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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: March 28, 2018 10:21 AM
From: Representative Tina M. Davis
To: All House members
Subject: Prohibiting Solitary Confinement for Vulnerable Populations
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation to update my previous House Bill 1581, which prohibits the use of solitary confinement on pregnant women, LGBTQ individuals, inmates age 21 and younger, and inmates age 70 and older in Pennsylvania.

Specifically, my new legislation would prohibit the use of restraint chairs, chemical agents, and shackles, as well as put an absolute cap on the use of solitary confinement for all inmates at 15 days. Other updates include:
  • Alternatives to solitary confinement, such as loss of privileges and informal sanctions;
  • A step down program with rehabilitation;
  • An independent investigator for each prison that would oversee inmates in solitary confinement and report abuse; and a
  • Civilian review board to preside over misconduct hearings, which would include a:
    • Psychologist or psychiatrist;
    • Mental health worker with a counseling background; and
    • Licensed social worker.

The unethical and inhumane practice of placing our most vulnerable populations in isolation for days, weeks, or even months on end can have devastating effects on themselves and their families. Solitary confinement is a form of torture, not a rehabilitative tool. For our most vulnerable populations, entering a correctional facility can be devastating enough. To deprive them of normal human interaction, access to reading materials, and meaningful educational programming not only limits their ability to become productive members of society, it often leads to severe psychological disorders.

Suicide is strongly associated with solitary confinement. For instance, in New York, California and Texas, it has been found that suicide rates are significantly higher among people held in isolation than in general population. In addition, research shows that the conditions of total isolation in solitary confinement units cause a variety of negative physiological and psychological reactions, such as:
  • Hallucinations, sleeplessness, severe and chronic depression, self-mutilation, rage, anxiety, paranoia, and lower levels of brain function – even in individuals who formerly had no mental illness.

There is no remedial benefit to placing someone in extended isolation. It is time we take a hard look at how we treat prisoners while they are incarcerated. Instead of leaving these facilities with higher levels of anxiety and other negative emotions, we need to ensure that they have the social and occupational skills necessary to succeed in the outside world. Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.

Introduced as HB2214