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Seclusion rates in Ohio decrease in state prisons, juvenile facilities

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The amount of inmates sent to seclusion within Ohio prisons has decreased by over 20 percent from 2011 to 2015, according to a report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

Overall rates for inmates in seclusion, also called solitary confinement, decreased to 462.9 per 1,000 inmates over the four-year timespan.

Of the overall seclusion population, 27 percent were prisoners on the mental health caseload, while only 21 percent of the total prison population are on the mental health caseload.

This gap is something the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is working to lessen.

“We’ve got several subcommittees made up of wardens and other folks looking at the different aspects of restrictive housing, with focuses on the seriously mentally ill,” said department spokesperson Brian Niceswanger. “It’s going to require something pretty significant for a seriously mentally ill person to be placed in restrictive housing, and there’s going to be a lot of follow-up and mental health intervention to make sure those people are not in there for an extended period of time.”

In an effort to amend the seclusion system, Ohio prisons have implemented two different forms of seclusion: restricted housing and limited-purpose housing. In the past, restricted housing has been the main option for inmates who are sent to seclusion, Niceswanger said. With limited-purpose housing, inmates who commit lesser offenses would still be secluded but would have three hours a day outside of the restricted environment and would be allowed to partake in any educational programs in which they are already enrolled.

“Restrictive housing has historically been the default,” Niceswanger said. “Whether it’s a major or minor infraction, they went to restrictive housing. Now the goal is to look at everyone on a case-by-case basis.”

Based on this criteria, an inmate would have to show a potential danger to themselves or to another person in order to be sent to restricted housing. For a lesser offense, like a disagreement or minor fight with another person, limited-purpose housing would be used.

This move toward was is supposed to be a fairer segregation system follows both a statewide and national trend.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice filed a federal court order against the Ohio Department of Youth Services that required the department to end seclusion of children with mental health needs. Both parties reached an agreement to reduce the use of seclusion in Ohio juvenile facilities.

From 2014 to 2015, there was an 88.6 percent drop in rates of seclusion in Ohio juvenile correction facilities. During this time period, rates of violence in the facilities also decreased by 21.8 percent, according to DYS Communications Chief Kim Jump.

“If we have a youth who is out of control or is a danger to himself or someone else, then we’re going to use seclusion as a time-out for as short a duration as possible or until that youth is then able to safely return to regular programming,” Jump said.

Jump said the department has focused on being proactive in preventing incidents that would cause people to act out. This included increasing programming available and adding activities that would appeal to the youth.

The efforts from the DYS coincide with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s attempt to lower seclusion rates, which found backing from Director Gary Mohr, head of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

In the fall of 2014, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 inmates in state and federal prisons were put into solitary, according to a report by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Yale Law School Liman Program. An estimated 2,365 inmates were put into seclusion in Ohio prisons during 2014, according to the report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

“It’s a national trend,” Niceswanger said. “Director Mohr is part of a group called ASCA (Association of State Correctional Administrators), which is working on reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. That’s been on the national scope for a little while. Ohio and specifically Director Mohr are in the forefront of that we’re a little bit ahead of the curve of a lot of the other state agencies.”

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