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Hearing on Solitary Confinement (Haney), Senate Judiciary Subcommittee CCRHR, 2012

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Testimony of Professor Craig Haney
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and
Human Rights Hearing on Solitary Confinement
June 19, 2012

Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and distinguished members
of the Subcommittee: My name is Craig Haney. I am a Professor of Psychology at
the University of California, Santa Cruz, and someone who has been studying the
psychological effects of solitary confinement for well over 30 years. My academic
interest in prisons more generally began even earlier in my professional life. In
1971 I was one of the principal researchers in a widely publicized study that came
to be known as the “Stanford Prison Experiment.” My colleagues and I placed a
carefully screened group of psychologically healthy college students in a prisonlike environment, randomly assigning half to be guards, half prisoners. We
observed with increasing concern and dismay as the behavior of the otherwise
psychologically healthy volunteers in our simulated prison rapidly deteriorated
into mistreatment and emotional breakdowns. 1 When I began to study real
prisons, examining and evaluating conditions of confinement in prison systems
throughout the United States and in a number of foreign countries, I continued to
be guided by the early lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment: prisons are
psychologically powerful places, ones that are capable of shaping and
transforming the thoughts and actions of the persons who enter them, often in
unintended and adverse ways.

For example, see: C. Haney, Curtis Banks & Philip Zimbardo, Interpersonal Dynamics in a
Simulated Prison, 1 International Journal of Criminology and Penology 69 (1973); and C. Haney
& Philip Zimbardo, The Past and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: Twenty-five Years After the
Stanford Prison Experiment, 53 American Psychologist 709-727 (1998).

Since that time, I have toured and inspected numerous solitary
confinement units across the country, in state prison systems from
Massachusetts to California, and the federal “supermax” in Florence, Colorado
(ADX). I have conducted systematic psychological assessments of approximately
1000 isolated prisoners, most of whom have been confined in solitary
confinement units for periods of years, and even decades, during which time they
have been kept separate from other prisoners, and denied the opportunity to have
any normal human social contact or to engage in any meaningful social
interaction. 2

The Historical Context

The increased use of isolated or solitary confinement in American prisons
began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In a certain sense, it represented a return
to a long-discredited practice that the nation had abandoned a century ago. As
you may know, there was a time in our history when all prisons were operated as
solitary confinement units, or nearly so. However, as the U.S. Supreme Court
noted in an 1890 case, In re Medley, by the end of the 19th century, solitary
confinement had already come to be known as an “infamous punishment,” largely
because, as the Court acknowledged: “A considerable number of the prisoners [in

2 Much of my professional access to conditions of solitary confinement and to the large number of
prisoners and staff whom I have interviewed has occurred in the context of constitutional
litigation in which I have been asked or appointed to help determine whether and how isolated
prisoners were being subjected to potentially cruel and unusual punishment. For example, see,
Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995); Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F.Supp. 2d 855 (S.D.
Tex. 1999). I was the principal author of the Brief of Professors and Practitioners of Psychology
and Psychiatry As Amicus Curiae in Austin v. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. 209 (2005). This work has
provided me with a rare opportunity not only to conduct in-depth inspections of many solitary
confinement units and to interview numerous prisoners and staff members who live and work
there, but also to review an extensive number of prison documents, records, and files that pertain
to the operation of the units themselves.

solitary] fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous 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.” 3
Indeed, the Court’s Medley opinion echoed observations that had been
made even earlier by Alexis d’Tocqueville, who concluded that solitary
confinement in American prisons “devours [its] victims incessantly and
unmercifully” and noted that the “unfortunate creatures who submitted to [it]
wasted away,” 4 and by Charles Dickens, who, although himself no stranger to
harsh and degrading conditions, termed solitary confinement a “dreadful”
punishment that inflicted terrible psychic pain that “none but the sufferers
themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow
creatures.” 5
I wish I could say that the nation’s return to this long discredited practice
was occasioned by significant advances in the way that solitary confinement is
now implemented, or that new psychological insights had emerged to lessen
previously widespread concerns about its damaging effects. I cannot. Instead, I
believe the renewed use of long-term solitary confinement is the result of the
confluence of three unfortunate trends—the era of “mass imprisonment” that
began in the mid-1970s and produced widespread prison overcrowding, the shift
in responsibility for housing the mentally ill to the nation’s prison systems, and
the abandonment of the rehabilitative ideal and its corresponding mandate to

In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160, 168 (1890).

