News release: IDOC bans use of dry cells

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BOISE, Sept. 1, 2015 — As part of an effort to reform the Idaho Department of Correction’s restrictive housing policies, the department has discontinued its use of dry cells.

Dry cells serve as a place where correctional staff can isolate inmates who are at risk of hurting themselves or others.  The cells are virtually featureless; they have no mattress, sink or toilet. A flushable floor drain allows for the disposal of human waste. 

Critics say the dry cells’ devoid condition is unnecessarily harsh and the practice of confining inmates in them is inhumane. The critics say the level of sensory deprivation that results from confinement in a dry cell can make an inmate’s existing mental health problem worse and can cause long-term psychological damage to even healthy individuals.

“Research is showing us that in many cases segregation doesn’t work and is causing more harm than good,” Kempf says. “Knowing that 97 percent of all inmates will one day walk out of prisons and into our neighborhoods tells me we shouldn’t be adding to their risk of committing more crimes but rather doing everything we can to reduce this risk.”

IDOC’s decision to discontinue the use of dry cells is part of a wide-ranging review of all of the department’s restrictive-housing practices. Kempf says the purpose of the reform is to establish practices that keep the public and correctional staff safe while creating an environment that helps offenders turn around their lives. 

“To some degree there will always be a need to temporarily isolate some inmates so they don’t hurt themselves or others, but we must not go overboard,” Kempf says. “We need to make sure we’re isolating the right inmate for the right period of time and under the right conditions.”

Later this month senior IDOC leadership, along with their counterparts from other state and federal agencies across the country, will attend a 40-hour training program focused on the management of restrictive-housing inmates. The program, presented by the National Institute of Corrections, will explore the fundamental issues involved in reintegrating restrictive housing inmates back into a prison’s general population. 

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Story published: 09/01/2015
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