In the Legislature: Peterson-proposed bill would limit use of solitary confinement in state prisons

Rep. Strom Peterson

State Rep. Strom Peterson recently introduced House Bill 1087, limiting the use of solitary confinement in state prisons to emergency purposes, medical isolation and voluntary request.

The legislation outlines specific conditions for when the Department of Corrections may employ the practice and defines solitary confinement as an incarcerated person spending 20 hours a day alone. It limits the use of solitary confinement to 20 days in a 60-day period. HB 1087 was voted out of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee Jan. 19 by a vote of 6-3.

“Solitary confinement should be used as a last resort to reduce the risk of immediate and long-lasting harm,” said Peterson, an Edmonds Democrat who represents the 21st District including portions of Edmonds and Lynnwood. “The inhumane practice of placing individuals in solitary confinement for weeks at a time is torturous and fails to recognize our shared humanity and dignity.

“An overreliance on this practice is failing to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals. This bill seeks to limit the use of solitary confinement while ensuring the safety of the people that work in our prisons as well as the incarcerated population,” he continued.

According to a news release regarding the bill, the Department of Corrections has worked to reform the use of solitary confinement for years, yet over 600 individuals remain in restrictive housing within the Department of Corrections prison system. The United Nations has declared that 15 consecutive days of solitary confinement is torture. Solitary confinement is a traumatic experience that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

HB 1087 sets out specific conditions for solitary confinement including accessing external activities, specifying living space conditions, and ensuring access to communication and personal hygiene. It also requires additional data collection and requires the Department of Correction to create a report outlining a staffing assessment and master plan identifying capital investments needed to implement the provisions of the bill. Finally, it requires the creation of individual intervention plans to transition persons who have been in solitary confinement for longer than 120 days to a less restrictive alternative.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

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