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Solitary Confinement: Inhumane, Ineffective, and Wasteful, Southern Poverty Law Center, 2019

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About the Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is a nonprofit civil rights
organization founded in 1971 and dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for
the most vulnerable members of society.

For more information about











Around the world and increasingly in the
United States, there’s a growing consensus
that solitary confinement of incarcerated
persons is, at best, an ineffective and inhumane practice with little or no carceral benefit and, at worst, outright torture.
Yet, on any given day, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) holds approximately 10,000 people – more than 10
percent of its population – in solitary. The
nationwide average was 4.5 percent in 2018.1
Numerous studies have shown that solitary confinement harms a person’s mental
and physical health, as well as the community to which the person eventually returns. People in solitary, in fact, attempt
suicide at a much higher rate than those in
the general population. What’s more, solitary is disproportionately used for people
with mental illnesses, people of color, and
people with disabilities.
In the late 1990s, the FDC was sued by
a statewide class of incarcerated people because of its dangerous and inhumane solitary confinement practices.2 That lawsuit,
Osterback v. Moore, resulted in limited reforms. Unfortunately, after the Osterback
settlement, solitary confinement in Florida’s prisons did not end, it merely evolved.
The FDC’s failure is compounded by the
fact that Florida keeps far too many people
in prison in the first place. With one of the
highest incarceration rates in the country,



the state spends more than $2.4 billion a
year to imprison more than 96,000 people.
That’s the third-largest state prison population in the United States.3
Although the number of people admitted
to Florida prisons has trended downward
over the last decade, the overall prison population has not decreased at a proportionate rate because of increases in sentence
length and rules restricting early release.4
In addition, the state cut substance abuse
and mental health programs for incarcerated people in 2018.5 The prison system also
has experienced chronic staffing shortages.6 This environment only heightens the
prospect that an incarcerated person will
be placed in solitary; because the system is
strained, prison officials too readily resort
to solitary for discipline – or in the case of
overcrowded facilities – for housing.
Solitary confinement does not improve
public safety. Studies show that when people who have been in solitary return to their
communities, they are more likely to commit crimes than those who were not subjected to it. Other states have recognized
the wasteful and destructive nature of solitary confinement and have adopted more
humane and less costly alternatives.
It’s time for Florida to recognize that
solitary confinement is not the answer;
rather, it is part of the problem.







Solitary confinement is commonly understood as the physical isolation of people confined to their cells for 22 to 24
hours a day.7 In solitary confinement, a person rarely has
any contact with other people.
In Florida, it is known by a variety of names. While there
are technical differences between the categories of solitary,
they share multiple inhumane aspects. People in solitary
confinement are detained and have limited contact with
other human beings. They also face strict regulation of
when they can leave their cells or even shower.
The less restrictive forms of solitary confinement mandate that an individual only be allowed outside access for
two hours, three days a week. The most restrictive form
prohibits any outdoor access until after 30 days in confinement, and then only for two hours twice during a 30-day
period. The United Nations considers solitary confinement
for more than 15 consecutive days – a period often far exceeded in Florida’s prisons – to be torture.8
People subject to solitary confinement for any notable
amount of time experience increased instances of mental
health episodes, such as anxiety, depression, and even psychosis.9 These consequences are not limited to individuals
with existing mental health issues; people who are otherwise mentally healthy are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems once in solitary confinement.10
Tellingly, individuals in solitary confinement attempt and
die by suicide at a much higher rate than those in the general prison population.11
In light of such findings, it shouldn’t be surprising that
many jurisdictions have voluntarily reduced their solitary
confinement populations. A nationwide survey shows that
the overall solitary population went from approximately
100,000 in 2015 down to 68,000 in 2016.12 But Florida has
not been part of the downward trend. A whopping 10 percent of Florida’s prison population is relegated to solitary
confinement, whereas the nationwide average was 4.5 percent in 2018.13 


Maximum Management
Maximum management, for people prison
officials deem to be an extreme security risk,
is used at the maximum security Florida State
Prison. It is the most extreme form of solitary
confinement in Florida. Individuals are kept
in single-person isolation cells, locked in a
cage within the cell, with no natural light. People in maximum management are never allowed personal visits or phone calls. Reading
materials are limited solely to a religious text,
and out- of- cell time is extremely limited.
As of Dec. 7, 2018, there were 12 people
in maximum management. As many as 18
people were placed in maximum management at one time in 2018. There are a limited number of maximum management cells
available and a complicated procedure to
place people there. While the numbers may
seem small, the effect of this type of confinement is profound. Once in maximum
management, the SPLC has found that, on
average, a person spends six months there.
What’s more, as this report outlines, there
are thousands more placed in other forms of
solitary confinement that are still highly restrictive and pose a danger to mental health.

There are three forms of close management: Close Management I (CM I), Close
Management II (CM II), and Close Management III (CM III), from most to least restrictive. In CM I, people are confined to a tiny
cell, some as small as 60 square feet, alone
for 22 to 24 hours a day. In CM II and III,
individuals may be confined with cellmates
and are allowed more out-of-cell time.
While solitary confinement can include
a cellmate, such confinement can still inflict similar negative psychological effects.
An individual in confinement with a cellmate is simultaneously confined in a small
space with another person with whom he
or she may be incompatible, isolated from
everyone else in the prison and deprived of
normal social interaction. While CM II and
III appear to offer more out-of-cell time, in
practice, people in CM II and III are regularly denied these privileges, making their
experience akin to those in CM I.
People on CM status often spend months
in other types of solitary confinement, with
fewer privileges than in CM, waiting to be
transferred to one of a handful of prisons
with CM units. There is no maximum time
limit for individuals to remain in CM, although most are there for one to three years,
the FDC reports, and a number for significantly longer. People can transition from
CM I to CM II and CM III. As of Dec. 7, 2018,
there were 3,831 people in CM I, II or III.

