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Reducing Rates Of Solitary Confinement in North Carolina

A picture of a prison cell.
Derek Purdy
Creative Commons

Last year Michael Anthony Kerr was found unresponsive after spending 35 days in a solitary confinement cell in North Carolina.  He subsequently died. 

Recent research has shown that the impacts of solitary confinement can have detrimental long term effects.  A new pilot program in North Carolina aims to reduce rates of solitary confinement in the state. 

Jessa Wilcox is with the Vera Institute, a non profit focused on justice and is working with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety on the program. 

Wilcox says there is mounting evidence that the conditions of segregation have significant negative impacts on prisoners physical and mental health, "There have been studies that show sever and chronic depression, hallucinations, difficulty with concentration and memory."

Nationally, on average, most Department of Corrections house between 5 and 8 percent of their population in segregated housing says Wilcox, and that number has been steadily growing.  Traditionally the use of solitary confinement was reserved for those prisoners who were violent or posed a threat to others, but Wilcox says that has changed. 

"This has been greatly expanded to prisoners who have just committed minor violations, disruptive, but not violent behavior.  Such as, failure to obey an order.  There are also those prisoners who have been put into segregation as a protective measure when the prisoners themselves or the corrections officials feel it is unsafe for them to be in the general population. They have been put into solitary confinement."

North Carolina is one of five sites across the country taking part in the pilot program alongside Oregon, Nebraska, New York City and Middlesex, New Jersey.

The first 12-14 months of the program will be doing an analysis of what is happening in North Carolina segregated housing units says Wilcox, " After that we will present a recommendation to the Department of Public Safety and hopefully from there we will be able to start implementing a safe alternative."

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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