Solitary Confinement

September 14, 2012 • Volume 22, Issue 32
Is long-term isolation of prisoners inhumane?
By Peter Katel


Relatives of inmates at the Tamms supermax prison in Illinois support Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close the facility (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
Relatives of inmates at the Tamms supermax prison in Illinois support Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close the facility. Union officials representing prison guards say closure would cost 250 jobs and raise the danger level in institutions to which Tamms prisoners would be transferred. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

Debate is growing over the isolation of U.S. prison inmates in virtually round-the-clock solitary confinement. When the practice began booming in the late 1980s, politicians and some prison administrators — many supporting the construction of special “supermax” facilities — said prison safety demanded that “the worst of the worst” inmates be held in prolonged isolation. But even some supporters of long-term solitary acknowledge that many prison systems have used the strategy to warehouse mentally ill inmates. A growing number of federal court decisions prohibit placing the mentally ill in strict isolation, citing evidence that it aggravates their condition. Recently, some states have reduced the number of prisoners in long-term isolation. But in Illinois, guards protesting the planned closure of a supermax argue that transferring inmates to a conventional prison poses grave danger.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Domestic Issues