On August 11th, 2020, our Leader in Residence Nneka Jones Tapia joined JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) for their Live with #JustUs discussion series. She was virtually joined by JLUSA President & CEO Deanna Hopkins, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Corrections Scott Semple, and social justice activist Jimmie C. Gardner. Together they discussed solitary confinement, which is the practice of isolating inmates for 22-24 hours a day, free of human contact for a variable period of time.

When looking at the origins and the consequences of solitary confinement, the four speakers drew direct ties between solitary confinement and slavery, its dehumanizing impacts, its ability to perpetuate existing problems and create new ones, as well as its statistical inability to fulfill the purpose it was meant for: correcting behavior.

Here are a few takeaways from the conversation:

"Solitary confinement is a traumatic stressor. And the impact of trauma doesn’t just impact us socially and through our behaviors, it impacts us in a neurological way."

In recalling her experience as the Warden of the Cook County Jail, part of the third largest jail system in the United States. [link to bio or article of Nneka’s work], Nneka shared her administration’s motivation behind reforming the system around solitary confinement. Trauma takes many forms and has many consequences, and those consequences are oftentimes the catalyst for criminal behavior. If a tool within the correctional system is creating more of these traumas, it must be abandoned.  

"From what we know about the detrimental impacts that solitary confinement has on people that are thrown into it, it flies in the face of what a system is actually supposed to do."

The data shows us that people who are placed in solitary confinement are not only more likely to return to solitary confinement once they’re released, but they’re also more likely to re-enter the correctional system with even more problems than before.  

“You don’t know any other forms of corrections because you’ve never been exposed to any other forms of corrections”

A failure of the correctional system and the administrators within it is the refusal to investigate their methods and ask themselves about their impact. By several metrics, most forms of corrections are ineffective, and it’s up to the leaders in these spaces to reimagine the way they do their work in order to truly fulfill their vision.

With the final question of the conversation, Deanna Hopkins calls on us to look at the big picture: 

“Get back to the overall purpose and intention behind correctional institutions; reminding people that it’s not about punishment, it’s about increasing the safety of the community—which should not include a distribution of suffering; we have to offer supports and rehabilitative services for people. What contributed to their situation? What did they lack? How can we reinvest in them?”

You can watch the full recording below.