Washington Department of Corrections ending solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons

TUMWATER, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) said on Thursday it was ending solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons.

The DOC said the decision comes after several years of reviewing the disciplinary process.

Data showed that solitary confinement was not an effective way to discipline people serving time, according to the DOC. It also showed that it didn’t stop people from having “negative behavior.”

“This is indeed an historic moment in the department,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange said. “This is definitely a key step in becoming a human-centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change.  The science is clear on this and the science says stop doing it.”

The DOC said it was going to look at other ways to limit the use of “restrictive housing.”

“We know a lot more now than we did years ago when our practices were designed,” says Mike Obenland, Prisons Assistant Secretary.  “We must continue to examine our processes and make meaningful changes that are both safe and humane. The data shows that the use of disciplinary segregation has many shortcomings, including failing to improve negative behavior.”

Data from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020, on solitary confinement, showed there were about 2,500 disciplinary segregation sanctions in that time period. Of those, 57 percent were for non-violent infractions.

Solitary confinement will still be used for non-disciplinary purposes like investigations, safety, protective custody and classification.