Quoted in Torsten Eriksson, The Reformers, An Historical Survey of Pioneer Experiments in the
Treatment of Criminals. New York: Elsevier (1976), at 49.


Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation. London: Chapman and Hall (1842), at 119-20.

provide prison programming and treatment. The renewed widespread use of
solitary confinement emerged as an administrative stop-gap—an ill-advised but
expedient measure to keep the resulting and potentially very problematic prison
dynamics in check. I believe it has become increasingly clear that this approach to
prison management has created far more problems than it solved.

The Conditions of Solitary Confinement

I should acknowledge that the term “solitary confinement” is a term of art
in corrections. Solitary or isolated confinement goes by a variety of names in U.S.
prisons—Security Housing, Administrative Segregation, Close Management, High
Security, Closed Cell Restriction, and so on. But the units all have in common the
fact that the prisoners who are housed inside them are confined on average 23
hours a day in typically windowless or nearly windowless cells that commonly
range in dimension from 60 to 80 square feet. The ones on the smaller side of
this range are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, one that contains a bunk, a
toilet and sink, and all of the prisoner’s worldly possessions. Thus, prisoners in
solitary confinement sleep, eat, and defecate in their cells, in spaces that are no
more than a few feet apart from one another.
Beyond the physical limitations and procedural prohibitions that are central
to solitary confinement units, these places must be “lived in,” typically on a longterm basis. Reflect for a moment on what a small space that is not much larger
than a king-sized bed looks, smells, and feels like when someone has lived in it
for 23 hours a day, day after day, for years on end. Property is strewn around,
stored in whatever makeshift way possible, clothes and bedding soiled from
recent use sit in one or another corner or on the floor, the residue of recent meals
(that are eaten within a few feet of an open toilet) here and there, on the floor,

bunk, or elsewhere in the cell. Ventilation is often substandard in these units, so
that odors linger, and the air is sometimes heavy and dank. In some isolation
units, prisoners are given only small amounts of cleaning materials—a Dixie cup
or so of cleanser—once a week, making the cells especially difficult to keep clean.
Inside their cells, units, and “yards,” isolated prisoners are surrounded by
nothing but concrete, steel, cinderblock, and metal fencing—often gray or faded
pastel, drab and sometimes peeling paint, dingy, worn floors. There is no time
when they escape from these barren “industrial” environments. Many prisoners
sit back on their bunks, look around at what has become the sum total of their
entire lives, hemmed in by the tiny space that surrounds them and, not
surprisingly, become deeply despondent.
Virtually all of the solitary confinement units with which I am familiar
prohibit contact visits of any kind, even for legal visits. This means that prisoners
go for years—in some cases, for decades—never touching another human being
with affection. Indeed, the only regular “interactions” that prisoners housed in
these units routinely have occur when correctional officers push food trays
through the slots on their doors two or three times a day in order to feed them.
The only form of actual physical “touching” they experience takes place when
they are being placed in mechanical restraints—leg irons, belly chains, and the
like—in a procedure that begins even before their cell doors are opened, and
which is done every time they are taken out of their cells by correctional staff, on
the relatively infrequent occasions when this occurs.
When prisoners in solitary confinement or “lock-up” units leave their cells
for what is, typically, an average of one hour a day, it is usually to go to a so-called
“yard.” I say “so-called” because the “yard” in most of these units bears no
relationship to the image this word ordinarily conjures. Instead, the yard often
consists of a metal cage, sitting atop a slab of concrete or asphalt or, in the case of

California’s Pelican Bay, a concrete-enclosed pen, one surrounded by high solid
walls that prevent any view of the outside world. Federal Judge Thelton
Henderson, who presided over a landmark case examining conditions of
confinement at the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit or “SHU,” noted that the
image of prisoners trying to exercise in these concrete pens—their only regular
opportunity to be out of their windowless cells each day—was “hauntingly similar
to that of caged felines pacing in a zoo.” 6 It is an apt description that
unfortunately applies to many prisoners in many such “yards” around the
country. In fact, the haunting similarities to zoos are not limited merely to the
nature of the yards; one is hard-pressed to name any other place in our society
where sentient beings are housed and treated the ways that they are in solitary
The emptiness and idleness that pervade most solitary confinement units
are profound and enveloping. The prison typically provides the prisoners in these
units with literally nothing meaningful to do. That emptiness, when combined
with the total lack of meaningful social contact, has led some prisoners into a
profound level of what might be called “ontological insecurity”—they are not sure
that they exist and, if they do, exactly who they are. A number of prisoners have
told me over the years that they actually have precipitated confrontations with
prison staff members (that sometimes result in brutal “cell extractions”) in order
to reaffirm their existence.