Close Management
According to the FDC, close management
is indefinite housing for people who have
shown that they cannot live in the general
population without “abusing the rights and
privileges of others.”

Disciplinary Confinement
Disciplinary confinement is a punitive
and ostensibly temporary form of solitary
confinement for individuals found to have
violated FDC rules. Incarcerated persons
are confined for a specified time period

Forms of solitary confinement in Florida
Solitary confinement in Florida takes four
different forms: maximum management,
close management, disciplinary confinement, and administrative confinement.




Administrative Confinement
Administrative confinement is the temporary removal of an incarcerated person from
the general prison population to provide for
security and safety until prison officials can
create a more permanent housing classification for the person. While administrative
confinement is not meant to be punitive, the
effect can still be the same.
Administrative confinement, which has
the same terms for visits, phone calls and
exercise as disciplinary confinement, is
supposed to be limited to a maximum of 90
days, although the FDC sometimes holds
people in this status for much longer. As of
Dec. 7, 2018, there were 3,946 people in administrative confinement in Florida.





– usually 30 or 60 days – to an individual
cell based on penalties for specific kinds of
misconduct. People in disciplinary confinement are confined solely to their cell for the
first 30 days. They are not allowed personal
visits or phone calls without the warden's
permission. In comparison, people in CM
II can have noncontact visits every 14 days,
and people in CM III can have contact visits
every 14 days.
While disciplinary confinement is presented as short-term solitary, individuals
are routinely held in extended confinement
based on multiple disciplinary charges
that stack a series of 60-day terms. It's also
worth noting that one incident can result in
multiple charges. For example, one incident
could result in 20 days for disrespecting an
officer, 30 days for disobeying an order and
another 60 days for destroying property.
Consequently, people may languish in disciplinary confinement for months or years.
As of Dec. 7, 2018, there were 3,619 people
in disciplinary confinement in Florida.

Inequitable use of solitary
confinement in Florida
Racial disparities are widespread in solitary
confinement in Florida. In general, black
people in prison are not only overrepresented in the general prison population, but
in solitary confinement when compared to
white people.14 While 16.9 percent of Floridians are black,15 47 percent of people in
Florida’s prisons are black,16 and over 60
percent of people in solitary confinement
are black.17 The comparable numbers for
white people are 77.4 percent of Floridians,
40.1 percent of people in prison, and 34.5
percent of people in solitary confinement.
Individuals are placed in solitary confinement without regard to age, developmental
disability, or mental illness despite growing recognition that solitary confinement
is especially harmful for these categories of
individuals. Nearly half of the incarcerated
people in Florida in solitary confinement
suffer from mental illness.18 Florida allows
children and young adults in state prison
to be placed in solitary confinement, where
they may endure long periods without exercise, education, contact with their families
or rehabilitative programs or services.19 

Solitary confinement harms mental health
People placed in solitary confinement are at
a greater risk of developing mental illnesses
due to their isolation,20 and the practice can
worsen the mental health of those individuals already battling these issues. In a recent
SPLC lawsuit21 against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), the court noted in a June 2017 ruling that “long-term isolation resulting from segregation, or solitary
confinement, has crippling consequences
for mental health” and acknowledged that
in solitary, “even mentally healthy prisoners can develop mental illness such as depression, psychosis and anxiety.”22
Many incarcerated people who are subjected to isolation, which can extend for
years, have serious mental illness. The conditions of solitary confinement can exacerbate their symptoms or provoke recurrence
of their illnesses, yet, perversely, people
in solitary are denied adequate access to
mental health services because prison rules
defining and governing the practice greatly
restrict the mental health services people
held in solitary confinement may receive.23
The central issue, psychiatrists say, is
the lack of external stimulation through



contact with other people, and the lack of
audio or visual stimulation.24 Some people can generate their own ideas and can
channel those thoughts into positive activities. But others may become obsessed with
negative actions, including self-mutilation.
People in solitary confinement may suffer
from restlessness, hallucinations, and incoherence of thought and speech.25 Others
may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, according to mental health experts.26
Even more chilling is the increased rate
of suicide by individuals kept in solitary
confinement. A national study of 401 jail
suicides in 1986 found that two-thirds of
all jail suicides were attempted by someone
being held in solitary confinement.27
Mental health experts also note that individuals placed in solitary confinement are
often sent there because they do not follow
rules – but they may be unable to do so because of their illnesses.28 A vicious cycle
emerges in which individuals who are unable
to conform to behavioral expectations due to
their mental illnesses are placed in solitary
confinement, which contributes to a further
deterioration of their mental state, which

Richard Smeyne
speaks at the
Society for
2018 conference
in San Diego
about the
effects of solitary
He is flanked
by panelists,
including Robert
King, who was
placed in solitary
confinement for
29 years at the
Louisiana State
before being
released in 2001.

