Criminal Justice

The U.S. Put at Least 67,000 People in Solitary Confinement Last Year

About 3,000 of those were in solitary for six years or longer.



While the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. has been decreasing in recent years, there were at least 67,442 inmates in the U.S. locked in their cells for 22 or more hours a day in the fall of 2015, according to a report released Wednesday by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and Yale Law School.

The report gives a significant, albeit incomplete, snapshot of the use of solitary confinement in the U.S., which is an outlier among countries in its use of the widely condemned practice. The census includes federal and state inmates placed in any form of "restricted housing" for at least 22 hours a day for more than 15 consecutive days. It did not include local and county jails, federal immigration detention centers, and juvenile and military detention centers, meaning the number could be higher.

The survey found that "a national consensus has emerged focused on limiting the use of restricted housing, and many new initiatives, as detailed in the report, reflect efforts to make changes at both the state and federal levels." South Carolina, Utah, and Colorado have all reduced their use of solitary confinement.

"What we are seeing is that prison systems are motivated to reduce the use of isolation in prisons and are actively putting into place policies designed to reduce the use of restrictive housing," ASCA president Leann K. Bertsch said in a statement.

However, the report also found wide variance from state to state and prison to prison. The percentage of inmates held in solitary in federal and state prisons ranged ranged from 1 percent to 28 percent.

Twenty-nine percent of inmates were placed in solitary for three months or less, but there were roughly 3,000 across the country who had been held in solitary confinement for six years or longer. Of those, more than half were in Texas, dwarfing every other state and the federal Bureau of Prisons system.

Louisiana held nearly 14 percent of its prison population in solitary confinement last fall, although state officials say that, when prisoners held in county jails are included, that number drops to around 8 percent. Likewise, Utah held about 14 percent of its prison population in solitary, but officials say they have since significantly overhauled their restrictive housing practices.

In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture concluded that solitary confinement beyond 15 days constituted cruel and inhumane punishment. Unsurprisingly, locking human beings in tiny boxes for years at a time has negative psychological effects.

In recent years, both the ASCA and the American Correctional Association released new guidelines and standards limiting the use of solitary confinement. The Obama administration also banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal prison system and limited the amount of time adults can spend in solitary.

The push to phase out the lengthy and punitive use solitary confinement is not limited to activists, but is increasingly popular among corrections officials. In an interview with The Atlantic Thursday, Rick Raemisch, the executive director of Colorado Department of Corrections and a critic of the widespread use of solitary confinement, said, "We've got to change the way we do business."

Does solitary work? No. It works for one purpose, really, which is if you have a very serious incident occur, you need to put that person somewhere until you can figure out what happened and to start to address the cause. What we have found is that our data has shown that the less you use it, the safer your facilities are, and that the safer your facilities are, the safer your community is once they get out. We've tried to build around positive reinforcement versus solitary confinement, which by any means just isn't effective.

NEXT: 50 Days in Jail for Waiting on a Ride

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Worst P.M. links ever.

    1. 4:30, 9:00. Unless its Robby’s turn.

  2. Wasn’t the AM links early? What the hell is going on here?

  3. I’d also go crazy if I was in solitary confinement with 67,441 other people.

  4. Sounds like paradise to me. Days on end where I don’t have to see or speak with anyone. Being alone is the only time I’m at peace.

  5. Punishment is never supposed to be unpleasant, and strong reprimands are always sufficient to curb inter-inmate violence, so of course I oppose any use of solitary confinement, as all goodthinkful people should.

    1. That’s a lot of straw there.

  6. Solitary confinement cannot be intelligently discussed without acknowledging the physical danger in prison on ‘mainline’ to which many prisoners are subject. For them, “solitary” can be the only barrier between them and certain death or dismemberment.

    One man’s “solitary confinement” is another man’s “one-man cell.” Indeed, many vulnerable inmates are literally begging to be put in solitary.

    Of course, another variable is the conditions of confinement in both mainline and solitary. These vary tremendously and there is no doubt that some solitary conditions are a form of torture but then, so are many other two-man or many-man conditions also a form of torture.

    Unfortunately, in the current, simplistic, zeitgeist about “solitary confinement”, these more complex considerations are getting left out.

    I’ve been to prison, in case you’re wondering, and I have been in mainline although not in “solitary” as it is usually understood. I did have some opportunities to be in ‘one-man cells’, however, and all too briefly, but not for want of physical protection. I can tell you, those short experiences were luxurious compared to being in two-man cells with very dangerous and violent “cellies” or in large dormitory situations where you never knew who was going to literally stab you in the back.

    I did, however, see how solitary confinement certainly saved the lives of much more vulnerable inmates.

  7. I’m surprised this didn’t get more interest from the commentariate. 6 years in solitary is pretty well indefensible.

    If we really have such a problem with ultra-violent people in prison that we have to put them in solitary for years on end, we need to change our tactics. Locking someone away from human contact for that long is guaranteed to create an insane person with a terribly anti-social attitude. The exact opposite of anything we should be doing.

    I’ve had this notion ever since the big round of military base closings 25 years ago.. that we should use some of these big, abandoned military bases as penal-colony style prison camps. Give them supplies and equipment for growing their own food, etc. and turn them lose into the camp. Make your own rules, do what you like. But you live by your own hand in here.

    It would never fly, but it probably is less cruel than sending someone off to a super-max solitary confinement prison for the last 63 years of their life.

  8. Facebook gives you a great opportunity to earn 98652$ at your home.If you are some intelligent you makemany more Dollars.I am also earning many more, my relatives wondered to see how i settle my Life in few days thank GOD to you for this…You can also make cash i never tell alie you should check this I am sure you shocked to see this amazing offer…I’m Loving it!!!!

  9. Facebook gives you a great opportunity to earn 98652$ at your home.If you are some intelligent you makemany more Dollars.I am also earning many more, my relatives wondered to see how i settle my Life in few days thank GOD to you for this…You can also make cash i never tell alie you should check this I am sure you shocked to see this amazing offer…I’m Loving it!!!!

  10. I get paid ?85 every hour from online jobs. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my friend AT is earning ?10k /monthly by doing this job and she showed me how. Try it out on following website?O2


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.