Federal corrections officials are «actively investigating» why the number of inmates being held in so-called restrictive housing has increased in recent years, according to a Justice Department report released Wednesday that was prepared in response to the president’s executive order. Joe Biden Act of 2022 aimed at overhauling the criminal justice system.

From December 2015 to January restrictive housing – known informally as solitary confinement – increased 29% for inmates held at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. special housing units, or SHU, in which they are segregated from the general population due to security concerns or as a form of discipline. The increase comes as the Justice Department said the number of inmates placed in other forms of restrictive housing, including for those who are high-security, extremely violent or escape-prone, has declined over the same period.

The department found that measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in federal prisons appear to have contributed to the increase in inmates confined to restrictive housing because it «slowed the movement of all incarcerated persons,» which then leaked to those waiting to be transferred. out of solitary confinement. The federal government is home to more than 145,000 prisoners in their custody through the United States.

«The BOP leadership has been, and continues to be, concerned about the increasing SHU population,» according to the report. «He is actively investigating the causes of the increase to determine the most effective ways to reduce that population.»

The Justice Department said it is working to fully implement a report 2016 issued under the Obama administration with recommendations to ensure solitary confinement «is rarely used, fairly applied, and subject to reasonable restrictions.»

In more recent months, the Bureau of Prisons has begun working with the department National Institute of Justice in another study examining the use of restrictive housing and has assembled a task force of senior federal corrections officers to conduct a «short-term assessment and provide more immediate recommendations» regarding the practice.

“The Department and the BOP are committed to reducing the use of restrictive housing,” a Justice Department spokesperson said in a statement. «The bottom of the pyramid is taking the necessary short- and long-term steps to carefully address this issue, and we trust [BOP Director Colette Peters’] ability to effectively meet the objectives of the President’s Executive Order».

Biden’s order, which he signed in May and called for a list of criminal justice reforms in the wake of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, promised his administration would ensure federal prisoners are in «safe and humane» confinement and «free of prolonged abuse». segregation.» He ordered the Department of Justice to submit a report to the White House outlining how the BOP would ensure that restrictive housing was rarely used.

But an NBC News analysis in September found that the number of inmates being held in restrictive housing had risen 7% since the week the president signed the executive order, and has risen more than 11% since the first months of his administration.

In an interview with NBC News in October, Peters, who became BOP director in August, said she was aware that the total number of federal inmates in restrictive housing had increased and said she wanted to know the reasons behind it.

And as of Wednesday, BOP data shows 11,310 federal inmates in restrictive housing, an increase of nearly 7% since Biden signed his executive order.

Advocates are concerned that Biden is allowing the Justice Department to «maintain the status quo» and that the president is failing on his campaign promise to fix the federal prison system, in part, by «ending the practice of solitary confinement.» , with very limited exceptions».

The United Nations consider solitary confinement as the isolation of a person in a cell for 22 hours or more «without significant human contact».

Correctional staff and organizations of correctional officers have responded that isolating inmates can be a necessary tool to prevent serious harm to inmates or others. But studies have shown it also increases the risk of self-harm and suicide and may not be effective in combating recidivism.

“We are disappointed that the department’s report released today does not provide a specific proactive plan for how solitary confinement will be significantly limited and ended as the administration has committed to do,” said Tammie Gregg, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prisons Project.

Johnny Perez, director of the US prisons program at the nonprofit National Religious Campaign Against Torture, added that the Justice Department report only raises more questions, including whether mitigation measures related to the covid that prompted the use of restrictive housing are still in use and why the BOP has been able to decrease the number of inmates in some forms of restrictive housing and not others.

The BOP has used «solitary confinement at rates above the national average both before and after the onset of Covid, causing serious damage,» Perez said, adding that «the time has come for the federal government to take bold steps to end to solitary confinement in all its forms». now.»

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Justice Department report.