Warren, Julie. “Reliance on Solitary Confinement as a Long-Term Correctional Solution Is on the Decline in Tenness
This report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation describes reforms the Tennessee Department of Correction has implemented to reduce its restrictive housing population. These reforms have led to a 3.5 percent decrease in individuals in restrictive housing from 2015 to 2017, and has specifically decreased reliance on long-term restrictive housing.
TDOC defines restrictive housing as “the purposeful separation of inmates from the general inmate population in confinement or housing where measures are taken to provide maximum security and/or to control their circumstances or circumscribe their freedom. This general status is for either punitive or administrative reasons that are subject to inmates remaining in their cells up to 22 hours each day.”
The reforms implemented by TDOC are as follows:
- In June 2017, TDOC revised its housing placement procedures, including its initial diagnostic, classification, and reclassification processes. This enforced weekly reviews of restrictive housing placement by a committee comprised of authorized staff and case managers for the duration of an individual’s first 60 days in restrictive housing. After 60 days, these reviews take place at least once a month. The purpose of these updated procedures is to create case management plans that receive frequent updates and include goals and action steps for an individual’s time in restrictive housing, including their supervision, treatment, sanctioning, transition, and rehabilitation.
- In October 2017, TDOC implemented a “Secured Management Units (SMU)” step-down program for incarcerated people in restrictive housing due to “disruptive behavior” or who are identified as members of a security threat group (STG). The step-down program is comprised of three four-month phases, with decreased security restrictions upon the completion of each phase. Once all stages are complete, the SMU review board determines whether the individual should be moved out of restrictive housing and into the general population.
- In addition to the disciplinary segregation step-down program, TDOC implemented an “extended restrictive housing step-down program” (SDP) for individuals in maximum custody due to administrative segregation or a death sentence. Established in December 2018, this program has 4 phases over 36 weeks and uses both in cell and out-of-cell programming to help incarcerated people transition into the general population. The program includes housing placement review procedures and individualized programs run by mental health, case management, and security staff. Once the program is completed, individuals may safely transition out of restrictive housing into the general population.
The report advocates for legislative reform to complement these policies, specifically to allow TDOC to “extend earned credits for those who successfully ‘earn’ their way out of segregation through successful completion of the required programming.” This reform in addition to the step-down programs and updated housing placement process will ensure that Tennessee is able to reduce its use of solitary confinement while maintaining safe conditions in its prisons, and will likely result in significant cost savings as well.
Keywords: Tennessee, reform, legislative reform, step-down program, Tennessee Department of Correction, long-term restrictive housing, Right on Crime, Texas Public Policy Foundation, PolicyPerspective, Center for Effective Justice.