Two groups promise a report next week on solitary confinement in Arkansas prisons.

It’s time to talk about it. Past time. Though in the current Arkansas political climate it’s hard to imagine many sympathetic ears at the legislature.

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The groups, DecARcerate and Disability Rights Arkansas, say Arkansas continues to have the highest solitary confinement rate in the US and it gives broad discretion to prison officials for its use on 2,600 to 3,500 inmates each year. The numbers are disproportionate for Black people and Hispanic women. More than 90 percent of the placements are for non-violent, minor behavioral offenses, the groups say. Yet in years past, Arkansas officials have complained about not having ENOUGH solitary cells. From the release:

Furthermore, 73% of people in solitary have been there at least 6 months, 42% at least one year, and some more than 6 years. This does not include individuals on Death Row. ADC grossly underestimates the prevalence of serious mental illness (SMI), reporting that only 3% of the total ADC prison population has a serious mental illness. The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that roughly 50% of people in state prisons report SMI symptoms, suggesting that people with SMI are not treated, more likely to be disciplined with solitary, and more likely to have worse mental health when they leave prison. Despite a national trend to reduce the use of solitary confinement, the report finds that the ADC has no strategic plan for reducing its use of the practice.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, prisons dramatically increased the estimated number of people held in solitary confinement each day from 60,000 to 300,000 making the issue of solitary confinement more relevant than ever.

“Solitary confinement is recognized as torture by the United Nations and reflects a larger punitive culture within Arkansas prisons. The fact that Arkansas uses solitary confinement so widely and frequently is unacceptable and deeply troubling. We must demand an end to this abusive practice,” said Executive Director of DecARcerate, Zachary Crow.

Tom Masseau, Executive Director of Disability Rights Arkansas stated, “Solitary confinement is an archaic and grossly overused practice, one which is devastating in its effects on mental health. Its use should be ended immediately. It is shameful that Arkansas leads the nation in the use of solitary confinement. We call on the Arkansas Department of Corrections and policymakers to come together to enhance programs that emphasize rehabilitation in prison settings, and to ban outright the use of solitary confinement.”

In a Jan. 8 report, the groups say they will discuss the history of solitary confinement in Arkansas and make recommendations for humane, effective treatment of people in prison.

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A lawsuit over the state’s alleged overuse of solitary confinement failed in federal court last year.

In 2019, the state did prohibit holding minors in solitary confinement.

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