Federal prison officials are "actively investigating" why the number of prisoners being held in so-called restrictive housing has surged in recent years, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday in response to President Biden's 2022 executive order aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system.
From December 2015 to January, restrictive housing — informally known as solitary confinement — was up 29 percent for federal inmates in special housing units (SHU), in which they are segregated from the general population due to safety concerns or as a form of discipline. The increase comes as the Justice Department said the number of inmates placed in other forms of restrictive housing, including for those who are high-security, extremely violent or escape-prone, has dropped, reports NBC News.
The department found that measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons appear to have contributed to the increase in inmates being confined in restrictive housing because it "slowed the movement of all incarcerated individuals," which trickled down to those awaiting transfer out of solitary confinement. The federal government houses more than 145,000 inmates. "BOP leadership has been, and continues to be, concerned about the increased SHU population," said the report. "It is actively investigating causes for the increase to determine the most effective ways to reduce that population." The Justice Department said it is working to fully implement a 2016 report issued under the Obama administration with recommendations to ensure solitary confinement is "used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints." As of Wednesday, federal prison data show 11,310 federal inmates in restrictive housing, still a nearly seven percent increase since Biden signed his executive order.