Resolution on Limiting the Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement


This resolution highlights the research showing the negative consequences of prolonged solitary confinement on recidivism as well as physical and mental health. Fortunately, many states have taken steps to reduce such confinement while also making their correctional institutions safer. While there are occasions when isolation is necessary for a limited period, our commitment to individual liberty, effective rehabilitation, and the dignity of every person requires us to support the pursuit of solutions for safely limiting the use and duration of solitary confinement.

Resolution on Limiting the Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement

WHEREAS, solitary confinement or segregation is typically defined as being confined to a cell for between 22 to 24 hours a day. While this often means a single person in a cell of 80 square feet or smaller, in some systems such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of individuals in segregation are housed with another person in a cell this size or smaller, contributing to numerous incidents of violence and even murder among them.

WHEREAS, the correctional systems with the most people in solitary confinement are: the Federal Bureau of Prisons with 8,942, Florida with 8,103, Texas with 5,832, New York with 4,498, and Georgia with 3,880.

WHEREAS, the correctional systems with the greatest percentage of individuals in solitary confinement are: Louisiana with 15%, Utah with 14%, Nebraska with 11%, and New Mexico, Tennessee, and Delaware each with 9%,

WHEREAS, the Vera Institute’s Segregation Reduction Project found 85 percent of prisoners were sent to disciplinary segregation for minor rule infractions in Illinois. Common violations included being out of place and failing to report to an assignment.

WHEREAS, in 2015, the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) undertook a nationwide study to document the number of incarcerated persons placed in solitary confinement and the conditions they face. The study revealed that forty-two jurisdictions do not limit the duration of solitary confinement and that some fail to record the length of time that an individual is held in segregation. The study found many individuals were in solitary confinement for more than three years. For example, Albert Woodfox served more than 40 years in solitary confinement in Angola before being eventually exonerated of the crime for which he had been locked up. Moreover, 80 percent of incarcerated persons placed in administrative segregation or restrictive housing were confined for all but a single hour of the day and were highly limited in their social interaction with both the general prison population and their family and friends in the community.

WHEREAS, research has found that prolonged solitary confinement contributes to recidivism, including a study in Washington state showing that inmates released directly from the Supermax prison, which consists entirely of solitary confinement, committed new felonies at a rate 35 percent greater than that for inmates of the same risk profile released from the general population.

WHEREAS, studies have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement negatively affects mental and physical health. For example, The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law noted: “The stress, lack of meaningful social contact, and unstructured days can exacerbate symptoms of illness or provoke recurrence. Suicides occur disproportionately more often in segregation units than elsewhere in prison.”

WHEREAS, many correctional staff leaders and organizations have recognized the need to reform solitary confinement. For example, Lance Lowry, President of Texas Correctional Employees Union, noted in opposing the policy of automatically placing all death row inmates in solitary confinement: “We really need to focus a lot more on behavior modification and giving officers more tools to manage these prison populations. When you take everything away from prisoners, you have nothing to manage them with. And they can become very dangerous when they have nothing to lose.”

WHEREAS, many states have faced costly litigation concerning their solitary confinement practices and that pro-active efforts to reform these practices can avoid the costs and potential unintended consequences of such litigation.

WHEREAS, many states have demonstrated that it is possible to scale back solitary confinement while making prisons safer. For example, in 2007, Mississippi had 1,300 people in solitary confinement while today there are only 300. This downsizing has saved Mississippi taxpayers $6 million, because solitary confinement costs $102 per day compared to $42 a day for inmates in the general population.  Most importantly, violence within Mississippi’s prisons and the recidivism rate upon release are both down, with violence dropping nearly 70 percent.

WHEREAS, in 2011, the state prison in Warren, Maine instituted a plan to reduce long-term segregation which has resulted in a decline in the segregated population from 139 in August 2011 to between 35 and 45 inmates just a year later.   Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte said the downsizing of solitary confinement has led to “substantial reductions in violence, reductions in use of force, reductions in use of chemicals, reductions in use of restraint chairs, reductions in inmates cutting [themselves] up — which was an event that happened every week or at least every other week…The cutting has] almost been totally eliminated as a result of these changes.” Among the changes, rather than the shift captain being able to place an inmate in segregation for more than three days, the segregation unit manager and the housing unit manager must agree after this period to continue the segregation and that decision must be ratified by the Commissioner. Additionally, duration of stay was reduced, including enabling those segregated for drugs can to graduate out of solitary confinement so long as they pass a drug test.

WHEREAS, Colorado has had the most tragic and dramatic experience in overhauling the use of solitary confinement. In 2013, a Colorado inmate released directly from solitary confinement murdered the state’s director of corrections, Tom Clements. Alarmingly, dating back to 2002, half of those released from Colorado prisons who subsequently committed murder served time in solitary confinement, with some discharged directly to the street. In addition to phasing out this dangerous practice, Colorado reduced the solitary count from 1,500 in 2011 to just 185 by 2016 In 2017, Colorado eliminated solitary confinement periods of more than 15 days. Key factors included strong commitment of state leadership and implementing transparency about the treatment of inmates and safety within the prisons, including annual reports to the Legislature and a constituent services office that handles complaints. From 2011 to 2016, annual inmate assaults on staff in Colorado fell from an average of 262 to 160.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that prison systems should balance the need for limited use of segregation to temporarily separate dangerous individuals from the general population with appropriate limits on it use;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that prison systems should share with policymakers and the public data on the prolonged use of solitary confinement to ensure transparency;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should not use solitary confinement to address conduct that does not pose a safety issue and instead provide a menu of disciplinary alternatives, including withdrawal of privileges;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should institute alternatives to solitary confinement, including missioned housing where appropriate, for special populations such as juveniles, those with mental illness, those with traumatic brain injury, and pregnant women;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should ensure personnel are trained in the appropriate use of solitary confinement and other disciplinary alternatives, as well as de-escalating techniques;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should ensure a supervisor reviews all individuals who have been in solitary confinement for 48 to 72 hours and that the individual should have an opportunity to present mitigating evidence regarding allegations that led to their placement;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should work to provide rehabilitative programming to the degree possible for those in solitary confinement, including through the use of technology;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, prison systems should provide programming and incentives so that there is a clear pathway for exiting solitary confinement, such as Texas’ Gang Renouncement and Disassociation (GRAD) Process, with a goal of ensuring stays do not exceed 15 days absent senior management approval based on an inmate’s actions and behaviors that indicate a high level of continuing danger if returned to the general population;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that state prisons systems should avoid releasing inmates directly from solitary confinement and instead provide a step-down to a lower level of custody before release.