The Makeup of Solitary Confinement Units


Madrid, supra note 2, at 1229.

You are no doubt wondering who is confined in these units. That is, what
does a prisoner have to do in order to be housed in such a place? In fact, some of
the prisoners have done very serious things, including assaulting other prisoners
or even staff members; some have even committed in-prison homicides.
However, in most isolation units these prisoners are the exception rather than the
rule. A number of prisoners are in solitary confinement for having committed an
unacceptably high number of minor offenses. An even larger number are housed
there because they are alleged to be prison gang members or associates, an
offense that, in and of itself, can result in indefinite solitary confinement, even
though the prisoners in question may not have engaged in any overt rule
violations other than their alleged connection to the gang, and may remain
entirely free of disciplinary write-ups during the many years of their indefinite
isolation. Allegations of gang membership are inherently subjective and can be
unreliable. Prisoners who are erroneously classified in this way are hard-pressed
to establish facts and may be confined in isolation on this incorrect basis
indefinitely. 7
In addition, there are two very problematic but little publicized facts about
the group of prisoners who are housed inside our nation’s solitary confinement
units. The first is that a shockingly high percentage of them are mentally ill, and
often profoundly so. In some cases, the mental illness was pre-existing and may
even be the primary cause of the disciplinary infraction that brought them to the
solitary confinement unit in the first place. In other instances, however, the signs
and symptoms of mental illness appear to have emerged only after the prisoner’s
term in solitary confinement began. Studies indicate that approximately a third of

For example, see: Erica Goode, Fighting a Drawn-Out Battle Against Solitary Confinement, New
York Times, March 30, 2012. [available at:]

the prisoners in solitary confinement units suffer from mental illness, 8 but in
some units the figure is higher—half or more. Approximately 50% of all prison
suicides occur in solitary confinement units. 9
The other very troublesome but rarely acknowledged fact about solitary
confinement is that in many jurisdictions it appears to be reserved
disproportionately for prisoners of cColor. That is, the racial and ethnic
overrepresentation that occurs in our nation’s prisons generally is, in my
personal experience, even more drastic inside solitary confinement units.
Although these data are not systematically collected and made available for
analysis overall, a study that I conducted in a Security Housing Unit in California
confirmed that approximately 90% of the prisoners housed there were of cColor
(i.e., Latino or African American).

The Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinement

What are the consequences of confinement in such harsh and deprived
places? Your colleague, Senator John McCain, characterized solitary confinement
as “an awful thing,” noting that: “It crushes your spirit and weakens your
8 Specifically, two separate studies have found that 29% of the prisoners in solitary confinement
suffer from a “serious mental disorder.” Hodgins, S., and Cote, G., The Mental Health of
Penitentiary Inmates in Isolation, 33 Canadian Journal of Criminology 177-182 (1991); Lovell, D.,
Cloyes, K., Allen, D., & Rhodes, L., Who Lives in Super-Maximum Custody? A Washington State
Study, 64 Federal Probation 33-38 (2000). If the definition of mental illness is broadened to
include “psychosocial impairments,” then one study has found approximately 45% of solitary
confinement prisoners are so afflicted.