Joe Shymanski


causes them to be relegated to solitary confinement for an even longer period of time.
But even those individuals who enter
solitary confinement as otherwise mentally healthy are at greater risk of developing
issues such as anxiety, panic, rage, loss of
control, paranoia, hallucinations, self-mutilation, sleep disturbances, lethargy, constant headaches and “a complete break-



down or disintegration of the identity of the
isolated individual.”29
In the Alabama prison case, the judge
noted “ADOC’s segregation practices perpetuate a vicious cycle of isolation, inadequate treatment and decompensation.”30
Psychiatrists and psychologists use the term
“decompensation” to describe the inability
of a person with mental illness to maintain



Palm Beach
County Sheriff
Ric Bradshaw's
office settled a
lawsuit over its
use of solitary
confinement for
some juveniles
charged as adults.

normal or appropriate psychological defenses when faced with stress, which can result
in depression, anxiety or delusions.31
Mental health is already a crisis in state
prisons. According to a 2017 report, while
half of people in state prisons had either current “serious psychological distress” or a history of mental health problems, only about
one-third of them currently receive mental health treatment.32 In Florida last year,
approximately 18,000 people in the prison
system had a diagnosed mental illness that
requires mental health treatment.33
Solitary confinement serves to compound the mental health crisis in the prison
system. Whatever the label used by Florida
prisons, any form of solitary confinement
significantly increases the risk of exacerbating mental illness for those already afflicted.
It also puts those without mental health issues at risk of developing them.

Solitary confinement harms
incarcerated youth
Research has shown that juveniles are less
equipped to handle the stresses associated
with solitary confinement than adults, putting them at greater risk of severe psychological damage. Placing juveniles in solitary
confinement has been widely condemned by
human rights organizations for this reason.34
Because young people are still developing both mentally and psychologically, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement
can have profound impacts on their ability
to rehabilitate. During adolescence and into
a person’s mid-20s, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive processing is still
developing.35 Isolation can damage these
crucial developmental processes.36
An investigation by the U.S. Department
of Justice found that incarcerated youth
who had been subject to isolation for even
short periods of time experienced symptoms of paranoia, anxiety and depression.37
A national study found that among incar-



cerated youth who die by suicide, half were
in isolation when they took their own lives,
and 62 percent had been in solitary confinement at some point.38 Nevertheless, the
practice continues in some states,39 with
Florida among the worst offenders since it
has more juveniles – over 100 – incarcerated in its adult prisons than any other state in
the country.
The Palm Beach County sheriff was recently sued over the constitutionality of
solitary confinement practices for children
held in the adult county jail. The lawsuit,
H.C. v. Bradshaw, highlighted the inhumane
way the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
treated juveniles in its custody, with children spending upwards of 23 hours per day
in isolation and having scant human contact
for months – and even years – at a time.40
Conditions were so deplorable that the U.S.
Department of Justice weighed in by filing a
statement of interest in the case, which the
sheriff’s office ultimately settled.41

Solitary confinement is damaging
to people with disabilities
Across the country, people with physical
disabilities in prison make up 32 percent
of the prison population.42 Research shows
that the number of incarcerated persons
living with physical disabilities will increase
as the prison population ages as well.
This population is among the most vulnerable in prison.43 In other states, individuals with disabilities in prison routinely
rely on corrections staff for assistance in
taking showers, getting dressed, and receiving medication. In Florida prisons, however, these tasks fall to other incarcerated
people who are designated as assistants.
Sometimes they are housed in different
dorms; sometimes they’re not trained.
Despite the needs of individuals with
disabilities, they may still endure solitary
confinement where there are no assistants
or staff available to help them with their

daily activities. The cells are so small that
there is not enough room for people to safely
use and store their walkers and wheelchairs
inside. There is no regard for whether their
needs can be met in these conditions.
The FDC, however, should be evaluating
individuals for needed accommodations,
services, and assistive devices, per the settlement agreement for Disability Rights
Florida v. Jones. 44 The case challenged the
FDC’s unlawful treatment of incarcerated
individuals with physical disabilities, including restrictions and even bans on the use of
assistive devices in cells. Such bans are problematic since roughly one in five people incarcerated in the FDC use such devices.45
Solitary confinement also can exacerbate
disabilities, as individuals with physical disabilities typically have unique health care
needs but may be denied regular access to
medical care when in solitary confinement.46
Conditions of solitary confinement are especially harmful for people with sensory disabilities. Deaf and hard of hearing people make
up a substantial portion of the state prison
population – 13 to 20 percent of people in
prison experience significant hearing loss.47
Such individuals might experience profound and heightened isolation in solitary
confinement due not only to the sensory and
social deprivation in solitary, but also because
of their disabilities. Those who are deaf or hard
of hearing may not be able to have even the informal conversations that others in solitary
confinement may engage in by yelling. They
also may have impaired language processing
that can further diminish their access to adequate health care and other services which are
already harder to access in solitary.48

Solitary confinement punishes sexual
and gender nonconforming minorities
Solitary confinement is too often used
to separate LGBT people from the general prison population.49 This separation is prison officials’ response to



the vulnerability of LGBT people –
effectively punishing them for being potential victims. In 2011-12, for example,
the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that
28 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in prison were placed in solitary
confinement, compared to 18 percent of
heterosexual individuals.50
The Department of Justice’s Prison
Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations
recognize the risk of solitary for LGBT individuals by instructing prison officials to
use such “protective custody” only as a last
resort.51 Segregation of LGBT individuals
based on their LGBT status is stigmatizing
and harmful despite any purported good
intentions. For example, untreated gender
dysphoria and denial of medically necessary care for transgender people often result in depression and suicidal ideation,
among other symptoms.52 These symptoms
are made significantly worse by forced segregation and isolation.




