With One in Eight Inmates in Florida Prisons Being Held in Solitary, ACLU Calls for Probe

With One in Eight Inmates in Florida Prisons Being Held in Solitary, ACLU Calls for Probe
Photo by JMiller291's Flickr, CC2.0

Twelve thousand people — about one in eight inmates — are being held in solitary confinement in Florida state prisons, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, faith leaders, and advocates for the mentally ill, is now calling on the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate the matter. 

“Just as our country now realizes that we are incarcerating too many people, we must also recognize that we have too many people in solitary confinement,” Steven Wetstein of the Miami Chapter of Amnesty International USA said in a statement. “This causes needless suffering and leaves them less able to be responsible citizens when they leave prison. Public security, fiscal responsibility, and our common humanity will all be strengthened by using solitary confinement less.”

The group says that as of September 2015, Florida Department of Corrections prisons held 87,111 inmates, of which 12,002, or 13.8 percent, were being held in restrained housing units. An additional 12,477 inmates were being held in private prisons, of which 434 were being held in solitary. 

Restrained housing is defined as solitary housing in which an inmate is held for 22 hours a day and remains there for at least 15 continuous days. 

The data also states that black inmates are more likely to be held in solitary than white inmates. 

The ethnic breakdown of male prisoners in the general population is 46 percent white, 49 percent black, and 4 percent Hispanic. In solitary confinement, that breakdown is 37 percent white,  59 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic.  

Though black women make up only 30 percent of the state's total female inmate population, they make up 50 percent of women being held in solitary. 

Prisoners with serious mental illnesses are also much more likely to be sent to solitary. About one-fourth of such prisoners is currently in solitary. 

These numbers are only for state prisoners and don't include prisoners being held in federal or municipal prisons and jails in Florida. 

"We strongly urge the Department to investigate why one in eight Florida prisoners are being held in confinement," reads the groups' letter to Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division. 

President Obama recently called for an end to solitary confinement in federal juvenile prisons, and several states use no form of solitary in their prisons. 

The letter was signed by the following:

Randall Berg, Executive Director, Florida Justice Institute; Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches; Adora Obi Nweze, President, Florida State Conference of the NAACP; George Mallinckrodt, Stop Prison Abuse Now (SPAN); Marc Dubin, Esq., Director, ADA Expertise Consulting, LLC; Robin Cole, President, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Miami; Christopher Jones, Director Florida Institutional Legal Services; Amy McClellan, Board of Directors The Key Clubhouse of Miami; Sevell C. Brown III, National Director, National Christian League of Councils; and Paul Wright Director, Human Rights Defense Center, and editor, Prison Legal News.

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