mount.
States such as Mississippi, Texas and Illinois have decreased the number of inmates in solitary confinement, a dramatic acknowledgement, analysts say, that states can no longer sustain the costs of hard-line criminal justice policies. ...
The number of prisoners in solitary confinement — typically locked away for 23 hours a day — grew 40% from 1995 to 2000 when there were 80,870 segregated inmates, a study by The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons found. The overall prison population increased 28% during that time. Isolating prisoners, the private study found, is often "twice as costly."
Texas' inclusion on the list surprised me, but here's the explanation: "Texas: A plan for 6,000 drug rehabilitation beds designed to divert offenders from prison had a side benefit, Republican state Rep. Jerry Madden said: a reduction in the solitary confinement population, from 9,343 in 2007 to 8,627 this year." A 7.7% decline may not seem like much, but when compared to the seemingly inexorable rise in isolation beds that preceded it, the trend is remarkable.
Particularly interesting to me is that the number of offenders in isolation declined more or less organically when Texas diverted relatively low-level offenders from the system. To my knowledge there was no concerted effort to reduce it.
See Johnson's prior coverage of solitary confinement issues for USA Today.