The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has slightly cut the amount of time federal inmates are allowed to be kept doubled up in narrow cells for nearly 24 hours per day.
Inmates can now only be housed in the cells for approximately 12 months, up to a maximum of two years, according to the BOP. Previously, the average was two years, with some inmates staying for additional time at the discretion of the prison, according to BOP.
Some inmates stayed for up to 5 years, according to Fusion.
Inmates’ mental health records will also be reviewed more closely before they are placed in the cells, known as Special Management Units (SMU).
The practice of confining two inmates in a single cell nearly around the clock has drawn the ire of human rights groups and prison reform advocates, who have argued that the conditions are inhumane and can yield violent or deadly results.
“We’re placing them in a cell the size of your bathroom with another person for 12 months. That type of arrangement sets up people to be injured, if not worse,” Amy Fettig, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, told Reason.
Inmates have described the cramped conditions with occasionally mentally ill or violent cellmates as an intense pressure that can easily trigger anger and outbursts.
“You never know what to expect from a crazy person because there are so many types of crazy,” Daniel Delaney, a Colorado inmate convicted of strangling his cellmate in solitary, told the Marshall Project in a letter.
The BOP began implementing its policy changes earlier this month, but announced the news in a press release last Friday.
“The Bureau is committed to ensuring the safety of staff, inmates and the public,” the BOP said in the release. “The SMU program is one of the tools available to staff to ensure a safe and orderly environment at all institutions and to address unique security and management concerns.”