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New solitary confinement rehab center up for funding

Delaware Public Media

As the state Department of Correction continues to battle a federal lawsuit over its solitary confinement practices, it’s now trying to build a rehabilitation center for those inmates.

Correction Commissioner Robert Coupe asked the state Bond Bill Committee Tuesday for $310,000 to help plan for a new wing to the secure housing unit to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.

“The idea is to create a safe environment where we could actually have three or four of these gentlemen together with one treatment specialist in more of a modified classroom setting instead of what we’re limited to now, which is utilizing small space that was not designed for that kind of program or treatment,” Coupe said.

About 300 inmates currently spend 24 hours a day in a small cell with limited human contact – something the Delaware ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society call ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment in their suit.\

The groups also say it exacerbates underlying mental health problems that a third of those in solitary confinement suffer from.

Coupe says he has worked with the groups in the past to move toward a less punitive system.

“We’re trying to expand treatment opportunities there so that if someone is in restrictive housing we’re able to work on their needs – whatever the behavior is – actually having a program to work to address that behavior, to modify their behavior and get them back to general population."

A federal judge recently dismissed part of the lawsuit, but is allowing the groups to argue the program violates a person’s due process rights under the 14th Amendment.

Coupe estimates the new treatment center will cost about $3 million total and could take up to three years to complete if approved.

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