Mears, D.P. & Watson, J., Towards a Fair and Balanced Assessment of Supermax Prisons, 23
Justice Quarterly, 232 (2006); Way, B., Miraglia, R., Sawyer, D., Beer, R., & Eddy, J. (2005).
Factors Related to Suicide in New York State Prisons, 28 International Journal of Law and
Psychiatry, 207 (2005); Patterson, R.F. & Hughes, K., Review of Completed Suicides in the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1999 to 2004, 59 Psychiatric Services
676-682 (2008). See, also: Cloyes, K., Lovell, D., Allen, D., & Rhodes, L. Assessment of
Psychosocial Impairment in a Supermaximum Security Unit Sample, 33 Criminal Justice and
Behavior 760-781 (2006).

resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment. Having no one
else to rely on, to share confidences with, to seek counsel from, you begin to
doubt your judgment and your courage.” 10 My observations of the effects of
solitary confinement as it is practiced inside our nation’s prisons are consistent
with Senator McCain’s. The level of suffering and despair in many of these units
is palpable and profound.
As the federal judge who heard testimony about California’s Pelican Bay
Security Housing Unit concluded, the severe deprivation and oppressive control
conditions in these places “may press the outer bounds of what most humans can
psychologically tolerate.” 11 For a number of prisoners, those bounds are greatly
exceeded, and the consequences of their long-term solitary confinement are truly
extreme. Serious forms of mental illness can result from these experiences.
Moreover, many prisoners become so desperate and despondent that they engage
in self-mutilation and, as I noted early, a disturbingly high number resort to
suicide. Indeed, it is not uncommon in these units to encounter prisoners who
have smeared themselves with feces, sit catatonic in puddles of their own urine
on the floors of their cells, or shriek wildly and bang their fists or their heads
against the walls that contain them. In some cases the reactions are even more
tragic and bizarre, including grotesque forms of self-harm and mutilation—
prisoners who have amputated parts of their own bodies or inserted tubes and
other objects into their penises—and are often met with an institutional matterof-factness that is equally disturbing.
I recall a prisoner in New Mexico who was floridly psychotic and used a
makeshift needle and thread from his pillowcase to sew his mouth completely


Quoted in Richard Kozar, John McCain: Overcoming Adversity. Chelsea House (2001), at p. 53.


Madrid, supra note 2, at p. 1267.

shut. Prison authorities dutifully unstitched him, treated the wounds to his
mouth, and then not only immediately returned him to the same isolation unit
that had caused him such anguish but gave him a disciplinary infraction for
destroying state property (i.e., the pillowcase), thus ensuring that his stay in the
unit would be prolonged. A prisoner at the federal supermax prison—ADX—who
had no pre-existing mental disorder before being placed in isolation, has suffered
from severe mental illness for years now. While in solitary confinement he has
amputated one of his pinkie fingers and chewed off the other, removed one of his
testicles and scrotum, sliced off his ear lobes, and severed his Achilles tendon
with a sharp piece of metal. He remains in a standard solitary confinement unit
rather than a psychiatric facility. Another prisoner, housed long-term in a solitary
confinement unit in Massachusetts, has several times disassembled the television
set in his cell and eaten the contents. Each time, his stomach is pumped and,
after a brief stay in a psychiatric unit, he is returned to the same punitive
isolation where this desperate and bizarre behavior occurred.
Beyond these extreme cases, solitary confinement places all of the
prisoners exposed to it at grave risk of harm. In fact, the scientific literature on
the effects of solitary confinement has been accumulated over many decades, by
researchers from a number of different countries who have varying academic
backgrounds. Despite the methodological limitations that come from studying
human behavior in such a complex environment, most of the research has
reached remarkably similar conclusions about the adverse psychological
consequences of solitary confinement. Thus, we know that prisoners in solitary
confinement suffer from a number of psychological and psychiatric maladies,
including: significantly increased negative attitudes and affect, irritability, anger,
aggression and even rage; many experience chronic insomnia, free floating
anxiety, fear of impending emotional breakdowns, a loss of control, and panic

attacks; many report experiencing severe and even paralyzing discomfort around
other people, engage in self-imposed forms of social withdrawal, and suffer from
extreme paranoia; many report hypersensitivity to external stimuli (such as
noise, light, smells), as well as various kinds of cognitive dysfunction, such as an
inability to concentrate or remember, and ruminations in which they fixate on
trivial things intensely and over long periods of time; a sense of hopelessness and
deep depression are widespread; and many prisoners report signs and symptoms
of psychosis, including visual and auditory hallucinations. 12 Many of these
symptoms occur in and are reported by a large number of isolated prisoners. For
example, in a systematic study I did of a representative sample of solitary
confinement prisoners in California, prevalence rates for most of the above
mentioned symptoms exceeded three-quarters of those interviewed. 13
In addition to the above clinical symptoms and syndromes, prisoners who
are placed in long-term isolation often develop what I have characterized as
“social pathologies,” brought about because of the pathological deprivations of
social contact to which they are exposed. The unprecedented totality of control in
these units occurs to such an exaggerated degree that many prisoners gradually
lose the ability to initiate or to control their own behavior, or to organize their
personal lives. Prisoners may become uncomfortable with even small amounts of
freedom because they have lost confidence in their own ability to behave in the
absence of constantly enforced restrictions, a tight external structure, and the
ubiquitous physical restraints. Even the prospect of returning to the comparative

