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Northern California Jails Try New Approach For Good Behavior

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Sonora, CA — Three Northern California county jails are trying a new approach to solitary confinement.

Those jails are in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Fresno counties. The goal is to limit solitary confinement to violent inmates. The plan is to encourage jailers to use low-cost incentives, like listening to the radio or watching a movie, to reward good behavior. The techniques are being used in response to inmate lawsuits.

The new policies came after Specter’s firm sued seven of California’s 58 counties, claiming that conditions had grown inhumane as jails absorbed less serious offenders from prisons due to overcrowding, which began in 2011. Sacramento County has cut its isolated population roughly in half, to about 60 inmates, said Lt. Alex McCamy: “It’s a limited time frame and a limited group, but the initial impression is positive.”

Inmates nationwide are most often segregated for nonviolent “nuisance infractions” like smoking, cursing, disobeying orders or having unauthorized items from the commissary, said the Vera Institute’s Sara Sullivan.
The California counties’ new policy of restricting its use to continued violent behavior could be seen as a national pilot program, Sullivan said.

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