Solitary confinement simply does not work.
In fact, solitary confinement may lead to
even more problems for the prison population and the communities to which incarcerated persons return upon completion of
their sentences.

Solitary confinement does
not lead to safer prisons
Some prison officials believe solitary confinement is necessary to ensure safety. But
there is little evidence to support the belief
that it increases the safety of a prison or that,
without it, more violence would occur.53
In Colorado, for example, the state has
reduced its use of solitary by 85 percent,
and assaults on staff are at their lowest point
since 2006.54 Colorado reduced its use of solitary confinement by narrowing the criteria
for solitary placement, and by reducing the
time that people spend in solitary. The state



also implemented a program that allows
people who demonstrate improved behavior
to return to the general population.
In addition, other states, including Illinois, Maine, New Mexico and Washington,
have reduced their use of solitary confinement, opting to use alternative strategies. Evidence to date suggests there has been little or
no increase in prison violence as a result.55

Solitary confinement does not
lead to safer communities
Studies show that incarcerated people who
have been placed in solitary confinement
are more likely to commit crimes after their
release than those who were not in solitary.
In 2015, the American Civil Liberties
Union of Texas and the Houston branch of
the Texas Civil Rights Project reported that
people released from solitary confinement
are more likely to be arrested than those in

the general prison population.56 Of all those
who were released from Texas prisons in
2006, 48.8 percent were re-arrested within
three years. For those who were released
from isolation units, 60.8 percent were
re-arrested during that period.57
Likewise, a 2007 study in Washington state found higher felony recidivism
rates among people released directly from
supermax units – long-term, segregated
housing designed to hold the highest security risk individuals – compared to those
in the general population.58 Additionally,
a 2006 report by the Commission on Safety
and Abuse in America’s Prisons found that
solitary confinement was related to higher-than-average recidivism rates, especially when people are released into the community directly from solitary.59
Finally, research suggests that not only
does the use of solitary confinement increase recidivism generally, but it may well
lead to more violent crime. A 2009 study
that examined data from Florida prisons
found “evidence that supermax incarceration may increase violent recidivism.”60

Solitary confinement wastes
taxpayer dollars
Solitary confinement is much more expensive than housing people in the general
population.61 This is due to the costs of con-



structing and operating single-cell confinement units, enhanced security technology,
and additional corrections staff to handle
escorts, searches and individualized services – not to mention the increased health
care costs from significant medical and
mental health symptoms that develop and
worsen in solitary confinement as well as
expensive hospitalizations for incidents of
In 2013, for example, the estimated daily
cost per inmate at a federal administrative
maximum (supermax) facility was $216.12,
compared to $85.74 to house people in the
general prison population.62 At the state
level, in Texas, it costs 45 percent more to
hold someone in solitary confinement than
in the general population.63
Some states that have reduced their
populations in solitary and restrictive confinement have reaped financial benefits.
In 2010, for example, Mississippi heightened the criteria for placing individuals in
administrative segregation, significantly
reducing its overall population in solitary
confinement and the associated costs.64
It was able to close a unit that once held
up to 1,000 people in isolation, saving $8
million a year.65


While research shows clearly that solitary
confinement is harmful to those who experience it, the personal stories of those who
have been held in solitary demonstrate in
stark terms the human cost of this practice
– and not only for the confined. The effects
of solitary confinement reach beyond cell
walls to family and friends, who bear wit-



ness to its devastating effects: the cycle of
isolation, the erosion of mental health and
even the loss of life.
Here are the stories of three people who
experienced solitary confinement in Florida’s
prisons – stories that demonstrate the need
to end a practice that has exacted a high cost
from the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Phyllis JohnsonMabery's son
died by suicide
in prison. He
spent nearly four
years in solitary

Octavian Cantilli


watched her son's
mental condition
in solitary
before his suicide.

Octavian Cantilli



‘I knew his mind was breaking’
Phyllis Johnson-Mabery first noticed her
son’s break from reality in 2017 when he
was in solitary confinement.
A year later, he would die by suicide at a
prison on the Florida Panhandle.
“He didn’t believe he was going to make
it home,” she said. “He believed he was going to be killed in there. And he said before
he would let them do it, meaning staff, he
would do it himself.”
Her son, 34-year-old Michael Cuebas,
had by then spent nearly four years in sol-

itary confinement in Florida’s prisons.
During that time, she watched his mental
condition deteriorate.
First incarcerated in 2009, Michael
stabbed another prisoner with a pen in
2012. The episode led to his placement in
Close Management I (CM I), a very restrictive form of solitary confinement, where
individuals are held alone and prohibited
from most out-of-cell activity.
For this report, Phyllis shared with the
SPLC letters Michael wrote to her. In one
letter, which he wrote from CM I on June 6,
2017, he said: “This crap is getting very old
and it isn’t for me. I’ve always been looking
forward to the times we would all spend
together and enjoy life with my family. … I
appreciate the prayers. I could always use
them. I’ll try to do the same.”
It was a letter like many others he’d sent.
But the next month, Michael wrote with
a far more paranoid tone. In that letter,
written one year to the day before his death,
he wrote: “I’m tired of hiding the truth from
you. … I’m having issues with these [correctional officers] and other people that work
for D.O.C. They keep threatening my life.”
He also wrote about a time he attempted
suicide in 2016, a year he spent mostly in CM I.
“The time I hung [sic] myself, I really
did hang myself because the [correctional
officers] were telling me they were going to
kill me and I thought they were serious,” he
wrote. He also said “they had an inmate poison and drug my food … most of the death
threats came from [Florida State Prison],
but they tell me that I can’t run from them
that they’ll get me no matter where I go.”
Michael’s lack of reasoning alarmed his
mother. It appeared to her that the danger
was actually within Michael’s mind, which
she described as “broken” by paranoia.
“I don’t know if he was hallucinating or
hearing voices, but he believed he was going
to be killed in there,” she said.


