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Press Conference Decries Excessive Use of Solitary

NAMI Minnesota held a press conference on Feb. 8, to publicize its legislative efforts to regulate the use of solitary confinement in Minnesota Prisons. NAMI was joined by Rep. Nick Zerwas and Sen. Dan Hall, the chief authors of the bill for the house and senate. Rep. Marion O'Neill is a co-author for the house bill and participated as well. The bills contain vital reforms, limits, and regulations on the use of solitary confinement, particularly as it applies to prisoners living with mental illness.

Sue Abderholden kicked off the press conference noting that over 7,500 inmates in Minnesota prisons were placed in solitary in 2015 and that over 30 states around the country have changed their laws regarding the use of segregation or solitary confinement in their prisons.

"We believe that it is time for Minnesota to take action on this issue, to prevent people from being placed into solitary for minor offenses, to make certain that people's mental health is regularly checked and to lessen the time that people spend in this situation." She went on to say that the UN states that over 15 days in solitary is torture. She thanked the authors and co-authors of the bills Rep. Zerwas and Sen. Hall and Representatives O'Neill, Howe, and Considine and Sen. Latz.

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.

Rep. Zerwas spoke about the unacceptably long stays in solitary for many inmates and how this shouldn't be happening, especially for those living with a mental illness. Sen. Hall emphasized that Minnesota is falling behind other states when it comes to regulating solitary confinement. NAMI consultant John Stuart walked through the specific components of NAMI's bill.

Finally, Sharon Rolenc shared her personal story as a mother of a 23-year old inmate who was subjected to solitary confinement for 364 days. Her son wasn't allowed visits, hugs from loved ones, or even photographs of his son's face. During this time she conducted a great deal of research on the topic and found not one "shred of evidence that points to its positive impact, but volumes of evidence that point to the emotional, physical and psychological damage it inflicts."  She went on to say that she is "here today to speak for other mothers of inmates. For their fathers, their sisters, their brothers, their children, their grandparents...and for all the inmates who have no one to speak for them."  

NAMI thanks Sharon for her courage to come forward and speak out against this practice. This successful press conference led to another article on Solitary Confinement in the StarTribune that you can read here.