Take action to urge your state legislators to ban prolonged solitary confinement in your state.
Prolonged solitary confinement, defined as solitary confinement in excess of 15 days, can cause serious harm to individuals and has long been considered a form of torture. Individuals placed in solitary confinement are often detained in a cell by themselves for 23 hours a day.
Experts estimate that at any one moment 80,000 to 100,000 individuals are being held in solitary confinement in the U.S. criminal justice system. The vast majority of these people are in state prison facilities.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should be absolutely prohibited, based on scientific evidence that it results in psychological damage. Yet incarcerated individuals in the U.S. remain in isolation for months, years, even decades.
Prolonged isolation fundamentally alters the brain, creates and exacerbates mental illness, denies opportunity, and violates inherent human dignity. People of color are disproportionately represented among those placed in solitary confinement.
Upon completing a prison sentence, an individual can be released directly from solitary confinement back into their community—making them entirely unprepared to successfully transition. Not surprisingly, studies show that individuals placed in prolonged solitary confinement have a much higher rate of recidivism than if returning from the general prison population.
In January 2016, President Barack Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in U.S. federal prisons. The president also restricted the number of days an individual can be held in solitary for a first offense from 365 days, the previous federal limit, to 60 days. These reforms are a first step—however, they only affect individuals in federal prisons, not state prisons.
State prisons need to ban the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
Urge your state legislature to invest in humane alternatives that address the mental health needs of prisoners in a way that effectively contributes both to their rehabilitation and to their successful transition back into society.