CA prisoners released from solitary confinement struggle to re-integrate in community


California prisoners held in solitary confinement struggle to re-integrate in their communities once they have been released, and their recidivism rates are significantly higher compared to inmates who served time only in general population.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s 2011 Adult Institution Outcome Evaluation Report, 69.8% of inmates who served time in security housing units (SHU) are sent back to prison within three years of their release. That figure was 5% higher than the recidivism rate of general population inmates, which was 64.8%.

The high recidivism rate among SHU inmates raise troubling questions on the psychological damage of prolonged isolation on prisoners and whether California is providing adequate pre-release or transition programs to prepare SHU inmates for re-integration.

Given that California holds more than 4,000 prisoners in the SHU – with the average stay of about 4 years – there is concern that the state’s over-use of extended solitary confinement may have adverse impacts on public safety.

In her testimony before the joint Assembly and Senate public safety committee, UC Irvine Professor Keramet Reiter warned that there are “big problems with having this many people in solitary confinement for so long.”

“It means that there’s thousands of people in any given year experiencing these harsh conditions of confinement and struggling with reintegrating when they get out. So we know that many people have mental health problems after they stay in these conditions and that transitions can be extremely difficult from solitary confinement back to the general prison population and then back to society,” said Reiter. “The vast majority of people [in the SHU] are ultimately going to get out and come back to our communities.”

Reiter, who has interviewed dozens of former SHU inmates, said many prisoners found it “extremely challenging” to transition from the “deprivations of the SHU out to the street.”

“Prisoners have trouble making basic decisions. They have trouble being in public places in crowds. All of the things happening, having not seen natural light or interacted with more than one person at a time for years. All of these things create all kinds of overwhelming sensations as they come out,” Reiter explained.

According Inspector General Robert Barton, 273 inmates paroled directly from the SHU – averaging 23 SHU inmates per month – between September 2012 and September 2013. However, Reiter’s analysis of previous years’ data indicated that the figure is a lot higher – about 1,000 per year or roughly 100 SHU inmates per month being released back to the streets where they struggle to lead normal lives and avoid returning to prison.

The fact that so many SHU inmates have trouble re-integrating after their release is not surprising given the harsh conditions and extreme sensory deprivation the inmates are forced to endure in solitary confinement.

Inmates in the SHU spend about 22 to 23 hours a day in an 8 feet by 10 feet cell, with little or no natural light. They are banned from contact visits with family and friends. They are severely restricted in their communications – written or verbal – with others as well as access to reading materials and educational or rehabilitative programming during their SHU term.

Dr. Craig Haney, a Professor of Psychology at UC Santa Cruz, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in 2012 that such “enforced asociality and the virtually total lack of training or meaningful programming that isolated prisoners typically receive can significantly impede their post-prison adjustment.”

The high recidivism rate can also be attributed to the lack of programs to help inmates transition from solitary confinement to the general population, whether in a prison or in communities.

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said that the voluntary, independent study programs available to SHU inmates is not sufficient to prepare them for re-entry in the community.

“To me that seems like something that every community in California should be concerned about because I don’t think they’re being prepared for rehabilitation and re-entry,” said Hancock. “My concern is what happens to people who are released from these conditions of deprivation of other human contact or activities or planning for themselves.”

Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, said the department is in “very preliminary discussions” to consider creating a pre-release or transitional education program to “better prepare the individual for reintegration into the communities.”

“We do recognize that one thing we are lacking is probably some pre-release or transitional programming for the inmates that are going to be released. Presently, we do not have any of those programs,” Stainer acknowledged.

Learn More:

2 Comments on “CA prisoners released from solitary confinement struggle to re-integrate in community

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in California | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Analysis: California taxpayers foot high costs of long-term solitary confinement | What The Folly?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.