Studying Solitary Confinement in Rhode Island’s Prison Is A Good First Step

Thanks to the leadership of Representative Aaron Regunberg, last fall, the Rhode Island General Assembly created a commission to study the use of solitary confinement at the ACI. This is an important first step as, until now, no one in the state was even tracking the frequency and impact of solitary confinement. Shockingly, the state government was not studying whether solitary confinement is actually effective at establishing order and security at the prison. Even more concerning, they were not tracking whether solitary confinement damages the mental health of our citizens rather than “rehabilitating them”.

Despite this lack of understanding of the affects of solitary confinement, it is not uncommon for Rhode Islanders to spend a year or more in solitary, completely detached from any social interaction.

It’s well established that a large percentage of our citizens who are incarcerated at the ACI suffer from mental illness of some sort including bipolar disorder, borderline personality, severe depression, and anxiety. In fact, according to Louis Cerbo, director of behavioral health at the corrections department, in any given day, 400 to 500 inmates in the system are diagnosed as having serious, persistent mental illness. Mentally Ill Inmates Face Solitary Confinement in RI Prisons, Providence Journal, January 5, 2017.

Many public policy decisions have led to the incarceration of the mentally ill in a prison that does not and cannot adequately treat them. But as long as these Rhode Islanders are incarcerated in a prison setting, it is a moral and public safety imperative that they not be subjected to punishment that harms their mental health and makes us all less safe.

The vast majority of those incarcerated at the ACI will serve their sentence and be released. That’s why every Rhode Islander should care about what happens to every one of our citizens while they are incarcerated.