A total of about 90,000 people are imprisoned in solitary in state prisons, compared to about 10,000 incarcerated in segregated cells in federal facilities. (The nationwide total of approximately 100,000 people in solitary confinement surpasses the total prison populations of countries such as France, Japan, Germany, and the UK, as the Yale Law Journal points out.)
The White House has pushed for local reform on multiple stages: it has hosted a round table discussion on the issue for state leaders and another for NGO advocacy groups, incorporated its new “guiding principles” into the National Institute of Corrections training program, and worked with organizations as diverse as the prison reform group Vera Institute of Justice in New York and national labor groups such the American Correctional Association and the Association of Correctional Administrators.
“Most of the battle is at the state level,” Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s national prison project, told the Guardian. “Having President Obama speak out on this issue is huge, and having the largest prison system in the country, the federal one, move to reduce solitary confinement is very meaningful, but that still leaves us having to go state by state, calling on individual jurisdictions to change.”
There have been recent reports of specific cases where Obama’s push for change had tangible effects. In Tennessee, for example, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday against the Department of Children’s Services and the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center to prevent the facility from keeping a 15-year-old boy with developmental disabilities in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
“The unnamed boy was ordered into confinement on April 19 by Rutherford County Juvenile Judge Donna Davenport at the request of Rutherford County detention officials, according to the lawsuit,” the Tennessean reports. “He remained there 23-hours per day for two days in a cell containing only a mattress and toilet, with no access to reading materials or other activities and with the only window covered by a board.”