California jails use kinder approach to solitary confinement

An inmate in solitary confinement at a California jail was refusing to leave his cell. The jailers’ usual response: Send an “extraction team” of corrections officers to burst into the cell and drag him out.

But not in Contra Costa County, one of three in the state using a kinder, gentler approach in response to inmate lawsuits, a policy change that experts say could be a national model for reducing the use of isolation cells.

So the inmate was asked: “What if we gave you a couple extra cookies and another sandwich? Would you move?” recalled Don Specter, the nonprofit Prison Law Office director who negotiated the new policies. “He said yes. … They were like, ‘Wow.’”

More than a quarter of U.S. states and numerous smaller jurisdictions are looking for ways to reduce the use of solitary confinement, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, which encourages alternatives to a practice behavioral experts say is dehumanizing and can worsen mental illness. …

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