The use of solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates sparked expensive lawsuits in New Mexico in the last couple of years. Doña Ana County paid Stephen Slevin millions of dollars in 2013 after he spent almost two years in solitary confinement. A bill making its way through this legislative session could outlaw such lengthy stays in isolation.
The measure would ban the use of solitary confinement on inmates with serious mental illness and juvenile offenders in both county jails and state prisons. Steven Robert Allen is with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which released a report on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico.
“People placed in solitary confinement only get worse. We have decades of research that shows they become more violent, more antisocial,” he said.
The bill would also require jails and prisons to report more information about when and how often segregation is used, and it would prohibit the use of solitary for any longer than 15 consecutive days. That point is a stumbling block for incarceration officials, who say segregation is a necessary tool used to control prisoners who pose a danger to other inmates and guards.
The New Mexico Corrections Department—which runs the state’s prisons but not jails—released this statement:
“The department has taken a proactive approach to reducing the use of segregation. We have invited outside partner, VERA institute, to help us evaluate, assess and reconfigure our use of restrictive housing. The department has changed policy and provided other options other than segregation in matter of inmate discipline. We have also opened up special populations to move offenders out of restrictive housing, to include our restoration to population program and our re-entry program. We will continue to work with outside partners to do what’s right.”
Funding for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the McCune Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Find out more at publichealthnm.org.