As reported in NJ.Com, a bill strictly limiting the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons is headed to Governor Chris Christie’s desk after being passed by the State Assembly.  The bill requires prisons and jails to use solitary confinement only as a last resort, restricting its use to 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a two-month period.  The bill was passed by the New Jersey Legislature by a vote of 45 to 26 with one abstention.

The measure is part of a national movement to limit or ban solitary confinement, which prison reform advocates and some mental health experts say can do permanent psychological damage if an inmate is kept in isolation too long.  However, it is painfully clear that the advocates of this bill have little interest in taking into consideration the orderly operation of correctional institutions that will ensure the safety of custody staff, civilian staff, and, ultimately, the inmates themselves.  The debate over the merits of disciplinary detention, which has been more broadly referred to by social scientists as “solitary confinement,” has been repeatedly discussed since modern civilizations have been incarcerating non-law abiding citizens.  With this being said, empirical evidence that has been collected by social scientists over the last one hundred (100) years has failed to yield conclusive results that disciplinary detention has a long lasting deleterious effect on inmate mental and/or physical health.

Instead of bowing to the demands of the various inmate advocacy groups that lack empirical credibility, the New Jersey Legislature, and hopefully the Governor, should instead be reviewing the effectiveness of disciplinary detention as a penal management tool. Common sense dictates and corrections’ researchers and practitioners confirm that prison order and safety amongst inmates and staff is imperative in the successful operation of a prison.  Many penologists have opined that the best way to manage difficult prisoners that refuse to conform to institutional rules and regulations should be to separate and segregate them from the general prison population.  Many professionals further believe that the utilization of solitary confinement is the optimal tool to ensure staff and inmate safety as it separates those inmates that are known to be violent, assaultive, escape risks, or otherwise disruptive to the general population. Safety of custody staff, civilian staff, and the inmates themselves should be paramount in the operation of the penal institutions within the state of New Jersey. It is for these reasons that the Legislature and the Governor need to truly examine the social impact that the proposed legislation will have on its employees, its inmates as a collective group, and society in general.