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PRESS RELEASE: Washington State Department of Corrections Ends Disciplinary Segregation

Released September 30, 2021, Updated October 1, 2021

Contact Jacque Coe, (360) 890-0381

Communications Office

Clarification: On September 30, 2021, the Department of Corrections issued a press release announcing the end of disciplinary segregation. Some news outlets have reported that DOC is ending the use of all ‘solitary confinement.’ This has led to confusion, and the department feels it is important to clarify that it is ending the use of segregation, also known as solitary confinement, for disciplinary reasons only. The department continues to utilize segregation for non-disciplinary purposes such as investigations, safety, protective custody, and classification.

TUMWATER – For several years, the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) has been reviewing the disciplinary process for incarcerated individuals to identify areas of improvement. The agency’s data indicates that disciplinary segregation as a disciplinary action has not been proven to be an effective sanction or deterrent to negative behavior. As a result, on September 16, 2021, DOC ceased the use of disciplinary segregation throughout the agency.

This is indeed an historic moment in the department,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange said. “This is definitely a key step in becoming a human centered organization by advancing proven correctional practices and methods that support individuals in change. The science is clear on this and the science says stop doing it.”

Prior to eliminating disciplinary segregation, the agency collected data over a one-year period to examine whether disciplinary segregation was effective in addressing negative behavior. Some of the data used to inform this decision, collected from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2020 indicates:

  • The department issued approximately 2,500 disciplinary segregation sanctions during the year.
  • 57% of those sanctions were for non-violent infractions.
  • The average length of time given in segregation was 11 days for non-violent infractions and 16 days for violent ones.
  • The number of actual segregation days individuals served after a disciplinary hearing was small. Most individuals who were given segregation had already been in Administrative Segregation awaiting their hearing and were given credit for time served and returned to general population.

DOC will continue to examine methods to further reduce the use of restrictive housing.

“We know a lot more now than we did years ago when our practices were designed,” says Mike Obenland, Prisons Assistant Secretary. “We must continue to examine our processes and make meaningful changes that are both safe and humane. The data shows that the use of disciplinary segregation has many shortcomings, including failing to improve negative behavior.”

“DOC is committed to safe and humane practices, where we address violent behavior when necessary, but do not use segregation as a form of discipline,” said Sean Murphy, DOC’s Deputy Secretary.

“Disciplinary segregation has been proven to be ineffective in our state correctional facilities and ending their practice as a form of discipline is the right thing to do,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I’d like to thank Secretary Strange and the entire DOC team for their dedication to improving human-centered operations for incarcerated individuals.”