News and information useful to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law students, faculty and staff.

Archive for June 16th, 2016

New Report Proposes Prison Reform

old prison Prison reform and dealing with mental illness among incarcerated populations is gaining attention nationwide. Reform advocates in Ohio are part of this growing trend. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Disability Rights Ohio conducted a study of solitary confinement and mental illness in Ohio’s prisons. The results of the study were released in a report titled Shining a Light on Solitary Confinement: Why Ohio Needs Reform. The purposes of the study and report were to examine the ways that solitary confinement is used in Ohio and its effects on mental health; to gather evidence proving that solitary confinement increases violence, exacerbates existing mental health issues, triggers mental health issues in those previously without, and is generally not rehabilitative; and to suggest reforms for the use of solitary in Ohio.

All of Ohio’s 27 prison facilities use solitary confinement for disciplinary and administrative purposes. Solitary confinement means that an inmate is kept in total isolation for 21-24 hours per day, and most spend less than an hour per day outside their cell. According to the report, Ohio’s prisons house approximately 10 times the number of people with mental illness as the state’s psychiatric hospitals. On any given day in Ohio’s prisons, over 2,500 people are in solitary confinement, and 25% of those inmates are mentally ill. Inmates held in solitary do not generally receive proper treatment for their mental health issues, and are 6.9 times more likely to harm themselves. It also costs the state 2-3 times more to keep an inmate in solitary rather than the general population.

ACLU of Ohio and DRO made several suggestions for reform. Ohio prisons must reduce their reliance on solitary confinement, reduce the length of stays in solitary, improve staff training on dealing with mental health issues, and develop transitional units between isolation and general housing and release. The report argues that such reforms are necessary considering that 95% of people sentenced to prison are eventually released back into the public, and solitary confinement does not promote rehabilitation. Michigan, Mississippi, and several other states that have already attempted reforms and reduced solitary confinement, have noted decreases in violence and misconduct.