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Reducing Solitary Confinement in Alaska

Litmus joins the efforts of the ACLU and Alaska DOC

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.

The Alaska Department of Corrections will join the American Civil Liberties Union in a first-time effort to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Alaska prisons, the two organizations announced this week.

As part of the effort to reduce solitary confinement, a group of New York University experts on Wednesday will begin a tour of three prisons — the Anchorage jail, maximum security Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward and Goose Creek Correctional Center in Point MacKenzie.

The fact that the corrections department and the ACLU are working together on the reform is significant and unusual, Williams said.

"I don't know that this has been done anywhere else in the country," he said. "I couldn't be happier that the ACLU and I are working together on things, rather than being in a contentious position or having some litigation."

Today, about 8 percent of prisoners in Alaska's jails and prisons are in segregation status at any given time, according to corrections commissioner Dean Williams, though not all types of segregation mean full 23-hour-a-day, in-a-cell solitary confinement.

Williams said cutting back on the use of solitary confinement is a priority because "of the damage it does to a person. When you put someone in a place for 20-plus hours a day it's destructive of an individual's well-being. And because 90 percent of these people are eventually getting out of prison, it's not good for the public."

"It is not the goal to eliminate it entirely — there are dangerous things that happen in prison and we have to have a way to dividing (inmates) out."

Already, Alaska is trying some techniques to keep unstable and violent inmates from committing infractions that put them in segregation to begin with.

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