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Study: 1 In 10 NC Inmates Are Held In Solitary Every Day

Central Prison
Dept. of Public Safety

Staff from North Carolina prisons frequently use solitary confinement to discipline inmates, even though it’s costly and ineffective at decreasing violence, according to a new study from the UNC School of Law.

About nine percent of state inmates were being held in long-term solitary confinement on multiple dates between 2012 and 2014. That's higher than the rate of six percent in Texas and the federal prison system and the rate of eight percent in New York before a court ordered the state review its practices, the study found.

Under solitary confinement, an inmate spends up to 24 hours of a day in his cell with strict limitations on recreational time and showers. The study found that solitary often does not correct behavior and when it is ordered for more than 15 days results in adverse psychological effects for the inmate and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, in accordance with the United Nation's Convention Against Torture.

The study, called Solitary Confinement as Torture, and prepared by professors and students, advocates for alternatives to solitary.

“In 2012, approximately 23,500 prisoners were released by the North Carolina Department of Corrections into our hometowns and communities,” the study says. “Those who have been held in a solitary confinement unit were released directly to the street - an enormous and jarring transition that is unsafe and inhumane.”

Professor Deborah Weissman, one of the study authors, says prisons staff often use solitary as a discretionary tool to reprimand misconduct.

“Unauthorized tobacco use. Profane language,” Weissman said.

“I mean, when you think about what happens to someone in solitary confinement, that's just a really obvious disproportionate punishment.”

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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