WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today asked questions during the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) oversight hearing with BOP Director Michael Carvajal. Durbin asked Carvajal about BOP’s use of solitary confinement and whether the Bureau is working to reduce its use. Solitary confinement – or restricted housing as defined by BOP – places an inmate in an isolated cell for approximately 22 hours per day with only an hour or two of time for exercise or other activities.
“The Department of Justice issued a report in 2016 that noted that the use of restrictive housing ‘can cause serious, long lasting harm’ and should be ‘used only as necessary—and never as a default situation’. Do you accept or disagree with that conclusion?” Durbin said.
Carvajal said that BOP is working to find alternatives to solitary confinement and implement more out-of-cell programming.
Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.
The use of solitary confinement and lockdown conditions in federal and state prisons, including BOP facilities, reportedly skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last June, NPR reported that there were approximately 60,000 people confined to their cells before the pandemic began—and that this number rose to 300,000 state and federal prisoners during the pandemic.
Even short periods in solitary confinement can cause inmates to suffer depression, lack of sleep, anger, and suicidal ideations – and to lose access to productive programming. As a result, the negative effects of solitary confinement can extend well beyond incarceration, making it more difficult for inmates to reintegrate into the general population and reenter society once their sentence has been served.
Durbin is a lead sponsor of the Solitary Confinement Reform Act, which limits solitary confinement to the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions possible. The bill also improves access to mental health services for BOP prisoners in solitary confinement, and provides resources to state and local jurisdictions to assist them in reforming their own confinement practices. Additionally, the bill protects inmates’ civil rights through the creation of a Civil Rights Ombudsman position and bans the practice of placing LGBTQ inmates in solitary confinement as a means of protection.
Durbin held hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012 and 2014 on the use of solitary confinement.