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WA Department of Corrections ends solitary confinement as punishment

A barren room used for recreation by inmates in solitary confinement at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press file
Inmates in solitary confinement at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton used this room for recreation in 2015.

Washington state correctional facilities will no longer place people in custody in solitary confinement as a punishment — after state officials determined it is not effective.

The state Department of Corrections made the announcement Thursday, saying the policy has been in effect for the past two weeks.

Corrections Secretary Cheryl Strange called it a historic moment in the department and a “key step in becoming a human-centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change.”

She also said the the practice has not been effective at deterring negative behavior.

The agency collected data on the practice of isolating incarcerated people for punishment. It found that of 2,500 incidents in which people were subjected to disciplinary segregation from Sept. 1, 2019 through Aug. 31, 2020, most — 57% — were disciplined for nonviolent infractions.

People who received disciplinary segregation on average spent from 11 to 16 days in isolation. Many had already been subjected to administrative segregation, which involves isolating a person for the safety of themselves or others, while their disciplinary hearing was pending. Most received credit for that time served in administrative segregation — which will remain in effect, officials said.

“DOC is committed to safe and humane practices, where we address violent behavior when necessary, but do not use segregation as a form of punishment,” said Sean Murphy, the department’s deputy secretary.

Gov. Jay Inslee called the DOC’s decision “is the right thing to do.”

Solitary confinement will continue to be used for non-disciplinary purposes such as investigations, safety and protective custody.

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