A 15-year sentence
When Michael was sent to prison, he left
behind his mother, who works for a Christian nonprofit organization in Casselberry,
Florida, and a daughter who was born just
before he began his sentence.
He had at least one confrontation with
police before 2009, when he was arrested for
punching an officer, according to the arrest
report. Michael’s mother said his addiction
to painkillers after an accident, alcoholism
and other circumstances led to the incident.
“He lost his job. He was devastated,” she
wrote to the judge in her son’s case shortly before sentencing. “Michael has become
depressed, sad and upset. … I am not saying
Michael does not deserve to be punished
for the crime he committed, I am only asking that he gets the help he needs and can
return to his daughter’s life one day and be
a good father.”
A jury found Michael guilty and the
judge sentenced him to 15 years in state
prison. The judge did not identify any mitigating factors that could have shortened
the sentence, like “a mental disorder that is
unrelated to substance abuse or addiction,”
according to court records.
Three years into his sentence, he would
stab the prisoner at Taylor Correctional Institution. Michael was transferred to Florida
State Prison, where “on CM status, everything changed,” according to his mother.
Six months after the stabbing, an official
noted that Michael “has not received any
[disciplinary referrals] during his review
period,” but nonetheless recommended he
stay on CM I “for a further period of observation based on his recent history of [aggravated] battery attempt on another inmate
with a weapon causing serious injury.”
‘Everybody needs sunshine’
Michael stayed on CM I until Aug. 21, 2014,
when he was placed on CM III, a less restrictive setting, records show.



But the reprieve didn’t last.
On Feb. 15, 2016, he was sent back to CM
I. He had shown an “inability to adjust,” according to prison officials. The main reason
was Michael had allegedly threatened to
“head-butt” a doctor from inside his cell.
Michael’s side of the story is unknown.
The only available information about the incident comes from a prison report. An SPLC
review of similar reports indicates that prison officials sometimes exaggerate such incidents to justify solitary confinement.
Later that year, Michael made his first
suicide attempt.
His mother tried to buoy his spirits and
ease his mind by sending pictures from the
outside, including photos of his daughter.
“He just kept going farther and farther
and farther in, deeper, in that dark area,”
she said. “Everybody needs sunshine. Everybody needs contact, human contact. It
breaks the mind, it eventually breaks the
spirit, and then they’re left with no hope.”
Communication with his mother became sporadic when he ran out of pens, envelopes and stamps, which can be difficult to
come by in solitary confinement.
“I appreciate the stamps and envelopes,
because I didn’t have anything to respond
back with, but that’s how it is so far being on
level one,” he wrote in June 2017.
Later that month, Michael’s mental health
led to his placement in a transitional care
unit, where his CM I classification was suspended. But then came the letter that struck
his mother as paranoid and concerning.
“He stopped eating. He believed he was
being poisoned,” she said. “He believed
he heard voices in the cell. He was seeing
things that weren’t there.”
Phyllis spoke to her son for the last time
in the fall of 2017. He sounded lethargic on
the phone, barely able to process questions
or form sentences.
On Feb. 5, 2018, Michael was back in solitary confinement, this time at Santa Rosa


Correctional Institution, a prison at the
tip of Florida’s panhandle. There, officials
again extended his time on CM I.
“During this review period, he has not
received any discipline and receives overall
satisfactory ratings,” an official wrote, but
“it is recommended he remain a CM I for
further observation and evaluation.”
Months later, on July 27, 2018, correctional officers took Michael out of his cell
for a shower. At 8:23 p.m., an officer noticed
Michael appeared to be kneeling alone in
the shower. Though it wasn’t clear to the
guard, he was attempting suicide.
A minute later, it became apparent to
the guards what was happening. The incident command team was called. Despite
the team administering 19 cycles of CPR to
Michael, the medical examiner would later
pronounce him dead by suicide.
Less than a year after the loss of her son,
Phyllis is still trying to come to terms with
his death. “I knew his mind was breaking,”
she said. “I knew, but I never thought he
was never coming out.”

‘It’s like everything is closing in’
Herbert Fuller has tried to stop licking his lips.
The habit began as a reaction to the medication he received to cope with the psychological effects of solitary confinement in
Florida’s prisons. Even after he was released
in October 2018 and was no longer taking
the medication, the habit stuck around.
As he goes through his workday at an
enormous chicken house in Georgia, where
he catches thousands of chickens a day, the
lip-licking habit serves as a reminder of his
time in solitary confinement.
During his nearly two decades of incarceration, Herbert experienced different types of
solitary confinement, including all levels of
Close Management. Maximum management,
the strictest form of solitary confinement,
was “the worst,” the 42-year-old said.



