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Litmus advises Alaska DOC and ACLU

Alaska looks to reform its solitary confinement practices

The Litmus team's initiative Segregation Solutions, which promotes innovative alternatives to segregation (also known as inmate separation from a correctional facility's general population), joined the combined efforts of the ACLU and the Alaska Department of Corrections to reduce solitary confinement.

Dan Pacholke, a Senior Research Scholar in the Litmus program, shared some of his initial reactions: 

“We want to house the goldfish with the goldfish and the sharks with the sharks,” Busby said.

And making prisons safer is one of the main goals of reforming segregation practices according to Dan Pacholke, a researcher with New York University who was invited to Alaska by the DOC and the ACLU.

“We want safe, humane environments,” Pacholke said. “You can reduce segregation rates and create safer environments both for staff and offenders at the same time.”

Those are things Pacholke accomplished during his 33 years with the Washington state corrections system. He says when walking through the Anchorage facility, he noticed that staff seemed thoughtful and inmates didn’t shout as he passed by and greeted them — all positive indicators about conditions in the institution.

Sandy Mullins, also a Senior Research Scholar in the Litmus Program, commented on the reasons for use and effects of segregation: 

NYU researcher Sandy Mullins said that segregation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and over the next few months and years they’ll be looking at everything from Alaska’s policies and procedures regarding entering and leaving segregation to what’s influencing inmate behavior.

Mullins said segregation is a tool for disrupting behavior, not an answer in and of itself. She said we need to remember that almost everyone who is incarcerated, will at some point be released.

“You want to do no harm,” Mullins said. “You don’t want to create a person who’s more person than when they came in. So while prison isn’t inherently therapeutic, it can definitely be more humane. More of a generative environment where people are growing and thinking and more ready to be on the outside.”

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