For citations to the studies in which these specific adverse effects have been reported, see: C.
Haney, Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and “Supermax” Confinement, 49 Crime &
Delinquency 124-156 (2003), and C. Haney, The Social Psychology of Isolation: Why Solitary
Confinement is Psychologically Harmful, Prison Service Journal UK (Solitary Confinement
Special Issue), Issue 181, 12-20 (2009).


See supra, note 12, Haney, 2003.

“freedoms” of a mainline maximum security prison (let alone the free world) fills
them with anxiety.
For many prisoners, the absence of regular, normal interpersonal contact
and any semblance of a meaningful social context in these isolation units creates
a pervasive feeling of unreality. Because so much of our individual identity is
socially constructed and maintained, the virtually complete loss of genuine forms
of social contact and the absence of any routine and recurring opportunities to
ground thoughts and feelings in a recognizable human context lead to an
undermining of the sense of self and a disconnection of experience from
meaning. Some prisoners experience a paradoxical reaction, moving from
initially being starved for social contact to eventually being disoriented and even
frightened by it. As they become increasingly unfamiliar and uncomfortable with
social interaction, they are further alienated from others and made anxious in
their presence. In extreme cases, another pattern emerges: this environment is so
painful, so bizarre and impossible to make sense of, that they create their own
reality—they live in a world of fantasy instead. Finally, the deprivations,
restrictions, the totality of control, and the prolonged absence of any real
opportunity for happiness or joy fills many prisoners with intolerable levels of
frustration that, for some, turns to anger, and then even to uncontrollable and
sudden outbursts of rage.

A Culture of Harm

Most of the analyses of the harmfulness of solitary confinement are directed
at the extreme levels of material deprivation, the lack of activity and other forms
of sensory stimulation, and, especially, the absence of normal or meaningful
social contact that prisoners experience and suffer from in these settings. This

emphasis is not misplaced. There is no widely accepted psychological theory,
correctional rationale, or conception of human nature of which I am aware to
suggest that exposure to these powerful and painful stressors is neutral or benign
and does not carry a significant risk of harm.
To be sure, the extreme deprivation, the isolating architecture, the
technology of control, and the rituals of degradation and subjugation that exist in
solitary confinement units are inimical to the mental health of prisoners.
However, it would be naïve to assume that the nature of these environments does
not also affect the staff who work inside. 14 In many such places, thinly veiled
hostility, tension, and simmering conflict are often palpable. The interpersonal
toxicity that is created in these environments can engender mistreatment and
even brutality. What might be termed an “ecology of cruelty” is created in many
such places where, at almost every turn, guards are implicitly encouraged to
respond and react to prisoners in essentially negative ways—through
punishment, opposition, force, and repression.
For many correctional officers, at least initially, this approach to
institutional control is employed neutrally and even-handedly—without animus
and in response to actual or perceived threats. However, when punishment and
suppression continue—largely because of the absence of any available and
sanctioned alternative approaches—they become functionally autonomous and
often disproportionate in nature. Especially when the use of these techniques
persists in spite of the visible pain and suffering they bring about, it represents a
form of cruelty (notwithstanding the possible lack of cruel intentions on the part
of many of those who employ the harsh techniques themselves).
Unfortunately, the culture of harm that is created in many of these units
C. Haney, A Culture of Harm: Taming the Dynamics of Cruelty in Supermax Prisons, 35
Criminal Justice and Behavior 956-984 (2008);