“You’re in the cell by yourself. And you
can’t do anything. You’re in this cell, and
you only get a Bible,” he said. “I’ve read the
Bible two or three times. … I need to talk to
somebody, you know.”
Herbert acknowledged that a prisoner
might withstand three months in solitary
but as the months grind on, “the mental
health part of it kicks in.”
“I started hallucinating,” he said of his
worst experience in maximum management.
“It plays with your mind after you’ve done
four, five or six months. Now you know you’re
really trapped there.” Herbert described the
hallucinations as “visions on the wall.” He
wondered whether holidays had come and
gone, and he thought about his family.
He saw people go to extremes to leave
their cells, even resorting to self-harm.
Hallucinations and stress might drive
prisoners to declare “psychological emergencies,” or tell a correctional officer they’re
feeling suicidal, which sparks a chain reaction that can result in a short time outside
of the solitary cell, he said. There’s also the
possibility of a stint in a Transitional Care
Unit, where CM status is suspended.
‘No turning back’
“When you first call a psychological emergency, as soon as you call it, there’s no
turning back. Right then, they put you in
handcuffs,” he said. “They take you to the
shower, since you’re already saying you’re
going to kill yourself.”
There, a guard might stand at the door
with pepper spray at the ready. If the person tries to inflict self-harm, “they could
gas you right there and that’s going to stop
everything – with the spray, you won’t have
enough wind to do anything. That’s how
they’re supposed to prevent it.”
A mental health counselor then comes
to examine the person in the shower, he
said. “No matter what the consequences
are, you’ve got to [self-harm] because you’re


Herbert Fuller
various types
of solitary
during nearly 20
years in prison.

Robin Henson

tired of this CM thing, because the cell’s
started spinning, it’s like everything is closing in,” he said.
Herbert believes mental health issues
are pervasive for people in solitary confinement – a belief backed by the Florida
Department of Corrections’ own records,
which show most people in Close Management suffer from mental illness.
Four walls, medication and a Bible

But the cycle that begins with a psychological emergency frequently ends with the
individual back in solitary confinement –
and medicated.



Herbert acknowledged that he tried to
hurt himself while in confinement in 2013
and 2014. He has been diagnosed with depression and paranoid schizophrenia. For years,
he was on medication for “hearing voices and
having hallucinations and depression.”
“What people do is they get on CM and
they get on this medication, and they’ll be
so high on this medication that the [correctional officers] know they don’t have to
worry about them,” he said.
Using medication to cope with solitary confinement, however, can have long-term effects.
“The mental health medications that we
use to cope with conditions of confinement





… directly affect our mental state causing us
to rely on more medication to go through
the term of being punished,” Herbert wrote
in a letter to the SPLC just before his release from prison. “Therefore we suffer in
the long run because once your body has
adjusted to the medications it’s hard to be
without them even when oneself is released
from confinement.”
After his experiences, one thing is clear
to Herbert: People are not meant to be isolated. To illustrate his point, he referred
back to the Bible he said he read so many
In Genesis, Adam was alone at the beginning, Herbert said. Then, “God said, ‘OK, I’ll
tell you what – I’m going to go ahead and put
you to sleep, take a rib from you and make
woman, so you’ll have a companion,’” he said.
For Herbert, it’s a lesson about the need
for human interaction for everyone – including people in prison.

‘Destroying my mental stability’
During the afternoon of Sept. 5, 2018, Hakeem Drane was asleep in his disciplinary
confinement cell at Lake Correctional Institution – one of the few ways to pass the
time in confinement.
But the 22-year-old would be stirred
from his sleep by correctional officers who
had arrived at his cell to take him to see the
nurse. What happened next, Hakeem said,
would leave him with injuries that would
require surgery and lingering psychological
effects – an experience that illustrates how
people, particularly young people, are vulnerable in confinement.
As Hakeem shook off his sleep, he was
handcuffed and shackled by the officers. He
hadn’t even asked to see the nurse, but he
didn’t feel he had a choice in the matter. Then,
he said officers pushed him to the ground and
kicked his face until he blacked out. He denies
doing anything to provoke the alleged attack,



which he said left him hospitalized with injuries to his head, nose and jaw.
Afterward, Hakeem felt he had to stand
up for himself.
“I wrote it up,” Hakeem said of the incident. “I filed a grievance on it.”
In the document, Hakeem alleged: “I
was attacked and suffered head trauma, nose
trauma [and] trauma to the upper jaw fixture
and [was] falsely accused and criticized for
actions that I never committed,” he wrote.
Hakeem said his injuries, however,
weren’t just physical.
“This is just subconsciously destroying
my mental stability, making me question
myself … I feel that I am experiencing psychological [symptoms], am having nightmares and paranoia,” he wrote.
Even before the attack, Hakeem had
suffered from the effects of confinement,
which can be especially pronounced among
the young. He once harmed himself and
called a psychological emergency, according to letters he sent to the SPLC. Hakeem
is not the only young person enduring confinement. In December 2018, the last full
month he was in prison, more than 1,000
people age 22 or younger were in some
form of solitary.
An official response
Eight days after filing his grievance, prison
officials responded to Hakeem’s complaint.
“I have put in a Mental Health Referral
on your behalf however I do not understand the content of your grievance,” an official wrote. “Your care has been equal to or
above community standards … your request
for administrative remedy is denied.”
The response offered Hakeem little
comfort. In disciplinary confinement again,
his symptoms after the attack only worsened. He says he’s still struggling after his
release from prison.
“Right now I’m traumatized; I can barely sleep at night. I still think about the in-

During his threeyear sentence,
Hakeem Drane
spent a total of
16 months in
a disciplinary
confinement cell.

Sonya Revell


cident – it’s all just horrible,” Hakeem said
two days after his release from prison in
January. “My body is not responding right
and I feel it’s because of the incident and
the stress and the depression.”
The atmosphere in confinement, he
said, “was very aggressive. It’s just a lot of

physical and mental abuse that occurs.” All
told, over his three-year sentence, Hakeem
said he spent a total of 16 months in a disciplinary confinement cell.
“I just want to tell people [confinement]
is a horrible place,” he said.

The serious consequences of solitary confinement have been well documented. The
following steps should be taken to stop the
damage caused by this inhumane and ineffective practice.

• Enact sentencing reforms that reduce
overall prison populations so that there are
sufficient FDC staff to provide adequate
out-of-cell time, mental health treatment,
and programming for those in confinement.

• Prohibit solitary confinement – the practice of isolating people for 22 or more hours
a day in an individual cell – in whatever
form and under whatever name.

• Employ a variety of effective alternatives
to solitary confinement that can be used to
maintain order in Florida prisons. Many
states have adopted other approaches – including a range of sanctions for minor disciplinary violations, rewarding good behavior,
de-escalation techniques to resolve conflict,
and improving prison conditions – rather
than resorting to solitary confinement at
the level and duration found in Florida.

• Restrict confinement for 20 or more
hours a day to specific and narrowly defined
circumstances and for limited duration.
• Presumptively ban confinement for 20
or more hours a day for vulnerable populations, including individuals with severe
mental illness, individuals with mental or
physical disabilities, people younger than
21, and LGBT individuals when the placement is based on their LGBT status.







1 Reforming Restrictive Housing: The 2018 ASCA-Liman
Nationwide Survey of Time-in-Cell, (Oct. 10, 2018), at 4, https://
2 Osterback v. Moore, No. 97-2806-civ-Huck (S.D. Fla. 1997).
3 2017-18 Annual Report Florida Dept. of Corrections, http://
4 Len Engel & Maura McNamara, Data-Driven Solutions to Improve Florida’s Criminal Justice System, Crime & Justice Institute,
at pp. 5, 10 (Feb. 2018),
5 Mary Ellen Klas, Legislature left $28 million hole in prison
budget. Now essential programs are cut., Miami Herald (May 4,
6 Sascha Cordner, Despite Efforts, Florida Prisons Staffing
Shortage Significantly Climbs, WFSU (Oct. 25, 2017), http://
7 U.S. Department of Justice, Investigation of State Correctional
Institution at Cresson, May 13, 2013, Attachment #7, p. 5, http:// (22 hours a day or more); compare Wilkinson v.
Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 214 (2005) (describing solitary confinement as limiting human contact for 23 hours per day); Tillery v.
Owens, 907 F.2d 418, 422 (3d Cir. 1990) (21 to 22 hours per day).
8 Solitary confinement should be banned in most cases, UN
expert says, UN News, Oct. 18, 2011)
9 SPLC: Solitary confinement can cause mental illness, Southern
Poverty Law Center (Oct. 16, 2017),
10 Braggs v. Dunn, No. 2:14-cv-00601-MHT-TFM, Dkt. No. 1285,
at p. 193 (M.D. Ala. 2017),
11 Briefing Paper: the Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement in the United States, ACLU (Aug. 2014), https://www.aclu.
org/sites/default/files/field_document/stop_solitary_briefing_paper_updated_august_2014.pdf; Fact Sheet: Psychological
Effects of Solitary Confinement, Solitary Watch (2011), https://; Fatos Kaba, et
al., Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates, Am. J. Public Health 104(3): 442-447 (Mar. 2014), https://



16 Supra n.2.
17 Per the FDC’s response to a public records request, as of
Dec. 7, 2018, there were 10,244 people in solitary confinement in
Florida prisons. The numbers in each type of solitary confinement in the previous section add up to more than 10,244
because many individuals are classified as being in more than
one type of solitary at the same time.
18 Per the FDC’s response to a public records request, 48% of
people in CM, disciplinary confinement, or administrative confinement as of December 31, 2016 suffered from a mental illness.
19 Of the 138 children held in Florida’s adult prisons in 2016,
one-third, or 46, were kept in solitary confinement. Jack Denton,
Solitary Confinement Out of Control in Florida Prisons, Solitary
Watch (Mar. 29, 2016),
solitary-confinement-out-of-control-in-florida-prisons/. Intermittent data since then suggest a continuing trend of housing
young people in the FDC in solitary. As of September 27, 2018,
there were 1,393 people under age 21 in Florida’s prisons, including 53 under age 18. As of Dec. 7, 2018, there were 365 people
under age 21 in solitary confinement, including 66 under age 18.
20 SPLC: Solitary confinement can cause mental illness, Southern
Poverty Law Center (Oct. 16, 2017),
21 Braggs v. Dunn, No. 2:14-cv-00601-WKW-TFM (2014), https://
22 Supra n.9, at p. 193. See also Braggs v. Dunn, No. 2:14-cv00601-WKW-TFM, Dkt. No. 2332, at pp. 49-50 (M.D. Ala. Feb.
11, 2019) (finding that prolonged confinement in segregation
“poses a substantial risk of serious, potentially permanent
psychological harm and decompensation” for all people, not just
those with serious mental illness).
23 Jeffrey L. Metzner & Jamie Fellner, Solitary Confinement and
Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics, 38
J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry & L. 38(1)104-108 (2010), http://jaapl.
24 Rich Daly, Psychiatrists Decry Punishment That Isolates
Prisoners, Am. Psychiatry Assoc. (Sept. 3, 2010),
25 Stuart Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement,
22 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol’y 325, 352 (Jan. 2006),
26 Id. at 353.
27 Supra n.10.
28 Supra n.25.

