- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska Department of Corrections and the American Civil Liberties Union are working together to reform the Anchorage Correctional Complex’s solitary confinement practices.

The department and the ACLU last week brought a team of experts from New York University to tour the complex’s facilities and segregation units, Alaska Public Media reported (https://bit.ly/2rMcnGy ).

The experts developed suggestions to improve conditions for inmates and staff.

“Segregation is known to be psychologically detrimental to those who are in there for any length of time,” Bruce Busby, the state department’s director of institutions said.

The complex and Alaska have a higher rate of inmates in solitary confinement than the national average. Ten percent of Alaska inmates were in restricted housing in 2012 while the national average was 4 percent.

“The problem is it’s really easy, and I’m going to call it lazy, right?” Busby said. “An inmate does a bad thing and we just throw them in seg. It’s easy for us. It’s hard on the individual.”

Seg is slang for administration segregation, when inmates are locked in their cells for periods of up to 23 hours a day with no or few programs to participate in and few privileges.

The state department has been working to decrease the number of inmates in solitary confinement and has brought the number of prisoners in it down to 8.5 percent.

“If you have an inmate who is always going to be bashing heads out in general pop, he has no business being in general pop,” Busby said, referring to general prison populations, which are inmates who get privileges, live in common areas with other inmates and have access to prison programs. “If it’s an inmate who has a drug problem, maybe we can intercede in another way, maybe through treatment or alternative sanctions.”

Busby said many inmates also choose to live in restricted housing because they fear for their safety in the general population. He said the department is looking at different housing options to make prisoners feel safer.

“We want to house the goldfish with the goldfish and the sharks with the sharks,” Busby said.

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