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"Like Gasoline on a Fire": NAMI Testifies on Dangers of Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2012 -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee today, warning that placing individuals with severe psychiatric symptoms into solitary confinement in prisons is "akin to pouring gasoline on a fire."

"It is an almost sure fire guarantee to lead to a worsening of symptoms," said NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, Ronald Honberg, in testimony statement submitted to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Even though prisoners with mental illnesses sometimes are secluded for the safety of themselves and others, the practice often is also used, inappropriately, for punishment. Prolonged isolation usually intensifies already chronic symptoms.

The result is the "worsening of psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia, extreme anxiety and depression, increased suicides and suicide attempts, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and self-mutilation," Honberg said.

New York and California, among other states, have already recognized the dangers and have enacted legislation to limit the use of solitary confinement. NAMI called for action at the federal level to:

  • Tie federal funding to states to restrictions on solitary confinement
  • Amend the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) to allow federal courts the power to end abuses occurring in solitary confinement units
  • Fund the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act to support alternatives to incarceration for people with mental health issues

Severe mental illness includes major depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia.

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope.

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