Delaware DOC changes disciplinary techniques, ACLU recognizes progress
DELAWARE – According to the state, 59 percent of Delaware inmates who were living in what used to be restrictive housing were diagnosed as mentally ill. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Delaware says in many cases solitary confinement made their situations worse. However after the ACLU pushed for change, state officials say they’re also seeing positive impacts from changing the way they handle discipline.
“We’ve seen the amount of grievances inmates file go down. We’ve seen less officers getting injured from responding to codes,” says Bureau of Prisons Chief Shane Troxler.
The Delaware Department of Corrections (DOC) says it’s seeing positive results on all levels after phasing out restrictive housing, commonly known as solitary confinement, in prisons over the past several years.
In 2016, DOC agreed to provide at least 17.5 hours each week of recreation opportunities for maximum security inmates in housing units that used to use restrictive housing. Nationally, the standards are more restrictive. The ACLU says those added hours make a difference.
“When you’re talking about a person with a mental illness, putting them into a solitary confinement situation is like putting an asthmatic person into an overly hot room with bad air circulation,” says Mike Brickner with the ACLU of Delaware.
DOC’s current approach to disciplinary measures did not happen overnight. In fact, the DOC has been trying to address this for the past couple of years due in part to legal pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware back in 2015.
“We also know for long term that putting a person who has a mental illness into solitary confinement situation even for a short period of time is not going to be good overall for their health and welfare,” says Brickner.
Now when it’s appropriate, the DOC uses other disciplinary measures including taking away phone privileges, visitations or commissary allowance. If security is a concern, inmates will be put into secluded spaces with access to other opportunities. “We give them access to mental health, access to unstructured recreation time as well as structured recreation time,” says Troxler.
The ACLU says they’re continuing to work on decreasing the inmate population in Delaware’s prisons. They say prisons with a lot of people create challenges during a pandemic as well as challenges with resources like counseling and education. Meanwhile, the DOC says they’re actively working to improve and modernize the prison system.
Delaware is one of just four state’s that didn’t put any inmates in restrictive housing or solitary confinement last year.