Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee

MAMH serves on the Massachusetts Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee, which is charged by the Legislature to offer recommendations on the use of solitary confinement and other forms of restrictive housing in the Commonwealth's prisons and houses of correction.

Recommendations of the Restrictive Housing Oversight Committee (RHOC) will be submitted annually to the Legislature and will include ways to minimize the use of solitary confinement and improve outcomes for inmates and facility safety. MAMH has specific concerns about the effects of restrictive housing on prisoners and detainees with mental health conditions.

The RHOC was established as part of the sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) passed in April 2018. The Committee meets periodically and an agenda for each meeting is posted on the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security website. The public is encouraged to attend, and each meeting includes an opportunity for public comment. MAMH has opposed proposals to limit the authority of the RHOC.

Under the CJRA, solitary confinement is only authorized for discipline or if placement in the general population would pose an "unacceptable risk" to safety. The law providers for a process and standards for periodic review to determine whether restrictive housing continues to be necessary.

The CJRA also seeks to improve conditions in solitary. Of particular importance to MAMH, inmates with "serious mental illness" may not be held in restrictive housing except under limited circumstances. Moreover, the law gives flexibility to mental health professionals to divert an inmate from solitary confinement if the inmate is "at serious risk of substantially deteriorating mentally or emotionally" in restrictive housing or if the inmate has deteriorated in solitary confinement such that "diversion or removal is deemed clinically appropriate." Other provisions of the law provide specific protections to inmates in solitary confinement with mental health conditions. MAMH has opposed proposals to narrow the population protected by this law.

The Commissioner of Correction is required to create regulations to maximize out-of-cell activities and outplacement from restrictive housing. These regulations are available at 103 Mass. Regs. 423.00.


MAMH Perspective

MAMH believes that solitary confinement exacerbates pre-existing psychological conditions and may, in and of itself, cause such conditions. Studies show that as many as 50 percent of prison suicides involve the deaths of inmates in solitary confinement. Former U.S. Senator John McCain described his time in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war as "crush[ing] your spirit and weak[ening] your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment." Accordingly, MAMH works as a member of the RHOC to ensure that inmates with or at risk of mental health conditions are treated in accordance with State and Federal law and consistent with sound clinical practice.