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NAMI Minnesota, 800 Transfer Road, Suite 31, St. Paul, MN 55114
MEDIA RELEASE – February 8, 2017
Contact: Sue Abderholden, sabderholden@namimn.org

NAMI Supports Solitary Confinement Reforms

St. Paul, MN – Rep. Nick Zerwas and Sen. Dan Hall have introduced bills addressing the use of segregation in Minnesota prisons. The bills contain vital reforms, limits, and regulations on the use of solitary confinement, particularly as it applies to prisoners living with mental illness. NAMI supports this legislation and the positive changes it will bring to Minnesota’s prison system.

The Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool has been the subject of an investigation by the StarTribune. More than 1,600 prisoners have spent at least 6 months in solitary confinement over the last decade, with 437 having lived in isolation for a year or longer. Just as troubling, Minnesota is falling behind other states in having laws regulating the use of restrictive solitary confinement.

Inmates living with a mental illness experience additional challenges with solitary confinement. Isolation and inconsistent access to mental health care exacerbates the symptoms of mental illness and erects needless barriers to recovery and the reintegration into society.

The bills introduced by Rep. Zerwas and Sen. Hall take important steps to regulate the use of solitary confinement, sets new standards for the care and wellbeing of inmates placed in segregation, and establishes a reporting system to track the use of solitary confinement. These crucial steps will bring new reforms and needed scrutiny to a disciplinary practice that has unproven benefits and clearly detrimental effects on Minnesota inmates.

Proposed changes include:

Grants authority to the Dept. of Corrections to use disciplinary segregation for major rule violations that involve the use of a weapon, bodily harm or administrative segregation for the safety of the inmate or others.
Establishes certain conditions for segregation units such as fully furnished cells, reading materials, lights off during the night, visitation and communication rights and to be released three hours a day.
Requires the warden to review every 15 days and the commissioner at the 60th day and then every 30 days.
Requires the department to create graduated sanctions and incentives to "work your way out" of segregation.
Requires a mental health assessment prior to being placed in segregation and being checked by a nurse every day (and mental health professional if needed).
Does not allow direct release from solitary confinement into the community.
Requires an annual report to the legislature on the use of segregation. 

“It is clear that Minnesota is lagging behind other states in regulating the use of solitary confinement,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota. “These reforms are a step forward that will lead to better protections for those placed in solitary confinement.”

NAMI Minnesota is eager to work with State Legislators, the Governor, and the Department of Corrections to improve the living conditions, health care standards, and decrease the use and length of stay for inmates placed in solitary confinement.

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NAMI Minnesota is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families through education, support and advocacy.