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A Look at Solitary Confinement in the United States

A guard handcuffed a prisoner in his cell in the secured housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California before opening the door. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A guard handcuffed a prisoner in his cell in the secured housing unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California before opening the door. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A recent New York Times article, “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life,” by Erica Goode, profiles the work of Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, and his work interviewing people who have been in solitary confinement in American prisons. Dr. Haney is the first person to study Americans who have been in solitary confinement for a significant amount of their adult lives.

The study includes interviews with 56 prisoners who spent 10-28 years on solitary confinement. His study offers insight into what long term solitary confinement does to mental health. While conducting interviews Haney was struck with the profound sadness of the inmates and concludes that long term solitary confinement leads to “social death.” He partially attributes what he calls “social death” to inmates in solitary confinement not being allowed to make personal phone calls and not being allowed any physical contact with visitors.

Approximately 75,000 American inmates are currently held in solitary confinement. Goode notes in her article that states are starting to reduce the number of people in solitary confinement due to public opinion, budgetary constraints, and lawsuits.

To read “Solitary Confinement: Punished for Life” click here.