PAST RESEARCH

Governments, the United Nations, scientists, and even the Director of RIDOC all agree: keeping people in 22-24 hours of solitary confinement is unjust. Still, RIDOC widely employs the practice. Here is a sample of research that demonstrates the harmful effects of solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement does not make prisons safer.

Solitary confinement harms mental health and traumatizes rather than rehabilitates.

In 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the psychological toll that solitary confinement has on incarcerated individuals. 

 

“A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semifatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.” -  In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 168 (1890).

 

Since this acknowledgement of the damaging effects of solitary confinement, researchers have undeniably confirmed that long-term isolation in solitary confinement causes severe harm. 

 

Terry Kupers describes that social isolation for extended periods of time makes it difficult for individuals to affirm their identity or maintain a grasp on reality. Without meaningful human communication, one's internal impulses linked to anger and fear may become overwhelming. 

 

Psychologist Craig Haney has also researched the detrimental effects of long-term isolation:

  • More than four out of five of the prisoners he evaluated suffered from feelings of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, troubled sleep, and lethargy or chronic tiredness .

  • Over half complained of nightmares, heart palpitations, and fear of impending nervous breakdowns. 

  • Equally high numbers reported obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, and social withdrawal. 

  • Well over half reported violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, and feelings of overall deterioration, while nearly half suffered from hallucinations and perceptual distortions, and a quarter experienced suicidal ideation.

  • Those in solitary confinement experience far higher levels of stress than the general population.

Dr. Stuart Grassian, along with other researchers cited below, has also demonstrated that individuals who end up in solitary confinement are not always those incarcerated for more serious crimes; they are, instead, “the sickest, most emotionally labile, impulse-ridden and psychiatrically vulnerable among the prison population.” 

 

Moreover, suicide is approximately twice as prevalent in prison than it is in the community, and recent research confirms that, of all successful suicides that occur in the correctional system, approximately fifty percent involve the 3 to 8 percent of prisoners who are in some form of isolated confinement at any given time. 

Time in solitary confinement is associated with increased mortality rates after release

Sources: 

Craig Hanley. “Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and ‘Supermax’ Confinement.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 49, no. 1, 2003, pp. 124–156.

Holly A. Miller, “Reexamining Psychological Distress in the Current Conditions of Segregation.” J. OF CORRECTIONAL HEALTHCARE 39, 48 (1994); see generally Stanley L. Brodsky & Forest R. Scogin, Inmates in Protective Custody: First Data on Emotional Effects, 1 FORENSIC REP. 267 (1988). 

Stuart Grassian, Increased psychiatric symptoms ACLU briefing, citation 22-40. Psychopathological Effects of Solitary Confinement, 140 AM. J. OF PSYCHIATRY 1450, 1452 (1983);

Terry Kupers, Isolated Confinement: Effective Method for Behavior Change or Punishment for 

Punishment’s Sake?, in THE ROUTLEDGE HANDBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL CRIME 

AND JUSTICE STUDIES 213, 215-16 (Bruce A. Arrigo & Heather Y. Bersot Eds., 2013).

It is more expensive to house prisoners in solitary confinement than in general population. Reducing or eliminating solitary confinement reduces cost without compromising safety.

“Paying the Price for Solitary Confinement.” Prison Legal News & ACLU. 2015.

Due to staffing disparities

95--97 CAROLINE ISAACS & MATTHEW LOWEN, AM. FRIENDS SERV. COMM., BURIED ALIVE: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN ARIZONA’S PRISONS AND JAILS 14 (2007). Daniel P. Mears & Jamie Watson, Towards a Fair and Balanced Assessment of Supermax Prisons, 23 JUST. Q. 233, 260 (2006).

RI stats

Citation 87, 88, 89 (More expensive in Ohio, Federal prison)

States from budget on reducing money