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May 23, 2023

"Calculating Torture: Analysis of Federal, State, and Local Data Showing More Than 122,000 People in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons and Jails"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the group Solitary Watch.  Here is the report's introduction (with cites removed):

Solitary confinement is a torturous and deadly practice.  Prisons, jails, and detention centers inflict solitary confinement disproportionately on Black people, Latino/a/x people, Native people, and other people of color.  Decades of research have attested to the lived experience of people who have been incarcerated and their loved ones, corroborating that solitary causes devastating harm to physical, mental, and behavioral health and is counterproductive to any goals of safety.  Any length of time in solitary confinement — days, or even hours at a time —can have severe consequences.

While there has been a growing recognition of the need to end solitary confinement, and some groundbreaking policy changes have shown movement in that direction, the use of solitary confinement in prisons, jails, and detention centers across the United States remains common and widespread.

This report provides the first ever comprehensive accounting of the total use of solitary confinement in both prisons and jails across the United States.  Analysis of data recently released by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and by two state prison systems that did not report to BJS, as well as data from a survey of local jails conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, reveals that state and federal prisons and local and federal jails in the U.S. have reported on a given day locking a combined total of more than 122,000 people in solitary confinement for 22 or more hours.

These newly available numbers come closer than have any previously published figures in accounting for the number of people in solitary confinement. Yet they still undoubtedly undercount the number of individuals who experience solitary and the number impacted by it.

To begin with, the numbers are self-reported by correctional systems.  Further, they cover only solitary confinement that involves being locked in a cell 22 or more hours a day.  They do not include various informal or transient forms of solitary confinement such as group lockdowns or quarantines, nor do they include so-called alternatives that amount to solitary by another name.

In addition, the figures represent a snapshot of the number of people in solitary confinement at a given moment in time, while many times that number are locked in solitary during the course of a year.

Moreover, the numbers include only people in prisons and jails. Immigration detention facilities lock people in solitary confinement nearly 9,000 times a year, and children and other young people in youth facilities continue to be subjected to solitary. 

Even given all these excluded factors, the numbers far exceed those of other recent counts, which, in the absence of more comprehensive figures, have been widely quoted by media outlets and even scholars and advocates. 

Solitary Watch has been investigating and documenting the widespread use of solitary confinement for more than a dozen years to increase awareness of and accountability for this humanitarian crisis.  The Unlock the Box Campaign and activists across the country have been urging policy makers at the local, state, and federal levels to build on recent efforts to end or limit the use of solitary and to take much more substantial action to significantly reduce or eliminate its use.  Together, we believe that accurate information — including the most comprehensive possible count of the numbers of people in solitary confinement — is critical to creating change.

May 23, 2023 at 02:48 PM | Permalink


I have to give you credit, Doug.

At least this one doesn’t try to pretend it has any credibility.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 23, 2023 7:23:36 PM

I welcome you providing links to other reports or other materials relevant to this topic. I post a lot of advocacy reports because it is mostly advocates covering sentencing and related issues that get sent me way.

Posted by: Doug B | May 23, 2023 8:13:52 PM

During my 8 years in Federal prison, I spent many months in SHU (Administrative Detention). Technically, in the BOP there is very little actual "solitary confinement", because inmates held in SHU are placed two to a 6' x 12' cell (with a bunk bed). One of the few inmates I saw held in real solitary confinement (for 1 full year!) was at FCI - Manchester, Kentucky, after he had shanked another inmate in the neck while standing in line for lunch in the chow hall (cafeteria); the stabber was already serving a life sentence for a Texas meth manufacturing conspiracy. If a guard had not inserted his fingers in the hole in the victim's neck and pinched off a vein, the victim would have bled to death. Nevertheless, the 2 cellmates usually housed in a SHU cell are locked down 23+ hours per day, 7 days per week, and are fed on trays passed in and out of the food flap door in the cell door. I once spent 6 months in SHU at FCI - Manchester "under investigation" (no disciplinary charge was ever filed), after I helped 14 Mariel Cubans (who were I.N.S. Detainees, being held in prison without Federal criminal convictions) file 2241 Habeas Corpus Petitions, after the Sixth Circuit's En Banc decision in Rosales-Garcia v. Holland. My Warden got a phone call from Main DOJ, because all of his Cubans had filed 2241 Petitions in U. S. District Court with 3 weeks of the En Banc decision.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 23, 2023 10:51:03 PM

After the U. S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in Rosales-Garcia v. Holland, the DOJ conceded that the 2241 Petitions had to be granted, and the 14 Mariel Cubans were released from Federal prison on "immigration parole" and given work permits.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 23, 2023 10:54:31 PM

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