Search About Donate
Graphics

Shifting Away from Solitary

More states have passed solitary confinement reforms this year than in the past 16 years.

In 2014 one of the most controversial practices in criminal justice, solitary confinement, faced unprecedented challenges. As a result of legislation or lawsuits, ten states adopted 14 measures aimed at curtailing the use of solitary, abolishing solitary for juveniles or the mentally ill, improving conditions in segregated units, or gradually easing isolated inmates back into the general population. In January, the correctional officers’ union in Texas even called for doing away with solitary confinement on death row, stating in a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that if inmates are stripped of all privileges they become harder to manage and more dangerous to corrections officers.

A number of events pushed solitary confinement onto the agenda, said Jean Casella of the advocacy group Solitary Watch, including a seminal New Yorker article describing solitary as a form of torture, the ACLU taking up the issue in 2011 and a 2013 anti-solitary hunger strike in the Pelican Bay State Prison in California.

Below, a closer look at every solitary reform measure implemented in the United States. The list does not include pending legislation, such as the three solitary reform bills that were introduced in Congress in the span of five months this year, and New Jersey’s much-discussed solitary reform legislation, which was introduced this month.

Solitary Confinement Reforms by State, 1998-2014
1998
Solitary confinement reforms relative to currently displayed year
  • 1998
  • Before
Solitary Confinement Reforms by Year
0 5 10 15 2000 2005 2010 2015
Solitary confinement reforms relative to currently displayed year
  • 1998
  • Before
FederalReform CA OR WA NV ID AZ UT MT WY NM CO SD ND NE TX KS OK MN IA MO AR LA WI IL MS IN TN AL MI KY OH GA WV SC FL PA NC VA NY ME AK
 
YEAR-BY-YEAR
2014 - The biggest year for reform includes the response to a highly publicized hunger strike, two corrections commissioners sleeping in solitary, and a New York Times exposé.
FederalReform
2014 - The biggest year for reform includes the response to a highly publicized hunger strike, two corrections commissioners sleeping in solitary, and a New York Times exposé.
+ Expand
2013 - Several states limit the amount of time inmates spend in isolation.
FederalReform
2013 - Several states limit the amount of time inmates spend in isolation.
+ Expand
2012 - The movement takes hold. Six states implement reforms.
FederalReform
2012 - The movement takes hold. Six states implement reforms.
+ Expand
2010 - Maine and Mississippi: Two very different models for change.
FederalReform
2010 - Maine and Mississippi: Two very different models for change.
+ Expand
2008 - New York follows up by enacting legislation.
FederalReform
2008 - New York follows up by enacting legislation.
+ Expand
2007 - Court orders New York to curb solitary for the mentally ill.
FederalReform
2007 - Court orders New York to curb solitary for the mentally ill.
+ Expand
1998 - West Virginia is the first state to pass a law banning solitary for juveniles. (In 2012 two juveniles sued saying the state was not following its own law.)
FederalReform
1998 - West Virginia is the first state to pass a law banning solitary for juveniles. (In 2012 two juveniles sued saying the state was not following its own law.)
+ Expand