Serving prison time is something nobody wants to do, but if you break the law it’s where you end up. In prison, solitary confinement is reserved for those who are deemed too unruly for the regular prison population. Known as “the hole,” solitary confinement is said to be a torturous experience where prisoners are isolated from everything. The state of Pennsylvania made a monumental decision recently not to subject inmates in prisons with suffering from serious mental illness to “the hole” any longer. This decision could impact thousands in Pennsylvania’s prison system, one of the most extensive in the nation and reverts away from ways that the Department of Justice described as “unjustifiably harsh.”
The change, announced Tuesday, is the result of a settlement between the Pennsylvania prison system and the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. Two years ago, the rights network filed a lawsuit against the corrections department accusing it of violating the constitutional rights of inmates suffering from serious mental illness.
In Pennsylvania, the isolated cells are known as “restricted housing units” and inmates are confined in them for 23 hours a day. The Disability Rights Network’s lawsuit claimed that many inmates were placed in these units for exhibiting behavior common to mental illness and that isolating them only exacerbated this behavior.
Now, inmates with mental illness who are seen as threats to the prison community will be taken to different units and be given at least 20 hours of their cells per week with the possibility of more time, according to the settlement. Chief executive of the Disability Rights Network, Peri Jude Radecic ,lauded the decision saying,”[Inmates will now] be able to maintain their mental stability, take advantage of parole-eligibility programming, and serve their sentences in a way that does not punish them merely for having a serious mental illness.”