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Wisconsin Moving Away from Using Solitary Confinement

A Wisconsin criminal defense attorney applauds what he calls a trend in Wisconsin and many other states away from using solitary confinement with inmates. Credit: Paul Fleet/iStockPhoto.com
A Wisconsin criminal defense attorney applauds what he calls a trend in Wisconsin and many other states away from using solitary confinement with inmates. Credit: Paul Fleet/iStockPhoto.com
September 10, 2015

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - Imagine being in a 6-by-10 foot cell with concrete walls, little if any natural light, with minimal human contact for nearly 24 hours a day.

That's what the Wisconsin Department of Corrections calls restrictive housing, commonly known as solitary confinement. Criminal Defense Attorney Casey Hoff, who has a statewide practice from his office in Sheboygan, says there are many reasons for what he calls a trend against the use of solitary confinement.

"Wisconsin is moving away from that and other states are moving away from that, and they also recognize it saves a lot of money to do that," says Hoff. "It costs approximately $75,000 per year to put somebody into solitary confinement, and so when you look at it just purely from a fiscal point of view it also makes sense."

Hoff says there's a growing body of scientific evidence that use of solitary confinement does, in many cases, much more harm than good. Hoff and others believe the criminal justice system needs a greater emphasis on less incarceration and more rehabilitation.

According to Hoff, one of the tasks in bringing about change is increasing public awareness about the effects of solitary confinement and how it's used.

"There's a misconception out there that it's only used for the worst of the worst. That really isn't true," he says. "It's not just used for the worst of the worst; it's used often times for people who are mentally ill or who may have rule infractions, due in large part to their mental illness."

Despite what Hoff calls a national trend away from use of solitary confinement and more restrictive policies, Wisconsin's Republican governor and candidate for president Scott Walker has advocated so-called get tough policies, refusing all pardon requests and ending Wisconsin's early-release program for exemplary inmates.

Hoff says that's the wrong direction to be headed.

"If we're going to be releasing approximately 95 percent of our prisoners at some point in their lifetime back into our communities, it only makes sense from a moral, from a fiscal, from an economic position, and from a scientific research position, to decrease the use of solitary confinement," says Hoff.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI