A group that conducted a yearlong study of the treatment of inmates in U.S. prisons called Wednesday for an end to some forms of severe isolation and a halt to releasing prisoners directly to the streets after long terms in solitary confinement.
A report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons said the use of solitary confinement is on the rise in the USA, where 2.2 million inmates are incarcerated.
From 1995 to 2000, the number of offenders assigned to solitary confinement increased by 40%, surpassing the 28% rise in overall prison population growth, according to the group.
The commission also said 300,000 to 400,000 mentally ill offenders suffer from disease and neglect.
The group, which took testimony from prisoner advocates and corrections officials in several states over a yearlong period, will present its findings today to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The Vera Institute of Justice, a group that advocates for prisoner rights, initiated and organized the study. Vera also provided staff.
"If there was ever a time when the public consequences of confinement did not matter, that time is long gone," the report concluded.
Among the findings:
*State prison homicides have declined dramatically since 1980, from 54 murders per 100,000 prisoners to four murders per 100,000 prisoners in 2002.
Data on some other forms of violence are not reliable, the commission said.
"Perhaps the biggest blind spot," the report said, is that "there are no national measures of physical violence and excessive use of force by staff against prisoners, including the inappropriate use of restraints and non-lethal weapons."
*Prisons and jails are ill-equipped to provide proper care to up to 400,000 offenders suffering from mental illness.
Nicholas Katzenbach, co-chairman of the commission and former attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, said the number of mentally ill prisoners was "particularly shocking."
"The need for mental health care is enormous," the report said.
Former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction director Reginald Wilkinson said in the report that prisons have become "the new asylums."
*Most prisons are isolated from meaningful public accountability.
"Most correctional facilities are surrounded by more than physical walls," the report said. "They are walled off from external monitoring and public scrutiny to a degree inconsistent with the responsibility of public institutions."