The Effect on Prisoner Mental Health & Recidivism Upon Release
Stuart Grassian’s research documents the detrimental effects of solitary confinement on prisoner mental health. When prisoners release from years of solitary confinement directly to the community, alarmingly violent recidivism can occur, such that some state correctional systems (e.g. the Oregon Department of Corrections) have revised protocols for prisoner transition from solitary confinement to reentry preparation.
The Effect on the Family
When a loved one goes to solitary confinement, it can take days for the family to receive any communication from WA DOC, if any communication comes at all, even though WA DOC has an emergency contact on file for every prisoner that chooses to provide one. Prisoners are not allowed access to phones for the first couple of days in solitary so cannot call to let their families know what has happened. When this occurs, families of the incarcerated try their best to function at their jobs without knowing if their loved one is alive or dead (and many recent stories from the Seattle Times, Tri-Cities Herald, and Walla Walla Union Bulletin demonstrate that there is good reason to be afraid for prisoners’ safety in WA DOC’s hands).
As one family member writes, “When my loved one goes to the hole and it takes days for me to get information from WA DOC I feel scared, I can’t sleep, and I can’t focus at work. I throw up and then cannot eat for days so I rapidly lose weight.” In this way, WA DOC’s protocols for imposing and communicating about solitary confinement undermine broader Washington State workplace productivity and community well-being.
The Office of Corrections Ombuds 2019 Annual Report presents the following concerns about how WA DOC sanctions affect family connections: “The larger reality is that DOC uses family connections as part of its standard system of punishment, even stacking penalties that can extend for months, even for small infractions. Phones, electronic communications, and direct visitation are some of the first privileges to be taken. Considering the incidence of mental illness, low impulse control, and failure to consider rational consequences that may have led them to prison in the first place, these restrictions often fail to have the deterrent effect intended and instead result in further harm to the individual” (PDF pg. 17).