DOC pledges to drastically reduce use of solitary confinement


The Department of Corrections is taking steps to address fewer incarcerated individuals reoffending and returning to DOC custody while also committing to reduce the use of solitary confinement in its prisons by 90% over the next five years.

To address a declining incarcerated population, the agency will close Larch Corrections Center (LCC) in Clark County this fall. The minimum-security facility has a capacity of 240 beds. The 115 staff members will be offered jobs at other DOC facilities.

Separately from the closure, agency leadership, working closely with corrections industry experts, is currently developing a comprehensive plan to reduce the use of solitary confinement, while not compromising staff safety, that will be unveiled later this year.

“The research is clear on solitary confinement,” said Strange. “It causes long-lasting harm. While it can be an effective way to deter violence, spending prolonged periods of time in isolation has devastating effects on an individual’s mental and physical health long after they leave our facilities.”

As Washington state transitions to a more humane corrections system, the services incarcerated individuals need access to, like improved health care services, mental health support, opportunities for education and other programming will be more readily available at minimum-security living units attached to major facilities.

Additionally, the prison populations have declined in recent years, and that trend is expected to accelerate over the next decade. Currently, only 70% of available beds are occupied in DOC’s 12 prisons statewide.

“We already have one of the lowest rates of incarceration in the nation,” said Strange. “DOC has worked diligently to lower recidivism rates, create better neighbors and ensure that incarcerated individuals don’t return to us once they get out. Of course, our continued success means we can no longer afford to operate all of the prisons we currently have.”

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in the 2021 Blake Decision that simple possession of a controlled substance is no longer a felony. During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers revised the law and made drug possession a gross misdemeanor. All incarcerated individuals in DOC custody have been convicted of felonies, so this change in the law will not translate to an additional need for beds.

Several units at the Monroe Correctional Center were closed in 2021, but the state has not shuttered a prison since it closed the McNeil Island Corrections Center in 2011. The facility is being ‘warm closed,’ meaning it could reopen in the future if needed.

As before, when units were initially warm closed in 2021, they will continue to evaluate trends and the direct impacts to the department’s capacity and needs as they continue to make decisions as a result of declining admissions to prisons.


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