NAMI Applauds President's Call to "Rethink" Solitary Confinement

Jan 27 2016

ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 27, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) today expressed gratitude for President Obama's actions to curtail the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. 

The President ordered a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and sharp limits on its use for people with serious mental illness.  In an op-ed article in theWashington Post, released also by the White House, the President called broadly on the nation to "rethink" solitary confinement.

An audit of facilities administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons revealed that 60% of individuals in solitary confinement have undiagnosed or untreated serious mental illness.  Moreover, many of these individuals are placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, some for months or years at a time.

NAMI's Executive Director Mary Giliberti expressed grave concern about the statistics.  "It is well documented in research that long term segregation in prisons has devastating emotional consequences for all individuals," Giliberti stated.   "For individuals with pre-existing serious mental illness, it is akin to torture, a sure fire way to worsen symptoms and decrease the opportunity of successful reentry into society."

New federal guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in conjunction with President Obama's actions state that inmates with serious mental illness should generally not be placed in restrictive housing.   The placement of such individuals in restricted housing, the guidelines state, should occur only when "individuals present such an immediate and serious danger that there is no reasonable alternative … or a qualified mental health practitioner determines that such placement is not contraindicated."   

The guidelines also specify that inmates with serious mental illness who are placed in solitary confinement should be removed from such settings within 30 days and should receive "intensive, clinically appropriate mental health treatment for the entirety of placement in restrictive housing."

The excessive and inappropriate use of solitary confinement on inmates with serious mental illness is not limited to federal prisons.   Many states prisons also use solitary confinement excessively and inappropriately with inmates with serious mental illness and others.   However, progress is occurring at the state level as well.  For example,Colorado, Oregon, and Illinois have curtailed the use of solitary confinement on inmates with serious mental illness in recent years.

"President Obama's statement and orders represent an important step forward in establishing more humane alternatives to the use of solitary confinement in the federal prison system," Giliberti declared.  "We hope that all states will follow his lead and take similar steps to eliminate these draconian practices, particularly with juveniles and individuals with serious mental illness.  We also call on federal and state officials to focus on diverting people of all ages with serious mental illnesses from the criminal justice system in the first place."

About NAMI

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.