Stephen Slevin

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The use of solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates sparked expensive lawsuits in New Mexico in the last couple of years. Doña Ana County paid Stephen Slevin millions of dollars in 2013 after he spent almost two years in solitary confinement. A bill making its way through this legislative session could outlaw such lengthy stays in isolation. 

Courtesy of Matthew Coyte

Jan Green isn’t sure of cell 135C’s exact dimensions at the Valencia County Detention Center. It was small.

“It was a shower stall, but I couldn’t use the shower,” she said. “It had the steel toilet and sink combination. It had a cement L-shaped bench and two drains. It had a steel door with a window that looked out into the walkway. “

She saw those objects every day all day during her months-long stints in solitary.

Screenshot from "Orange is the New Black"

The hole. That’s what they call it on television. It’s the mind-shattering pit fictional prisoners will do anything to avoid.

In real life, human rights advocates say New Mexico needs to cut back on using solitary confinement as a punishment method—especially for people coping with mental illnesses. Prison officials agree that it should be used less often, though most take issue with the way it’s portrayed in prison dramas.