also affects service providers, including those who are supposed to address the
mental health needs of prisoners. Despite the large concentration of mentally ill
prisoners in solitary confinement, the quality of mental health care in these units
is sometimes much worse than elsewhere in the prison system. Some of this is
due to limited resources; some prisons simply do not have the personnel to
provide the kind of care that solitary confinement prisoners need. Some of it
stems from built-in practical limitations. That is, solitary confinement units are
located in separate, distant areas of the prison, access to the units themselves is
difficult, and the procedures whereby prisoners are transported from their cells
are cumbersome. But some of the poor quality care in certain units derives from
the culture of harm to which I referred and the ease with which it is possible to
simply “get used to” practices and procedures that would be seen as unacceptably
compromised and inadequate in any other setting. For example, in many solitary
confinement units it is not uncommon for mental health services to be delivered
in “treatment cages” (or what prisoners sometimes refer to as “shark cages”
because of their resemblance to those underwater contraptions)—telephonebooth sized metal cages in which prisoners are confined during their “therapeutic

Public Safety Concerns

A critically important but widely overlooked aspect of solitary confinement
in the United States is the potential threat it represents to public safety. Solitary
confinement not only subjects prisoners to the kind of psychologically damaging
experiences I have described above but also does so without providing them with
any opportunities to obtain meaningful programming or rehabilitative services.

As a result, many prisoners are significantly handicapped when they attempt to
make their eventual transition from prison back into the free world.
Indeed, there is some recent, systematic evidence that time spent in
solitary confinement contributes to elevated rates of recidivism. 15 The
explanation for this troubling fact is not difficult to discern. Without
oversimplifying, one of the things we have learned about how prisoners make
successful transitions back into their communities of origin is that positive reentry depends on their ability to connect to a supportive, caring group of other
people, and the ability and opportunity to become gainfully employed. Solitary
confinement significantly impedes both things. Prisoners’ social skills atrophy
severely under their starkly deprived and isolated conditions of confinement. The
absence of any meaningful activity (let alone rehabilitative programming) in
solitary confinement means that their often already limited educational and
employment skills will have further deteriorated by the time they are released.
Many prisoners come out of these units damaged and functionally disabled, and
some are understandably enraged by the ways in which they have been
mistreated. Crime—sometimes violent crime—is one predictable result.
Moreover, very few solitary confinement units operate “step down” or
transitional programs that assist prisoners in negotiating the steep barrier from
isolation to the intensely social world outside of prison.
In some instances, the failures that solitary confinement prisoners
experience when they try to make this nearly impossible transition on their own
are tragic, not just for themselves but for others who may become the innocent
victims of their desperate plight. For example, some years ago I encountered one
15 For example, see: Lovell, D., Johnson, L., & Cain, K., Recidivism of Supermax Prisoners in
Washington State, 53 Crime & Delinquency 633-656 (2007); Mears, D., & Bales, W., Supermax
Incarceration and Recidivism, 47 Criminology 1131 (2009).

California prisoner who had been convicted of non-violent drug offenses, and
entered the prison system with no pre-existing symptoms of mental illness. Yet,
when I saw him he was lying catatonic, unresponsive, and incoherent on the floor
of his isolation cell in a California SHU unit. He was eventually diagnosed as
schizophrenic, but was retained in the same unit where his mental illness had
originated. The next time I encountered him was several years later, after he had
been released from prison. He was on trial for capital murder, an offense that had
been committed just months after being taken directly from his isolation cell,
placed on a bus and eventually onto the streets of a California city, with no prerelease counseling or transitional housing of any kind. I wish that I could say that
this tragic and extreme outcome was the only one of its kind that I have
personally encountered, but it certainly is not.

Proposed Remedies

Solitary confinement continues to be used on a widespread basis in the
United States despite empirical evidence suggesting that its existence has done
little or nothing to reduce system-wide prison disorder or disciplinary
infractions. 16 In fact, at least one prison system that drastically reduced the
number of prisoners whom it housed in solitary confinement by transferring
them to mainline prisons experienced an overall reduction in misconduct and
violence system-wide. 17 As prison populations continue to gradually decline, and
the nation’s correctional system rededicates itself to program-oriented
Briggs, C., Sundt, J., & Castellano, T., The effect of Supermaximum Security Prisons on
Aggregate Levels of Institutional Violence, 41 Criminology 1341-1376 (2003).

