Solitary Confinement Use Should Not Be Legislated, Says RI DOC Head

Mar 13, 2017

RI Statehouse
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR FILE

A group of lawmakers and personnel from the State Department of Corrections is expected to recommend changes in the use of solitary confinement soon. Advocates hope to see the practice abolished. A.T. Wall, the head of Rhode Island’s Department of Corrections, says he hopes to see a reduction in the use of solitary confinement.

“I would like to see that day come, and I recognize that there’s still a lot of work to be done, said Wall. “We’re taking advantage of the newest thinking, which is mostly incentive based, as opposed to punitive for example.”

However, he says any changes in the use of solitary confinement should not be legislated. Wall said the day-to-day work inside the prison system is variable, and some inmates in solitary confinement might be too violent or unstable to rejoin the general population.

“If for example the amount of time that somebody can spend in a particular status is enacted in statute, then it prohibits us from responding to exigent circumstances,” said Wall.

Currently, about five percent of inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions are in solitary confinement; about 150 people. Prison reform advocates say the practice takes a heavy toll on inmates’ mental health, some calling it torture.  Wall says he can’t envision a time when there’s no need for solitary confinement, but hopes to move away from the practice as a punishment for prisoners.