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Solitary Confinement Fact Sheat NAMI 2012

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Solitary Confinement FACT SHEET
In 1890, the United States Supreme Court first attempted to declare solitary confinement unconstitutional.
Over a century later, the benefits of solitary confinement—whether used for “administrative,” “disciplinary”
or “protective” purposes—remain unestablished. But our nation’s correctional facilities are using solitary
confinement, which involves restricting inmates to small cells without windows and cutting them off from
human contact for weeks, months or even years at a time, more than ever before. We know solitary
confinement doesn’t help reduce violence or maintain order in state prisons—it hurts.

For people with serious mental illnesses, solitary confinement is akin to torture and worsens
symptoms, in particular, “anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual
distortions, obsessive thoughts, and psychosis.”1


Solitary confinement cells are typically disproportionately crowded with prisoners with serious
mental illnesses who have acted out.


Craig Haney, a leading expert on capital punishment, found that in every published study of
solitary or supermax-like confinement, “nonvoluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10
days, where participants were unable to terminate their isolation at will,” led to negative
psychological effects.”2

Then why does the U.S. prison system continue to build solitary confinement cells and supermax

The decades between the 1970s and 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the U.S. prison
population, and an increase in the proportion of prisoners suffering from serious mental
illnesses within this population.3


Departments of correction respond to increases in violence and “acting out”—behavior they do
not understand—by isolating prisoners in lockdown and administrative segregation, which
traumatizes and contributes in turn to worsened symptoms.


“Supermax” prisons—designed for supermaximum security purposes—thus grew out of
overcrowding and underfunding, NOT out of robust research into effective correctional

Reducing solitary confinement and improving mental health treatment improves safety and reduces

In 2002, the National Prison Project of the ACLU, the ACLU of Mississippi, and the law firm
Holland & Knight sued on behalf of prisoners housed at Unit 32, the 1,000-cell supermax
facility at Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman. After the Fifth Circuit demanded reform,
standardization in prisoner classification criteria demonstrated that 80 percent of the
population in administrative segregation did not need to be there. Once these prisoners were
transferred back into the general population, “the number of incidents requiring use of force
plummeted....Monthly statistics showed an almost 70 percent drop in serious incidents.”4

NAMI • The National Alliance on Mental Illness • 1 (800) 950-NAMI •
3803 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, Va. 22203

Solitary Confinement FACT SHEET
Solitary Confinement: By the Numbers
Solitary confinement means 23-24 hours a
day in a cell six to eight feet wide and nine to
10 feet long.6
Over 80,000 inmates languish daily in some
form of segregation in US prisons…
…and 25,000 of these inmates are held in
supermax prisons—facilities made up solely or
mostly of solitary cells.7
U.S. prisons hold more than three times as
many men and women with mental illnesses
as are held in mental health hospitals.8
8-19 percent of U.S. prisoners have psychiatric
disorders “that result in significant functional
...while 45 percent of supermax residents have
“serious mental illness, marked by symptoms or
psychological breakdowns.”10

What can YOU do?

Write an op-ed to your local
Help your state introduce sample
For more suggestions, contact:
• Solitary Watch:
• American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) Stop Solitary Project:









Restricted housing

Population without serious mental illness
Population with serious mental illness

Percentage of the United States population living
with mental illness13

Policy recommendations:
1. Support mental health alternatives to solitary
confinement in jails and prisons, including
individual and group therapy, regular access
to psychiatrists, substance abuse counseling,
specialized psychiatric service units, discharge
planning, and community reentry assistance.11
2. Implement training for correctional officers on
how to respond to individuals experiencing
psychiatric crises in ways that de-escalate
rather than escalate these crises. Approaches
such as Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) have
proven effective in improving safety and
reducing injuries to first responders and those
to whom they respond.12
3. Fully fund the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment
and Crime Reduction Act, 42 U.S.C. 2397aa,
to support alternatives to incarceration for
juveniles and adults with mental illness and
addiction disorders.

NAMI • The National Alliance on Mental Illness • 1 (800) 950-NAMI •
3803 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, Va. 22203

Solitary Confinement FACT


1 Jeffrey L. Metzner and Jamie Fellner (2010). “Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical
Ethics.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law 38:104-8.
2 Craig Haney (2003). “Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and ‘Supermax’ Confinement.” Crime & Delinquency 49:124-156.
3 Kupers et al., 7.
4 Terry A. Kupers, Theresa Dronet, Margaret Winter, James Austin, Lawrence Kelly, William Cartier, Timothy K. Morris, Stephen F.
Hanlon, Emmitt L. Sparkman, Parveen Kumar, Leonard C. Vincent, Jim Norris, Kim Nagel, & Jennifer McBride (2009). “Beyond
Supermax Administrative Segregation: Mississippi’s Experience Rethinking Prison Classification and Creating Alternative Mental
Health Programs.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, July 21, 2009, 2.
5 Solitary Watch (2011). The High Cost of Solitary Confinement:
6 Ibid.
7 Human Rights Watch (2003). “Ill-Equipped: US Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness.” Online: July 16, 2012.
8 Human Rights Watch Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law (2009). “Mental Illness, Human Rights, and US Prisons: Human
Rights Watch Statement for the Record to the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Online: July 9, 2012.
9 David Lovell (2008). “Patterns of Disturbed Behavior in a Supermax Population.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 35:989-1004.
Online: July 9, 2012.
10 Correctional Association of New York, “States That Provide Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement,”, accessed 8/7/2012.
11National Institute of Corrections, “NIC Training Program: Crisis Intervention and Mental Illness,”,
12 Human Rights Watch (2003).

NAMI • The National Alliance on Mental Illness • 1 (800) 950-NAMI •
3803 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, Va. 22203