The Arkansas Department of Corrections is issuing this response to the January 8, 2021 “solitary confinement” report issued by two external stakeholder groups. As both external stakeholder groups chose not contact the Department in advance of publication, this report generally provides a biased and inaccurate description of the utilization of restrictive housing in the State of Arkansas. The Department actively works to limit the use of restrictive housing. In fact, the Department has adapted policies and procedures during the past three years to ensure that the use of restrictive housing is reduced and utilized only when absolutely necessary. That said, our priority must always be to maintain a safe environment for our inmates and staff, so restrictive housing is thoughtfully and carefully implemented when an inmate poses a direct threat to the safety of individuals or to the secure operations of our units. Key elements of the Department’s Restrictive Housing policies and procedures are summarized below:
- The Division of Correction uses multi-step assessment procedures that include checks and balances and oversight protocols to eliminate unwarranted restrictive housing placement. Inmates are placed in restrictive housing only after a careful review determines that the inmate poses a direct threat to the safety of others or are a clear threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility. Within 24 hours of restrictive housing placement, a second review is conducted by authorities not involved in the initial placement decision. Then, within 7 days, a Classification Committee holds a hearing to determine the most appropriate placement of the inmate. Additionally, a mental health practitioner completes a mental health appraisal of all inmates in restrictive housing within 7 days of placement.
- A common misconception of restrictive housing is that the practice is used only for punitive reasons. In fact, restrictive housing is frequently used for the safety of inmates during an investigation, to provide additional security for inmates pending trial, when disciplinary court review is pending, or when inmates are preparing to transfer to another unit for security reasons.
- Inmates who are under the age of 18, inmates who are pregnant and inmates who are seriously mentally ill are NOT placed in extended restrictive housing, which is restrictive housing for 22 hours per day for 30 or more days.
- Youthful inmates will not be placed in Restrictive Housing, for any length of time, solely for the purpose of complying with separation from adult inmates. If a youthful inmate’s behavior becomes unmanageable and all efforts to deescalate that behavior have failed, and there is a direct threat to the safe and secure operations of the housing unit, the inmate, staff, or other inmates, the Warden or Duty Warden (if after hours) must be notified.
- All housing assignments for pregnant inmates are made in consultation with facility medical staff, and when necessary the inmates outside obstetrician.
- All housing assignments for seriously mentally ill inmates are made in consultation with a qualified mental health professional as a part of the inmate’s individualized treatment plan.
- Additional safeguards are in place to ensure that restrictive housing is used only when necessary, including allowing inmates hearings to appeal their restrictive housing placement and the review by Wardens and Deputy Directors of any long-term Restrictive housing placements.
The Division of Correction has a robust Step-Down Program designed to reduce the use of extended restrictive housing and to thoughtfully and strategically prepare inmates for transition from extended restrictive housing to the general population or the community. The Step-Down Program is a coordinated, multidisciplinary team approach that includes healthcare, security staff and provides participating inmates with a transition plan consisting of the following:
- A Pre-Screening Evaluation
- Monthly Performance Evaluations which may lead to:
- Increasing -out-of-cell time
- Increasing group interaction
- Increasing programmatic opportunities
- Increasing institutional privileges (e.g. visitation, telephone, and commissary)
- A Transition Compliance Review
- A Post-Screening Evaluation
It is important to note that data reflective in the report do not account for those inmates who are chronically unruly and actively work to remain in restricted housing because they prefer that isolated environment. It is not uncommon for inmates to deliberately violate rules so that they will be disciplined, allowing them to remain in restricted housing. During the past year alone, there were more than 300 documented incidents where inmates refused to return to general population after completing required time in restricted housing. This is a predicament not unique to Arkansas correctional facilities, and the department is continuing to explore housing policies which disincentivize restrictive housing.