Lawmaker Wants Limits On Solitary Confinement In Montana

Feb 19, 2015

Rep. Jenny Eck (D) HD79
Credit Montana Legislature

A Democratic lawmaker wants to put limits on the use of solitary confinement in Montana prisons, but the warden of the men’s prison says it’s the only tool he has for dealing with some prisoners.

Representative Jenny Eck of Helena wants to place limits on how long, and for what reasons, a prisoner can be isolated from other inmates. 

Attorney Beth Brenneman with Disability Rights Montana says her group investigated the practice, and found that inmates are commonly locked in solitary after trying to harm themselves, a practice that she says only hastens their downward spiral of mental illness.

“It’s really not a positive thing for a person with a serious mental illness who’s already been engaging in self-harm, and people continue to self-harm in solitary confinement, using their mouths to try to open their veins and things like that,” Brenneman said.

Eck’s proposal would bar inmates from being kept in solitary for longer than ninety days, fourteen days for minors and the seriously mentally ill. Warden Leroy Kirkegard, who runs the state men’s prison, says he wants to see improvements too, but he can’t support a bill that restricts how he manages offenders, without providing any alternatives.

"That’s the frustrating part for me, ladies and gentlemen.  I want to help these people too.  But I’ve got no place to put them," Kirkegard said. "I have no options."

The House Judiciary Committee will rule on whether to send the bill to the House floor at a later date.

Currently, only seven states place limits on the use of solitary confinement.