- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Research showing that solitary confinement can harm inmates and does not make prisons safer has inspired corrections officials in North Dakota to change policies at the state penitentiary.

The North Dakota State Penitentiary for decades placed prisoners in solitary confinement if they were violent or disobedient. Officials believed that made the prison safer and at its peak last summer 101 inmates were in seclusion, The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1YaPQve ) reported. A year later, the number of prisoners in seclusion is down by about 70 percent from then and officials report no jump in violence at the facility.

What changed? The penitentiary’s segregation wing has been transformed into a hub for rehabilitation that offers group activities, behavioral health treatment and an incentives system.

Last summer, the 106-bed wing was regularly full and inmates averaged about half a year in seclusion. Behavior that previously would have led to a warning landed prisoners in segregation.

“It became really nebulous what was a danger to the institution. Was telling me no, when I told you to tuck in your shirt, a danger?” said Karianne Wolfer, director of correctional practices.

Administrators were pushed to revise policies because of the constantly full wing. They toured a Norwegian prison, new leadership arrived at the facility and a “behavioral modification program” at another state correctional facility was studied.

Administrators identified inmates who were ready to leave the unit, created a transitional unit and began moving them.

“We had to trust the data that segregation is not helping you anyway,” said clinical director Lisa Peterson. By April 25, only 28 people were in solitary confinement.

Administrators told the newspaper that they still fight the urge to keep people in the segregation wing.

“It’s hard to let people out when you know they’ve done something kind of nasty. It was easier for me to say let’s keep them locked up a little bit longer, because I’m not sure yet,” Warden Colby Braun. “That’s where it takes the whole team to work together.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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