COLUMBUS—Planned changes to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s rules for solitary confinement are an important first step but don’t go far enough, according to Disability Rights Ohio and the ACLU of Ohio. New administrative rules adopted by the department exclude all individuals with serious mental illness, juveniles, and pregnant women from solitary confinement of more than 30 days. They also create options that address disciplinary issues without requiring prisoners to be placed in solitary confinement. Both are welcome changes.
However, Shining a Light on Solitary Confinement: Why Ohio Needs Reform, a joint report issued by DRO and the ACLU of Ohio in June 2016, highlighted many more areas where improvement is needed.
“We applaud the steps the department is taking to reduce the harmful impact of solitary confinement for individuals with serious mental illness,” says Disability Rights Ohio attorney Kristen Henry. “But we are concerned that these changes will not benefit many other inmates whose mental illness is determined to be less ‘serious.’ It is not clear that this distinction is clinically justified, especially in light of the overwhelming research showing that solitary confinement causes harm to all individuals with mental illness.”
“These new rules don’t address the lack of adequate out-of-cell time for programming and other activities,” says Mike Brickner, senior policy director for ACLU of Ohio. “Individuals in long-term restrictive housing still only get one hour of out-of-cell time five days a week. Experts recommend at least 20 hours out of cell per week, including 10 hours of programming. Data from other states shows that high quality programming is the number one way to decrease violence in prisons and to decrease recidivism and make our communities safer. ”
Many important details are not specified in the rules, so Disability Rights Ohio and the ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor these rules as they are implemented and advocate for policies that adequately protect people with mental illness.
Learn more about the 2016 joint report by the ACLU of Ohio and Disability Rights Ohio at www.acluohio.org/solitary.