LINCOLN, Neb. - A new report shows prison officials have made modest progress in reducing their overreliance on solitary confinement, due to legislative reforms over the past few years. However, the Department of Corrections must do more to reduce their reliance on solitary confinement and instead focus their efforts on alternatives that lead to rehabilitation outcomes.

Among the key findings of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services report:

  • 1,793 individuals were held in solitary confinement for at least a day during the 2020 fiscal year. On average, 292 people were held in solitary confinement daily.
  • The average length of time spent in solitary confinement was 34.28 days, with some Nebraskans being held for over 1,000 days. This violates the human rights best practices known as “the Mandela Rules” which establishes that solitary confinement should never last beyond 15 straight days.
  • The daily average is a decrease of almost 80 people from 2019. This reduction is due to a new law that bans the use of solitary confinement for most minors and other vulnerable people, such as people who are pregnant or those with a serious mental illness.
  • Despite these clear bans, the report shows that people with serious mental illness are still held in solitary confinement. In the 2020 fiscal year, ⅓ of all people held in solitary confinement had a serious mental illness, such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder.
  • There is also a continued trend of racial disparities in solitary confinement with both Black and Hispanic men overrepresented in the solitary confinement population compared to the whole general prison population.

While there has been some progress, partly due to the ACLU of Nebraska’s multiyear advocacy campaigns to help legislative efforts to reduce solitary confinement, this isn’t enough. NDCS must do more to increase the use of rehabilitation alternatives.

ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said prison officials must follow the law and make better choices now to ensure successful reentry down the road.

“State law is not a suggestion,” Conrad said. “It is unequivocal that long-term isolation exacerbates mental illness and does nothing to prepare people to successfully transition back to our communities when they are released. While we welcome any reduction in use of solitary confinement, prison officials can and must do more to reduce its use and end the human rights abuses which include placing Nebraskans who are mentally ill in solitary. The time is now for the Department of Corrections to immediately adopt policies and practices to replace this inhumane practice with fair and humane treatment to ensure basic dignity and advance our shared public safety goals.”