See T. Kupers, T. Dronet et al, Beyond Supermax Administrative Segregation: Mississippi’s
Experience Rethinking Prison Classification and Creating Alternative Mental Health Programs,
36 Criminal Justice and Behavior 1037-1050 (2009.


approaches designed to produce positive prisoner change, the resources
expended on long-term solitary confinement should be redirected to a more costeffective and productive strategy of prison management.
Several years ago, after it had conducted a number of public hearings in
locations around the country, the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in
America’s Prisons, chaired by former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach,
called supermax prisons “expensive and soul destroying” 18 and recommended
that prison systems “end conditions of isolation.” 19 Short of that, in my opinion,
there are some things that can and should be implemented on a nationwide basis.
Solitary confinement continues to be structured and operated in ways that are
designed to deprive, diminish, and punish. With that in mind, steps need to be
taken to entirely exclude the most vulnerable prisoners from exposure to these
conditions, 20 significantly limit the time that all other prisoners are housed
there, 21 provide all prisoners with meaningful steps or pathways that they can
pursue to accelerate their release from solitary, 22 significantly change the nature
Gibbons, J., & Katzenbach, N. (2006). Confronting Confinement: A Report of the Commission
on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, at p. 59.


Id. at 57.

Persons under the age of 18 and those who suffer from serious mental illness are singularly
unsuited for long-term solitary confinement and they should be absolutely excluded from being
housed there. In fact, persons with serious mental illnesses are categorically excluded from
solitary confinement in a number of states (e.g., California, Wisconsin, Ohio), but not all.
Moreover, the ABA Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners (at section 23-2.8(a)) require this.

21 In terms of time limits, the new ABA Standards define "long term" segregation as 30 days or
more, and impose a presumptive limit of one year on placement in disciplinary housing (section
23-4.3(b)). In my opinion, that limit is arguably too long. However, if US prisons complied even
with the ABA Standards, it would result in a significant improvement.
22 For example, see the general discussion in: C. Haney, The Psychological Impact of
Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment, at pp. 33-66. See, also, Joan Petersilia,
When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry. New York: Oxford University Press

of the isolation units themselves to mitigate the damage that they inflict, 23 and
provide prisoners who are being released into mainline prison populations or
into free world communities with effective transitional services to ensure their
post-solitary success and reduce the risk of harm to others once they are released.
The grave psychological risks posed by solitary confinement make the
overall mental health recommendations urgently important. Prisoners must be
systematically screened for mental illness as they come into solitary confinement
units, and continuously monitored for signs of developing mental illness. Those
whose problems may fall below the standard required for exclusion and who
therefore remain in solitary confinement must be given be access to enhanced
(rather than substandard) mental health resources. Finally, all isolated prisoners
must be provided with transitional or “step down” services and programs
designed to meaningfully address the psychological changes that they are likely to
have undergone in the course of their solitary confinement.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this historic hearing and to
help the Subcommittee address this very significant issue. I am hopeful that it

Elsewhere I have proposed list of “limiting standards” that I believe should be enforced in all
solitary confinement units. See C. Haney and Mona Lynch, Regulating Prisons of the Future: A
Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement, New York Review of Law & Social
Change, 23, 477-570 (1997), at pp. 558-566. These standards that are “rooted in the psychological
literature and intended as the basis for a more effective, realistic, and psychologically meaningful
oversight” of solitary confinement. Id. at p. 560. Many of our proposed standards were designed
to prevent or limit the potential damage of the harsh solitary confinement regime on prisoners,
including due process protections for all prisoners in advance of their placement in isolation
(irrespective of the purpose for that placement); screening prisoners out of solitary confinement if
their specific medical or mental health conditions (not just serious mental illness) made them
especially vulnerable to the harmful consequences that we identified; prohibiting the placement
of prisoners in isolation that whose disciplinary infractions resulted from pre-existing psychiatric
disorders; placing severe time limits on the duration of confinement for all prisoners (prohibiting
total isolation and extreme segregation of the sort that occurs in “dark cells,” while permitting
somewhat longer periods of isolation for less draconian segregated housing); monthly mental
health evaluations to determine continued fitness for segregated housing; and access to therapy,
work, educational, and recreational programs and visitation—comparable to what is offered in
mainline units—for prisoners confined in solitary confinement for longer than 3 months.

will mark the beginning of urgently needed and long-termn Congressional
oversight and reform.