12 Reforming Restrictive Housing: The 2018 ASCA-Liman
Nationwide Survey of Time-in-Cell, (Oct. 10, 2018), at 4, https://

29 Peter Scharff Smith, The Effects of Solitary Confinement
on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature, 34 U. Chi. Press 441 (2006),

13 See id.

30 Supra n.9, at p. 223.

14 Anna Flagg, Alex Tatusian & Christie Thompson, Who’s in
Solitary Confinement? The Marshall Project (Nov. 30, 2016),

31 Id. at 22 n.6 (quoting testimony of expert witness Dr. Kathryn Burns).

15 QuickFacts Florida, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.

33 Disability Rights Florida, Inc. v. Jones, No. 3:18-cv-00179HLA-JRK, Dkt. No. 1, at p. 5 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 30, 2018), http://www.

32 Jennifer Bronson & Marcus Berzofsky, Indicators of Mental
Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12,
U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (June 2017),

34 Andrew B. Clark, Juvenile Solitary Confinement as a Form of
Child Abuse, J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry & L. 45(3) 350-357 (Sept.
1, 2017),
35 Sal Rodriguez, Fact Sheet: Children in Solitary Confinement,
Solitary Watch (2016),
36 Id.
37 U.S. Department of Justice, Investigation of Conditions at
Baltimore City Detention Center, Aug. 13, 2002, https://www.
38 Lindsay M. Hayes, Juvenile Suicide in Confinement: A National Survey, National Center on Institutions and Alternatives,
at p. 42 (Feb. 2004),
39 Anne Teigen, States that Limit or Prohibit Juvenile Shackling and Solitary Confinement, National Conference of State
Legislators (Aug. 16, 2018),
40 H.C. v. Bradshaw, No. 9:18-cv-80810, Dkt. No. 1 (S.D. Fla. June
21, 2018).
41 H.C. v. Bradshaw, No. 9:18-cv-80810, Dkt. No. 78-1 (S.D. Fla.
Nov. 15, 2018),
42 Jennifer Bronson & Marcus Berzofsky, Disabilities Among
Prison and Jail Inmates, 2011–12, U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of
Justice Statistics (Dec. 2015),
43 Caged In: Solitary Confinement’s Devastating Harm on Prisoners with Disabilities, ACLU, at p. 11 (Jan. 2017), https://www.
44 Disability Rights Florida, Inc. v. Jones, No. 4:16-cv-47-RHCAS, Dkt. No. 71 (N.D. Fla. July 7, 2017),

53 Alison Shames, Jessa Wilcox, & Ram Subramanian, Solitary
Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe
Alternatives, Vera Institute of Justice, at pp. 18-20 (May
54 Id.
55 Id. at p. 20.
56 Burke Butler, Matthew Simpson, & Rebecca L. Robertson, A
Solitary Failure: The Waste, Cost and Harm of Solitary Confinement in Texas, ACLU (Feb. 2015),
57 Id. at p. 8.
58 David Lovell, L. Clark Johnson, & Kevin C. Cain, Recidivism of Supermax Prisoners in Washington State, Crime
& Delinquency 53(4): 633-656 (Oct. 1, 2007), https://doi.
59 Confronting Confinement: A Report of the Commission on
Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Vera Institute of Justice
(May 2006),
60 Daniel P. Mears & William D. Bales, Supermax Incarceration and Recidivism, Criminology 47(4): 801-836 (2009),
61 Supra n.55, at p. 24.
62 Id.
63 Julie Hook, Mangos to Mangos: Comparing the Operational
Costs of Juvenile and Adult Correctional Programs in Texas,
Criminal Justice Policy Council (2003).
64 Briefing Paper: the Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement in the United States, supra n.10.
65 Id. at p. 21 n.115.

45 Supra n.43, at p.12.
46 Id. at p. 12.
47 Id. at p. 32.
48 Id. at pp. 33-34.
49 Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal,
and Public Safety Consequences, ACLU statement before the
U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil
Rights, and Human Rights, at p.6 (June 19, 2012), https://www.
50 Allen J. Beck, Use of Restrictive Housing in U.S. Prisons and
Jails, 2011–12, U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics
(Oct. 2015),
51 National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison
Rape, 28 C.F.R. 115.342 (June 20, 2012).
52 Supra n.51.




The writing, analysis and editing of this report was conducted by Brad
Bennett, Jamie Kizzire and Will Tucker. Cierra Brinson designed
the report. Angela Greer coordinated the photography.


SENIOR DESIGNERS Michelle Leland, Scott Phillips, Kristina Turner

DESIGNERS Shannon Anderson, Hillary Andrews, Cierra Brinson, Sunny Paulk, Alex Trott