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Report Calls For Cutting Back Time In State Prisons' Solitary Confinement

Eileen Fleming

Inmates in Louisiana prisons are placed in solitary confinement at four times the national average. That’s one finding from a report released Tuesday. 

The report, Louisiana on Lockdown, includes surveys from more than 700 of the 3,000 inmates currently in solitary confinement, or what the state Department of Corrections calls restrictive housing.

Most respondents said their mental health has suffered in the extreme confinement. Seventy-seven percent said they’ve been in solitary for more than a year. The report says that nationally that number is less than 20 percent.

The report took two years to complete and was conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans and Solitary Watch.

One of the speakers at the report’s public release was Albert Woodfox, who spent 44 years and 10 months in solitary confinement at Angola Prison.

“For 24 hours a day I had to fight for my sanity.  For 24 hours a day I had to watch other men who I considered very strong slowly go insane.”  

Woodfox, now 72, was released in 2016.

Also describing his experience at the report's public release was Kiana Calloway, who was 16 years old when convicted of murder. In 1998 and 1999 he spent 16 months at Angola Prison’s solitary confinement wing at Angola Prion. He was released in 2011 but the experience stays with him.

“Even today I wake up with cold sweats, having nightmares of screams, howling from the cells next to me. Or hearing a guy that’s mentally ill four cells down from me that’s beating and screaming and hollering for a security officer to come down there and give him some type of medical treatment, only to get beaten.”    

The report recommends a six-month limit on all stays in isolation -- eventually going into compliance with international standards of a 15-day maximum -- and a complete ban on solitary for minors and people with mental illness.

Louisiana corrections officials have responded to the report, saying say they are making progress in reducing the use of solitary confinement. And they called criminal justice advocates' release of prisoner responses as –quote -- propaganda based on a non-scientific survey. Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick disputes some inmates' claims that they are never let out of their cells. And officials pushed back against claims that medical care is neglected.

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