Lawmakers Reject Bill To Reform Solitary Confinement Rules For Mentally Ill

Feb 23, 2017

In a close vote this morning, lawmakers rejected a bill aiming to reform how state prisons put people with mental illnesses in solitary confinement. The bill introduced by Roger Webb, a Billings Republican, would have outlawed the use of solitary confinement for prisoners with mental illness, except in a few situations.

"Extended periods of isolation confinement have produced severe psychological symptoms and left deep and often permitted psychological scars," says Webb.

Several parents of children with mental illnesses in prison testified in support of the bill, including the father whose son died in solitary confident. But Adrianne Slaughter with Montana’s Department of Corrections said the bill would hurt the prison system's ability run a safe environment.

"We simply do not have the resources to address the requirements of this bill," Slaughter says.

Slaughter said those additional resources would be a new staff and a new facility to hold people that became a danger to other prisoners. Members of the Senate Judiciary committee voted down and tabled SB 257.  Several committee members expressed concern that this bill, if approved, would create new policy without the money to support it.

The bill failed in a five-six vote.