Department of Justice Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing
United States Department of Justice
Jan 26, 2016

On January 25, 2016, in a transformative and historic step on criminal justice reform, President Obama announced that he will adopt the recommendations in a Justice Department report to reform the use of restrictive housing, including solitary confinement, in our federal prison system. The report also establishes more than 50 “Guiding Principles,” or best practices, designed to serve as a road map for reform as correctional systems across the country confront this issue.  Working alongside other Justice Department components and offices, staff in the Civil Rights Division played a key role in shaping, informing, and contributing to the report. 

§  Just this afternoon [Jan. 26, 2016], Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, in remarks at the American Correctional Association Winter Conference in New Orleans, highlighted the key findings of the report in her call to reform restrictive housing and solitary confinement practices.  As she explained, “We developed a series of guiding principles that reflect our values and our goals.  For example, we believe that inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting necessary to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of staff, other inmates, and the public.  Correctional systems should always be able to clearly articulate why an inmate is in restrictive housing and those reasons should be supported by objective evidence.”

§  The Justice Department released the new report on Monday, outlining a series of “Guiding Principles,” or best practices, for correctional systems across the country and detailed policy recommendations aimed to curtail and limit how the federal prison system uses restrictive housing, including solitary confinement.  The report concluded that, “as a matter of policy, we believe strongly this practice should be used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints.”  The recommendations for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) include ending solitary confinement for juveniles; diverting inmates with serious mental illness to secure mental health units; and discouraging the placement of inmates in any form of restrictive housing during the final 180 days of their prison terms.

§  In Washington Post op-ed, President Obama announced that he would adopt the Justice Department’s recommendations to reform the federal prison system.  He wrote, “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?  It doesn’t make us safer.  It’s an affront to our common humanity.”

§  In a blog post, head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta wrote that, “we must change our approach and view solitary confinement as a last resort to protect public safety rather than a first response to inflict punishment.”  She also highlighted the Division’s investigations into restrictive housing practices dealing with severely mentally ill inmates in Pennsylvania and juveniles in Ohio as examples of cases that “demonstrate the urgent need for a fundamental shift in how we use and apply solitary confinement.”

§  A White House Fact Sheet highlighted the announcement and summarized key details from the Department’s report.


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