Good Question: What’s Life Like In Solitary Confinement?
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In Colorado, accused movie theater killer James Holmes is in solitary confinement in a county jail. In Wisconsin, the father who’s accused of killing his three daughters, Aaron Schaffhausen, is also being kept away from other inmates.
So what is life like in solitary confinement?
“Most jails don’t use the term solitary; it’s an outdated phrase,” said Cmdr. Dave Pacholl, the top person at the Anoka County Jail.
When an inmate first comes into the jail, a classification officer decides where the inmate will be placed. More than 90 percent end up in the general population, Pacholl said. But some go into protective custody.
“Are they a risk to others, or are they at risk from others in jail? That would be a huge red flag to a classification officer,” Pacholl said.
He said if he got an inmate like Holmes, that person would go into a protective custody cell.
But in Anoka County, that’s not like being thrown in a dark cell left to rot all day. Protective custody cells are arranged similarly to regular cells.
In the general population, small cells open up into a common space, often called a day area. The cells are open for much of the day, and inmates are allowed to move about.
“The cells are the same regardless of the classification, at least in our jail,” Pacholl said.
In protective custody, the cell still opens into a smaller, secured common area.
“A protective custody inmate has pretty much the same privileges as a regular inmate in a jail,” he explained.
“People in protective custody are allowed out of their cell for up to 10 hours a day into a day space,” Pacholl said.
There are other classifications. Women and men are kept separated in jails. There’s a maximum security area of the Anoka County Jail, the protective custody area, and another area for even higher scrutiny.
A lockdown, or segregation, cell is at times used as punishment, for an inmate who doesn’t follow jail rules; and at other times, it’s for inmates who are particular flight risks, or risks to the safety of others, or at risk themselves.
Holmes has reportedly been threatened by other inmates in Colorado; he’s in a cell where jailers darkened the window, according to the New York Daily News, so other inmates can’t see him.
In lockdown, the inmate may only leave his or her cell for an hour a day.
They “basically have access to telephone. If their attorney comes, we escort them to visiting area so they can meet with their attorney,” he said.
In Minnesota, the rules governing the treatment of inmates are in section 2911 of the administrative rules. Jailers call them the “2911 rules.” They require inmates to have recreation time, meals and access to attorneys and visitors. If the jail decides to limit those rights, the jail has to provide a written justification for that.
“They’re intended to make sure we hold people in a constitutional manner, makes sure we don’t do anything to get the jail sued which in turn affects the public,” Pacholl said.